Hundreds of international students are facing uncertainty after Northern College in Ontario revoked their admissions for January, leaving them scrambling for alternatives. This marks the second time in recent months that the college has rescinded admissions, having previously revoked 500 offers in July.
According to CBC Toronto, approximately 200 students, primarily from India, were informed that they will not be able to attend the college’s campuses. This decision has raised concerns about the lack of provincial oversight and the consequences colleges face for admitting more students than they can accommodate.
Savan Sabu, an Indian student who planned to study supply chain management at Northern College’s Timmins campus, is now left repaying a $30,000 loan with an 11% interest rate. “I’m so anxious and depressed,” Sabu told CBC Toronto. “Northern College has shattered my dreams.”
The Ministry of Colleges and Universities in Ontario stated that it is aware of the “small percentage” of revocations and emphasized that colleges have the authority to make decisions regarding admissions. However, this authority is problematic, according to Jaspreet Singh, president of the International Sikh Student Association. Singh argues that colleges should not admit more students than they can host, as this leaves students in limbo.
Indian students spend more on postgraduate institutes in Ontario than the province itself, making up over half of the student population at many Ontario colleges. At Northern College, more than 80% of the students are international, with the majority coming from India. Singh expresses concern over the reliance on international students, describing the practice of “overbooking seats” as a means of sustaining the institution and profiting.
“Everyone is profiting: the colleges, the government — which doesn’t have to spend more on education and [gets to] have international students spending money in our economy — the employers get cheap labour,” Singh stated. “It’s just the students who are suffering.”
Northern College responded to these claims, stating that its operations and finances are public records, like all Ontario colleges. The college’s student fee contributions increased significantly from $12 million in 2021 to $67 million in 2023. The college claims that the decision to revoke admissions was made responsibly to ensure students have access to safe housing and employment opportunities.
However, this reasoning contradicts the experiences of students like Sabu, who had already secured housing. The college initially cited “No seat available” as the reason for revoking Sabu’s admission. When Sabu provided proof of his tuition payment and seat reservation, the college then cited a lack of housing and jobs. This inconsistency was further highlighted by Monique Lamond, Northern College’s international student advisor, who noted that the deadline for uploading proof of a study permit is January 4, and the permits themselves are not issued until the students enter Canada.
The lack of clear communication and action from both provincial and federal governments has also been criticized. Even though there is a memorandum of understanding between the two levels of government to administer the International Student Program, the provincial government claims its role is limited, while the federal government argues that the authority rests with the province.
Of the 500 students who had their offers revoked in July, 250 were accepted by Centennial College, and the remaining were eligible for a full tuition refund. However, this time around, a college transfer is not an option. Northern College is offering students the choice of a deferral to next fall with a $1,000 bursary toward tuition or a full refund. Sabu and many others are left in a precarious position, unsure of their future prospects.
“I am really frustrated and very tense not knowing what my future would hold for this one whole year if I choose the September 2024 intake,” Sabu said. “I still lose money and time.”