International students bring benefits to Ontario



The internationalization of Ontario’s colleges is a growing trend that has enriched campus life and injected billions of dollars into the local economy. But with the benefits come concerns about the associated costs.

The Toronto Star recently published a series of articles that examines the extraordinary growth of international enrolment. It wonders whether international learners are displacing domestic students in popular programs, making fewer seats available to them. There are questions about just how well colleges are serving international students, and concerns that institutions may be accepting under-qualified applicants to bolster revenue.

Virginia Macchiavello, Associate Vice President, International Education, Business Development, has overseen the expansion of international enrolment at Centennial College for more than a decade. Virtually half of its 28,000 full-time students come from overseas, with India, China, Vietnam, South Korea and the Philippines being the top five source countries.

“The rapid growth of Canadian colleges is evidence of the appeal of our public education system, one that compares well with any in the world,” she says. Canada has become the fourth largest destination for international students – but does that demand impede enrolment by Canadians?

Macchiavello contends international students aren’t taking opportunities away from local students, but rather, their tuition allows colleges to maintain their breadth of programs. Without international enrolment, Ontario colleges would be left to manage shrinking enrolment and closing programs due to declining birthrates and other factors.

“Domestic students are always considered first, then international enrolment is used to fill the remaining seats. There are programs that aren’t even available to international students, such as nursing, police foundations and paramedic training, either due to local demand or other reasons,” she points out.

While many students from India possess an excellent command of English, learners from other nations sometimes arrive with poor English skills that need upgrading. In response, Centennial’s Centre for Academic English provides free English tutoring and workshops at all its campuses.

Services include individual tutoring sessions focusing on oral communication skills and intensive writing support, as well as small group workshops for conversation and grammar practice, presentation skills and other supports.

Good language training is an outgrowth of Centennial being situated in Scarborough – where many new Canadians first settle – and having provided government ESL training for permanent residents who require English upgrading before they can advance in their vocational program.

Another concern involves faculty who may feel pressured to boost grades to pass international students. Macchiavello says there’s no incentive to do such a thing.

“All Centennial students must meet the learning objectives of their program to earn a passing grade. If that wasn’t the case, we would not have 91 per cent of employers expressing satisfaction with their Centennial hires,” she says.

“Our success is inextricably tied to our graduates’ ability to perform in the workplace. That’s why students come here to study. Centennial’s administration would never direct faculty to unethically inflate students’ grades under any circumstances.”

As for the college becoming too reliant on students from certain countries to keep its budget balanced, Macchiavello says Centennial continually adjusts its mix of students for two prudent reasons.

“Firstly, to diversify the classroom to ensure a good global experience for all students, domestic and international. And secondly, to avoid over-reliance on a region where geopolitics or natural disasters could affect the flow of students,” she explains.

In the years since 1995, when Centennial first ventured to China to invite students to study western tourism practices in Toronto, the college has grown exponentially in terms of its people and facilities.

Thanks to its international students, Centennial has been transformed from a modest community college to a truly global learning institution that provides an enriching experience to all that walk through its doors

• For more information, visit www.centennialcollege.ca

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