Enhancing Support for International Students in Canadian Higher Education

Embracing the Power of International Students: Building an Inclusive Workplace

Canadian higher education institutions are known for their top-quality education, and they’ve become increasingly popular among international students. These students bring a rich tapestry of diverse perspectives and a global outlook to our campuses, making the learning experience more vibrant for everyone. However, behind the scenes, many international students grapple with a range of challenges that can affect their academic journey. From visa issues to housing shortages, these issues need addressing to ensure international students can fully enjoy their education in Canada.

In this blog, we’ll explore why it’s essential to support international students, delve into the challenges they face, and discuss how to improve the infrastructure of higher education in Canada.

The Importance of Supporting International Students

International students are invaluable assets to Canadian higher education institutions. They bring with them unique perspectives, cultural diversity, and a global outlook that contributes to the vibrancy of our campuses. 

In recent years, Canada has witnessed an unprecedented growth in international students enrolling in its higher education institutions. For instance, Conestoga College, located in Kitchener, Ontario, has more than doubled in size, and its revenue has tripled, primarily due to the influx of international students. Statistics from the Canadian Bureau for International Education (CBIE) indicate that, in 2019, international student expenditures on tuition, accommodation, and living expenses exceeded a staggering $21.6 billion, making them a crucial pillar of the Canadian economy. 

But it’s not just about the numbers. International students foster an environment of cross-cultural learning, enriching lives of domestic and international students alike. The diverse student body enhances the global competitiveness of Canadian institutions, positioning them as a desirable place to learn and grow for future international generations.

Challenges Faced by International Students

While international students undoubtedly bring immense value to Canadian higher education, their journey is not without its share of challenges. These challenges can impact their overall university or college experience, affecting not only their academic pursuits but also their well-being. Some challenges are:

  1. Uncertainty around Working Hours

Navigating work regulations can be puzzling for international students, making it challenging to secure a job. There are different regulations based on whether a student is in school full-time or on break. These include:

Regular Academic Sessions: International students can work part-time during regular academic sessions, such as the fall and winter terms. During these times, they are allowed to work for a maximum of 20 hours per week. This limitation is in place to help students maintain a healthy balance between their studies and part-time employment.

Temporary Lift of Restrictions: There may be temporary changes in these restrictions during scheduled breaks, like summer and winter holidays. During these periods, international students may have the opportunity to work up to 40 hours per week. It’s important to note that these temporary changes can vary and may be subject to updates from the government. Staying informed about the latest regulations is crucial.

Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP): Upon successfully completing their studies, international students who obtain a Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) can work full-time in Canada without any weekly hour restrictions. The duration of the PGWP depends on the length of the student’s program.

Between School Breaks: During scheduled breaks between academic sessions, such as summer or winter breaks, international students usually have the flexibility to work full-time without hourly restrictions. This allows students to make the most of their break periods in terms of gaining work experience.

To overcome this challenge, higher education institutions can share clear and concise information about the work-hour regulations, including providing information during orientation sessions and having dedicated staff or resources for answering students’ questions. Institutions may also provide regular eNewsletter updates to international students to keep them up-to-date on changes.

  1. Visa Delays

Visa delays can pose significant hardships for international students, leading to missed classes, academic setbacks, and financial strain.

To support international students, academic advisors are instrumental in helping students navigate their options, providing guidance on the last day students are permitted to arrive and attend classes for a particular term. They take into account visa processing times and advise students on possibilities such as deferring their start date, beginning studies in the following semester, or addressing program-specific requirements.

Institutions should also allow students advised to defer their studies due to visa delays to withdraw from their courses without facing negative academic consequences. This flexibility ensures that students are not penalized for circumstances beyond their control and helps them make informed decisions about their academic path. Institutions also recognize the financial implications of visa delays and adjust fees, such as health insurance, based on revised start dates. This accommodation ensures that students are not burdened with extra costs due to delays and can manage their finances more effectively.

  1. Over-Enrollment

Over-enrolment in Canadian higher education institutions has become a growing concern in recent years. The influx of both domestic and international students poses a challenge in providing quality education and support services. International students, in particular, face unique challenges due to this situation.

To address this issue, Canadian higher education institutions can implement several strategies. First, they can invest in expanding their infrastructure and facilities to accommodate the growing student population. This includes adding more classrooms, labs, and housing options to meet the needs of both domestic and international students.

In addition, institutions can develop specialized programs or support services tailored to international students, such as orientation programs, language assistance, and academic counseling. These initiatives can help international students adapt to their new environment and succeed academically.

  1. Mass Layoffs

A significant number of job layoffs have been observed across Canada in 2023, with the most substantial workforce reductions occurring in the first six months of the year. Notably, these workforce cuts have predominantly impacted the technology and financial sectors, reflecting an ongoing trend that initially surfaced in late 2022.

These mass layoffs are the result of various factors, including the challenges posed by inflation, increased interest rates, disruptions in supply chains, and evolving consumer behaviors. These circumstances have been shaped by the lasting effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, which have significantly influenced how people live and work for the foreseeable future.

Higher education institutions can play a crucial role in assisting international students during these challenging times. They can offer targeted support programs, such as job placement services, job fairs, and connections with local employers who are willing to hire international students. Additionally, financial counseling and workshops can guide students in managing their expenses and exploring scholarship opportunities. By providing a supportive environment and resources to address employment challenges, higher education institutions can help international students navigate the complexities of the labor market and sustain their educational pursuits.

  1. Financial Burden

The cost of living in Canada can be high, and tuition fees for international students are generally much higher than those for domestic students. International students may also have difficulty finding part-time work to support themselves, as employers may be hesitant to hire individuals who are not Canadian citizens or permanent residents.

Institutions can assist by actively promoting scholarship and bursary opportunities available for international students. They can also offer guidance on part-time job opportunities both on and off-campus, helping students navigate the job market. Financial workshops and counseling can help international students manage their expenses effectively.

  1. Housing

With the rapid increase in international student enrollments, a severe housing crisis has emerged. The demand for affordable housing far exceeds the supply, leaving many students struggling to find suitable living arrangements. Many universities offer on-campus housing, but these options may be limited, and the costs can be high. Additionally, finding off-campus housing can be difficult, as landlords may be hesitant to rent to individuals who are not Canadian citizens or permanent residents. Consequently, it’s not uncommon to find international students sharing cramped living spaces, sometimes even residing in one-bedroom apartments with multiple roommates.

Higher education institutions can provide information on various housing options, assist in finding suitable accommodations, and facilitate connections with local landlords. On-campus housing solutions can be expanded, and arrangements for sharing accommodations with other students can be encouraged to reduce costs.

Addressing Infrastructure Gaps in Higher Education

To effectively support international students, it is vital to recognize and address the existing infrastructure gaps within Canadian higher education institutions. 

This starts with offering the following services:

Modernizing Facilities: Overcrowded classrooms and outdated facilities can negatively impact the learning experience of students. Therefore, investing in modernizing and expanding educational infrastructure is essential. This includes the creation of state-of-the-art classrooms, well-equipped laboratories, and updated libraries to cater to the diverse needs of all students.

Language Support Centers: Language support centers can offer language courses, tutoring, and conversation partners to help international students improve their language skills. By enhancing their proficiency in the primary language of instruction, students can engage more effectively in both academic and career settings. 

Academic Resources: Access to academic resources is paramount for students’ success. This includes a well-stocked library with resources relevant to their courses and research. Digital resources and online databases can further enhance access to academic materials. Additionally, providing academic advising services and mentorship programs can guide international students through their educational journey.

Cultural Integration Programs: International students bring diverse perspectives and experiences. To ensure they feel welcome and included, cultural integration programs are vital. These programs can foster cross-cultural understanding, encourage interactions between domestic and international students, and organize cultural events. This not only enriches the campus environment but also aids international students in adapting to their new surroundings.

Supportive Campus Environment: A welcoming and inclusive campus environment is essential for the well-being and success of international students. This involves creating spaces where students from different backgrounds can interact, learn from each other, and feel a sense of belonging. It also includes support services such as mental health counseling, career guidance, and personal development programs.

By addressing these infrastructure gaps and focusing on the specific needs of international students, Canadian higher education institutions can provide a more enriching and supportive academic experience. This, in turn, not only benefits the students but also contributes to the overall vibrancy and competitiveness of Canadian universities and colleges on the global stage.

Collaborating with Isempower

Collaborating with organizations like Isempower is one way to enhance support for international students in higher education. Our focus on diversity and inclusion aligns perfectly with the values of higher education institutions aiming to effectively support international students. 

By partnering with Isempower, institutions can access an array of services to empower international students, including showcasing students to top employers, providing 24/7 resources beyond graduation, facilitating on-demand mentorship and community, and tracking students’ success pathways. This collaboration with Isempower is a proactive step toward creating a more inclusive and supportive environment for international students in Canadian higher education.

What’s Next?

Canadian higher education institutions hold a crucial responsibility in providing the essential support for international students as they begin their educational journey on Canadian soil. Through investments in enhanced infrastructure, including modern classrooms and well-equipped laboratories, these institutions can significantly enhance the overall learning experience. Moreover, by offering tailored programs and services, such as orientation initiatives and language support, they pave the way for international students to smoothly adapt and excel.

If you’re eager to contribute to the success of your institution and make a lasting impact in the lives of international students, but find yourself uncertain about where to start, Isempower is your guiding partner. Get in touch with us today to explore how we can collaborate and create a more supportive and inclusive environment for international students. Your journey towards empowering international students begins here.