What’s gained and lost in private-public partnerships between Ontario colleges

What’s gained and lost in private-public partnerships between Ontario colleges

Note: This is Part 2 of a CBC Sudbury series on international students. You can read Part 1 here.

Harpreet Singh and Simran Singh will soon obtain diplomas from a Northern College business program, and although the school’s main campus is in Timmins, Ont., they have never visited the city and don’t know anyone there. 

The two are set to complete all of their studies in southern Ontario, travelling between Brampton and Scarborough in suburban Toronto, where they live and study, respectively. 

Their public college course is delivered by Pures, a private partner of Northern College. 

These agreements between colleges in different Ontario regions are buoying the books of institutions in the province’s north. For example, international student program revenues account for almost 60 per cent of Northern College’s total revenues.

Harpreet and Simran both like their classes and professors, and plan to work as truck drivers after graduation. 

Students at another private college that’s nearby share a similar story. 

Three men standing in front of a building.

Khushdeep Sharma, Guneet Singh Bhullar and Saksham Sharma, left to right, study at Canadore College’s private partner campus run by Stanford College in the GTA. (Aya Dufour/CBC)

Guneet Singh Bhullar, Saksham Sharma and Khushdeep Sharma will soon earn business diplomas from North Bay’s Canadore College, which delivers the business program at the private Stanford College campus in Toronto.

The three dream of starting their own renovation business after graduating. 

With their public college diplomas, they’ll be able to apply for a post-graduation work permit, and if they play their cards right, they will eventually be eligible to apply for permanent residency. 

But there are no guarantees. 

A recent Senate of Canada report points out that the number of international students admitted to Canada has ballooned in the past decade, while the number of permanent residency spots in mainstream immigration programs has not.

In other words, the numbers don’t align.

For these students’ entrepreneurial dreams to come true, they will need to carve a space for themselves in a process that has become increasingly competitive. 

Whether or not they succeed in staying in Canada will depend on their age, language skills, field of work and years of experience.

But had they studied at their college’s main campus in Ontario’s north, where their diploma was issued, their path to permanent residency could have looked different. 

A northern diploma without a northern experience 

Don Curry is an immigration consultant  in North Bay. The bulk of his business comes from international students attending Canadore College, with its main campus nearby. 

He’s based in one of the five cities listed in the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot Program (RNIP), which grants hundreds of permanent residencies to newcomers who work and want to live in North Bay, Timmins, Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie and Thunder Bay. 

“That’s the program we’re putting everybody into,” said Curry. 

He said his clients often come to him under the impression they’ll be going through the Express Entry program to try to obtain permanent residency. 

“I say, ‘Oh no, no. You don’t want ‘Express Entry.’ You’d be competing with hundreds of thousands of people. With the RNIP, you’re only competing with hundreds.” 

But the program requires them to live and work in one of the eligible cities, which makes it trickier for the thousands of international students who attend or have graduated from northern colleges in southern campuses. 

Curry said that when he started his practice four years ago, he never had clients from the province’s south, but that has started to change of late. 

Potrait of a man.

Don Curry, an immigration consultant based in North Bay, Ont., says that when he started his practice four years ago, he never had clients from the province’s south, but that has started to change of late.  (File submitted by Curry Immigration Consulting)

“I think the word is getting out that it’s easier to obtain permanent residency if you move to North Bay or one of the RNIP cities.” 

He added that 90 per cent of the applications he submits on behalf of his clients to the city’s RNIP selection committee are from people who initially came to Canada on a student visa.

While colleges in Ontario’s north enrol thousands of international students every year, most of them have not experienced life in the region and won’t settle there after graduation, according to Curry.

Demand for programs set in northern campuses

The southern campus satellite model relies on the assumption that demand for programs in the Greater Toronto Area is much stronger than demand for programs delivered in northern Ontario, explains Alex Usher, president of the Toronto-based consulting firm Education Strategy Associates.

They just said, ‘Boy, it would be easier to do this in Toronto.’– Alex Usher of Toronto-based consulting firm Education Strategy Associates

He’s not convinced there is much evidence to suggest that’s a correct assumption. 

“I don’t think they ever really tested that. They just said, ‘Boy, it would be easier to do this in Toronto.'” 

Usher said there are several examples across Canada of smaller communities becoming international student hubs. 

“The obvious case is Sydney, Nova Scotia,” he said, referring to the city’s proximity to Cape Breton University and its hundreds of international students.

‘Outsourcing’ the housing issue?

When asked why they chose to attend their college’s Toronto campus, Canadore students Guneet Singh Bhullar, Saksham Sharma and Khushdeep Sharma said it’s close to where family members live. They said these ties were essential for them to secure housing after arriving in Canada. 

“I would like to visit North Bay because that’s where the main campus is,” said Saksham. 

He said he has many fellow international student friends who have invited him to visit, but he will wait a couple of months before taking them up on their offer. 

“They are saying they have accommodation problems over there and are facing several difficulties.” 

The front of a large building with a red sign that says Canadore College.

Canadore College’s main campus is in North Bay. (Erik White/CBC )

Canadore College’s North Bay campus made local headlines earlier in September when some international students organized protests to highlight their struggles in finding accommodations they could afford in the city of 50,000 or so residents.

In a statement released last week, Canadore president George Burton said the college always considers community capacity when preparing its enrolment plan. 

“We do not dump students in the community,” wrote Burton. 

He also said that “going forward, the college will require mandatory confirmation of housing for all Canadore students as part of the automated registration process beginning with the winter 2024 semester.” 

International students attending Northern College’s Timmins campus also struggle to find housing. Last year, a dozen of them sought temporary housing at the community’s Sikh temple when they failed to secure permanent living arrangements.

Usher said northern communities are ill equipped to welcome large student cohorts at once. 

“Bringing 5,000 international students to North Bay would be very disruptive,” he said. “But if North Bay can send those housing problems to Toronto, that seems like a great idea.” 

Usher believes by setting up satellite campuses that welcome thousands of students in places like suburban Toronto, northern colleges are effectively outsourcing their housing capacity issues to southern Ontario.

He said part of the problem boils down to a lack of accountability to host communities. 

“If I’m in Vaughan and a satellite campus is creating housing problems next to me, there’s no local authority I can go to. I’d have to go to Timmins or Sault Ste. Marie to talk to someone.” 

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