Stigma from ‘bad actors’ in international education could have lasting impact – Opinion

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There has been a lot of talk recently about “bad actors” in international education.

Much of the discussion about caps to the number of student visas the federal government will issue centres around stopping the exploitation of students by these entities.

There are many anecdotal examples of exploitation by “bad actors” floating around in news stories. Politicians at both federal and provincial levels have described instances of students being promised an easy pathway to Canadian citizenship where no such path exists. Others have been told jobs are easy to find both during their studies and after graduation.

Some students have told reporters how they arrived in Canada, having paid the high costs associated with being an international student, to find classes that are all online and not in person as expected. We have also heard of instances where private schools amount to nothing more than a storefront in a strip mall, offering little in the way of support services or help.

All of this is because these operations, which are far more likely to be private, for-profit enterprises, see the lucrative value international students represent. It was clear that action was required to address those kinds of situations.

There is no question the new federal rules and caps on visas will change the international education landscape. Some private schools will likely fail. Public institutions, including TRU, will need to readjust.

TRU is well-placed to ride out the storm that these changes will bring, mostly because our model for international education has always put students first. Yes, we appreciate the financial boost they offer, but not at the cost of their well-being and success. TRU exemplifies its commitment to student success through various support services, including:

• Diverse and accessible support—TRU has one of Canada’s most extensive teams of multilingual international student advisors (ISAs), who provide personalized support in 15 languages. That ensures every student feels understood and supported.

• Pre-arrival guidance—Even before students arrive, TRU offers interactive webinars and enhanced communication to set expectations, address questions and assist with housing, making the transition smoother.

• One-on-one engagement—With a low ISA-to-student ratio, TRU guarantees more personalized time for students, especially those needing extra support, ensuring no one feels left behind.

• Cultural and Social Integration: Events like IDays and the Leisure, Exploration and Activity Program (LEAP) encourage international students to connect with the local community, explore B.C., and participate in extra-curricular activities, fostering a sense of belonging.

• Mental health and wellness—Partnering with Keep.meSAFE, TRU provides round-the-clock mental health support in over 100 languages, ensuring students can find help whenever they need it.

• Responsive housing solutions—Recognizing the housing crisis, TRU actively works to improve on-campus housing capacity and offers extensive support for students to find safe, affordable off-campus housing.

• Academic and career support—With a high course completion rate and impressive retention rates, TRU’s support extends beyond personal care to academic success and career readiness.

• Feedback-driven improvements—TRU continuously refines its services based on student feedback and data, demonstrating a commitment to meeting and exceeding student needs.

These measures ensure international students are better able to succeed academically while also feeling supported and integrated into the community.

TRU’s approach to international education, envisioned by TRU World’s founder, Dr. Charles Mossop, understood and emphasized the transformative power of global learning.

Forty years ago, Mossop said: “The rest of the world is not in some distant, unknown place these days — it’s right next door.” That perspective not only internationalized our campus but also the Kamloops community, bringing benefits to our city and fostering a sense of global citizenship that’s truly invaluable.

Our communities rely on immigration to fuel growth and prosperity. International students, in particular, are some of the most valuable contributors to this dynamic. They bring fresh perspectives, diverse skill sets and a willingness to integrate and innovate within their new environments. Properly supporting international students is investing in Canada’s future, a strategic move that enriches the vitality and competitiveness of our communities.

It’s regrettable that a term such as “bad actors” has become associated with Canadian international education. The stigma it has caused overseas is real and worrisome and might well lead to fewer students wanting to study here.

If more schools in Canada had adopted approaches like TRU’s, as they expanded their international education programs, the drastic “sledgehammer” measures implemented by the federal government to curb “bad actors” might not have been necessary.

This is a sector that, when it is at its best, embodies ideals and provides benefits that all of us can appreciate. The price that Canadians might pay because of this ugly and unnecessary chapter might be felt for generations.

Brett Fairbairn is the president and vice-chancellor at Thompson Rivers University. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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