Northern Ontario Colleges’ Financial Tightrope: The High-Stakes Gamble on International Students from India

In a recent deep dive by CBC News, the spotlight turns to Northern Ontario colleges and their precarious financial lifeline—international students, predominantly from India. The investigation reveals a startling dependency, one that could spell disaster should geopolitical winds shift.

According to the Ontario Ministry of Colleges and Universities, a staggering 80% of students at Northern College hail from abroad, the lion’s share from India. Canadore College in North Bay paints a similar picture, with seven out of 10 students being international, and 94% of those from India.

Why the heavy reliance? The answer lies in the numbers. Alex Usher, president of Education Strategy Associates, notes that international students contribute twice as much to the college system as Canadian students. In Northern College, revenues from international programs nearly double that of government grants and domestic student fees combined.

But here’s the catch. This revenue model is fraught with risks. Recent geopolitical tensions, like India suspending visa services in Canada, serve as a stark reminder. A sudden retreat of the Indian market could wreak financial havoc, akin to the crisis Laurentian University faced when Saudi Arabia pulled its students out in 2018.

Northern Ontario colleges are aware of the ticking time bomb. Efforts are underway to diversify international student recruitment, targeting African or South American markets. However, as Northern College spokesperson Kyle Gennings puts it, “It takes approximately two to three years for new markets to become fully functional.”

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