Reforming Canada’s International Student System: A Senate Call to Action

In a recent article by Nicholas Keung, the Toronto Star’s immigration reporter, he discusses a Senate report that urges the Canadian government to overhaul its international student system to preserve the integrity of the country’s international education program. The report, released today, was prepared by Senators Sabi Marwah, Ratna Omidvar, Yuen Pau Woo, and Hassan Yussuff. Below is a brief overview of the report’s key findings:

A Booming Industry with Challenges

Canada’s international student program has been a significant contributor to the economy, bringing in tens of billions annually. However, the system is fraught with challenges, including unscrupulous agents and educational institutions exploiting international students. The senators emphasize that there is a lack of oversight to ensure that the agents and Designated Learning Institutions (DLIs) act in the best interest of the students.

The Current Landscape

The report highlights that a significant portion of international students settle in Ontario (51%), followed by British Columbia (20%), and Quebec (12%). While the influx of international students has financially and culturally enriched Canada, it has also brought about issues such as fraudulent college admission letters and exacerbated the housing crisis. The federal government is considering strengthening the program’s integrity by possibly reducing student intake.

The Economic Aspect

International students have been a substantial economic asset, contributing around $22 billion annually through tuition revenues and other expenditures. However, the rapid growth in enrolment has brought about associated costs. The report notes a widening gap in tuition fees between international and domestic students, with international tuition fees having increased fivefold compared to domestic fees since 2006.

The Role of Agents and DLIs

The report criticizes the role of agents and DLIs in the recruitment process, stating that they often do not have the students’ best interests at heart. Agents, who receive commissions ranging from 15 to 20% of a student’s first-year tuition, have been part of a recruitment frenzy, sometimes making empty promises regarding career prospects and eligibility for work permits and permanent residence in Canada.


The Senate report calls for a national review to ensure the financial sustainability of the Canadian post-secondary sector, which has aggressively recruited international students due to funding shortfalls. It also suggests higher standards for schools admitting international students, including detailed plans to assist students in securing housing and finding employment.

Moreover, the report recommends regulating education agents more strictly and imposing stronger penalties on those who engage in unscrupulous practices. It suggests following Australia’s lead in requiring educational institutions to upload agent information into a centralized portal to track study visa outcomes.

Looking Ahead

As Canada navigates the complexities of managing a booming international student industry, the Senate report offers a roadmap for creating a more sustainable and ethical system. It calls for a national strategy to align the number of international students admitted with annual permanent resident targets, considering the needs of provinces, educational institutions, and employers.

By taking a proactive approach to reform, Canada can ensure that the international student program remains a win-win for both the country and the students who come seeking quality education and opportunities for a brighter future.

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