COURSE CORRECTION

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Understanding the decision behind Canada and the UK capping the number of international students.


In response to increasing concerns about overcrowding and maintaining the quality of education, both Canada and the United Kingdom have implemented measures to cap student numbers in tertiary education institutions. These caps are aimed at controlling the influx of students into universities and colleges, ensuring that resources and facilities can adequately support the educational needs of the enrolled students while maintaining high standards of teaching and learning. This move comes amidst growing pressure on educational institutions to balance accessibility with maintaining academic excellence, prompting policymakers to explore strategies for more sustainable growth within the education sector.

In Canada, provincial governments have been implementing various strategies to manage student numbers, such as imposing enrollment limits on specific programs or instituting quotas for international student admissions. Additionally, there has been a concerted effort to encourage alternative pathways to higher education, including vocational and technical training programs, to alleviate the strain on traditional universities and colleges. Similarly, in the UK, recent reforms have included stricter regulations on student visas and increased scrutiny on institutions that recruit international students, with the aim of ensuring that resources are distributed efficiently and that the education sector remains competitive on a global scale. These measures reflect a broader trend toward more sustainable approaches to education planning and management in both countries.

In order to stabilise fresh growth, the Canadian government has recently announced via Marc Miller, Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship that it will impose a two-year cap on the number of applications for international student permits. The cap is predicted to provide about 360,000 authorised study permits in 2024, a 35% drop from 2023. Fairness-driven weighted population-based caps on specific provinces and territories will cause substantially larger reductions in the provinces with the highest rates of unsustainable increase in the population of overseas students. Renewals of study permits won’t be affected. The cap does not apply to those seeking master’s and doctorate degrees, as well as those studying elementary and secondary education. Those who currently hold study permits won’t be impacted.

The number of new study permit applications that will be approved in 2025 will be reevaluated at the conclusion of this year, following the two-year temporary measure. The Canadian government will keep working with designated learning institutions, national education stakeholders, and provinces and territories to create a sustainable future for international students during this time. This includes completing the framework for recognised institutions, figuring out how many international students can be sustained over the long term, and making sure that post-secondary institutions can house enough students.

“It’s unacceptable that some private institutions have taken advantage of international students by operating under-resourced campuses, lacking supports for students and charging high tuition fees, all while significantly increasing their intake of international students,” said Miller in an official statement.

According to Miller, the new regulations are not against individual international students but rather are designed to guarantee that incoming students get the quality of education that they signed up for. The statement coincides with mounting pressure on the Trudeau administration to address the rising cost of housing. The average home price in Canada is currently CAD 750,000 (USD 550,000), yet within the past two years, rent has increased by 22% for Canadians. Since home development has not kept up with Canada’s record population expansion, some economists have connected the country’s housing crisis to an increase in immigration.

 

 

The UK is also following a stance similar to Canada in regards to regulating international student inflow. With effect from last month, foreign students enrolling at British universities will have to comply with strict visa requirements that restrict the number of family members they can bring. The modifications, which were started by the former home secretary Suella Braverman and have already been implemented, mainly affect postgraduate research students and those who get government scholarships.

The UK Home Office notes that these changes, which are intended to stop people abusing student visas as a means of obtaining work, are expected to cause almost 140,000 fewer people to enter the country. According to recent figures, the number of student visas awarded increased significantly, from 269,000 in 2019 to 486,000 in the year ending December 2022. Significant growth was also seen in dependent visas, which increased to 136,000 last year from 16,000 in 2019. This is an eight-fold increase.

The amended laws especially target the growing habit of international students bringing dependents, which Home Secretary James Cleverly has called unreasonable. Data from official sources shows a startling 930% rise in dependent visas since 2019. Cleverly remarked, “This government is delivering on its commitment to the British public to cut migration,” underscoring the effectiveness of the plan in halting the anticipated 300,000 individuals from entering the United Kingdom.

According to data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), by September 2023, 152,980 student-dependent visas had been granted – a significant increase from 14,839 in September 2019. The move was supported by UK Minister for Legal Migration and the Border, Tom Pursglove, who stated, “We are completely committed to seeing a decisive cut in migration.” He explained that the UK can safeguard public services and boost the economy by limiting the number of dependents who are granted student visas.

Under the direction of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, the UK government wants to find a middle ground. The goal of the student visa reforms is to keep the UK’s higher education market attractive while discouraging universities from prioritising immigration law enforcement over teaching. The government intends to work with academic institutions to create a different procedure that will allow exceptional students to bring dependents. The UK government is enacting other restrictions, such as restricting health and care visas, raising wage criteria, and conducting a review of the post-study work visa, as part of a larger campaign to decrease migration.

In a related issue, the UK government came under fire for abandoning its plan to raise the family visa threshold from GBP 18,600 to GBP 38,700 in the spring, despite having committed to doing so. The updated schedule now calls for the implementation of the higher threshold in the first half of 2025. Opponents of the revised strategy, some of whom are in Sunak’s own party, have called him “weak”.

The takeaway is that the implementation of student number caps in Canada and the United Kingdom underscores the complex challenges facing modern education systems. While these measures are intended to address immediate concerns such as overcrowding and resource constraints, they also raise important questions about the broader goals and values of higher education. As institutions grapple with the need to balance accessibility, quality, and sustainability, it is crucial to recognise the diverse needs and aspirations of students, as well as the evolving demands of the global economy. Moreover, the effectiveness of these caps will depend not only on their design and enforcement but also on the complementary policies and initiatives aimed at promoting innovation, inclusivity, and lifelong learning. Ultimately, navigating the delicate balance between quantity and quality in higher education will require ongoing dialogue, collaboration, and adaptability among policymakers, educators, students, and stakeholders at all levels. By embracing this collective responsibility and commitment to continuous improvement, Canada, the UK, and other nations can strive to build stronger, more resilient education systems that empower individuals, enrich communities, and drive sustainable development in the years to come.

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