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Economic Viewpoint

The Role of Foreign Students in Higher Education: Does Ontario Receive a Passing Grade?

September 19, 2023
Randall Bartlett, Senior Director of Canadian Economics • Kari Norman, Economist

Tuition freezes in Ontario since 2019, combined with stagnant financial support from the provincial government, have forced postsecondary institutions to lean on increasing international student enrollment—and the significantly higher tuition fees that come with it—to keep the doors open.

The federal government has recently floated the idea of cutting back on the number of foreign students admitted to Canada. But any policy that reduces the number of foreign students entering the country without other changes to the funding model risks sending some postsecondary institutions into a fiscal tailspin. We estimate that tuition and fees from foreign students generate between $5B and $6B in revenues for Ontario’s postsecondary institutions every year.

Possible restrictions on foreign student admissions look to be, in part, motivated by a desire to improve housing affordability in Canada. Postsecondary students are hard-pressed to get into dorms, as student residence construction has lagged increases in enrollment. They have turned to market housing as a result. But instead of focusing on limiting enrollment, all levels of government need to work together to ensure students—and indeed all Canadians—have safe, stable and affordable housing.