Monday, May 20, 2024 | Dhu al-Qaadah 11, 1445 H
clear sky
34°C / 34°C

In remote Canada, a college becomes a magnet for Indian students

BLURB: Canada’s public colleges and universities increasingly rely on international students, especially from India, even as tensions between the two nations have flared

On a college campus in northern Canada, eight hours by car from Toronto, most of the students who fill the classrooms are from a country half a world away: India.

The young men and women stretching on mats in the gymnasium are more likely to be from Punjab or Gujarat, two Indian states, rather than rural Ontario. Hindi and Punjabi drowned out English in the cafeteria’s lunchtime cacophony.

In the surrounding city of Timmins, the servers at two new Indian restaurants do not ask customers how spicy they want their dishes. A shuttered bar named Gibby’s has been reopened as a Sikh temple, or gurdwara, where students from the school, Northern College, gathered on a recent evening.

“We feel like we are in India,” said Mehardeep Singh, 20, a general arts and science major, who led a prayer. “In every class, there are only three or four local people. The rest are from India.”

Northern College traditionally drew its students from the province of Ontario’s vast, sparsely populated hinterland, a region dominated by miners and loggers. Today, a whopping 82 per cent of the public college’s students come from abroad — nearly all from India.

How a Canadian college — in a remote town most Canadians have never visited, where winters can feel subarctic — became a magnet for young Indians is the story of the many forces buffeting the country.

Public colleges and universities, hit hard by budget cuts, have grown dependent on the higher tuitions international students must pay. For students from abroad, the institutions can be a conduit to permanent Canadian residence, and for Canada, the students help reduce labor shortages and increase the country’s flagging productivity.

More than 60 per cent of foreign students in Ontario’s public colleges are from India — a dependence that the province’s auditor general identified as a risk to the schools’ long-term survival.

As a result, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s accusations in September that the Indian government was involved in the killing of a Canadian Sikh separatist near Vancouver, British Columbia, sent tremors through Ontario’s educational institutions.

The episode has strained relations between Canada and India, which categorically denied any involvement and forced out 41 Canadian diplomats.

At Northern College — where Indians make up 96 per cent of all foreign students — officials said they would intensify efforts to recruit more students from Africa and Indonesia to reduce their dependence on India.

“We don’t want all our eggs in one basket,” said Audrey Penner, the college’s president, adding that if the tensions between India and Canada persisted, “our market might dry up regardless of any efforts that we take.”

Founded in 1967, Northern, like other public colleges in Ontario, was established to develop a workforce suitable for its region. That meant training young people to work in mining, technology and health care.

Before Northern College looked overseas, its student population peaked a quarter-century ago at about 2,000, Penner said, but declining regional birthrates and migration to bigger cities pushed enrollment down to about 1,300 a decade ago. At the same time, Northern and other colleges began facing cuts in government funding and tuition freezes.

Northern — and other colleges and universities in Canada — began aggressively looking overseas. The Canadian government said it was on track to host 900,000 foreign students this year, three times as many as a decade ago.

Northern appeared to tap into an increasingly rich segment of the Indian population, with many students saying they were the first in their families to study overseas.

Arbaz Khan, 25, said he was not only the first member of his family but also the first Muslim in his village in Gujarat to study in Canada. Because his family owned farmland and his father was a politician, he was able to secure a bank loan of about 30,000 Canadian dollars (about $22,500) for part of his tuition and other costs to study at Northern.

“I want to live my life independently,” said Khan, who is majoring in business administration. “I want to make my own empire with own hands and my own legs. That’s why I chose to go abroad.”

Annual tuition varies by major, but for foreign students, it is generally around CA$16,000, about 4 1/2 times what Canadian students pay.

Some Indian students were reluctant at first to study at such a remote location.

Maninderjit Kaur said she would probably not have gone to Timmins if the education consultant in India — who arranged her enrollment at Northern — had told her the school’s exact location.

But despite many foreign students’ initial reluctance to study at a place as remote as Northern, Penner, the college’s president, believed she held an ace: Graduates of Northern and other public colleges may apply for a post-graduation work permit that could lead to permanent residence and citizenship.

“We can say, if you come here, we can pretty well guarantee that you could stay here and live and make a home for yourselves,” Penner said.

Across Canada, the influx of foreign students has been so great that it is blamed for worsening housing shortages. The Canadian government has recently taken measures to stem the increase, including by doubling the level of savings international students must prove they have.

At Northern, the college revoked the admissions of several hundred international students this year after realizing that the city of Timmins lacked housing, Penner said.

Jobs to help pay for college have also been a challenge. International students are allowed to work up to 20 hours a week off campus while studying. - The New York Times

arrow up
home icon