A recent report by the Auditor-General of Ontario underscored an issue that has received too little attention. Among all the provinces, Ontario gives its twenty-four publicly funded colleges $1.6 billion annually, the lowest level of support on a per capita basis in Canada. Meanwhile, enrolment by domestic students has fallen 15 percent over the last eight years.
Money to run these institutions has to come from somewhere so they have turned to foreign students whose numbers have increased 342 percent during the same eight-year period. Foreign students now account for 30 percent of enrolment and because they pay three or four times more than domestic students, foreigners account for 68 percent of all tuition collected. This is all well and good in that we’re attracting top minds, many of whom want to stay in Canada.
But I wonder if there isn’t a downside to this global popularity. In recent years, I have been an invited participant to classes in post-secondary institutions maybe half a dozen times. Classes usually last two hours and have a high proportion of foreign students. My observation has been that the foreign students do not ask questions of the professor when the planned remarks are concluded.
Moreover, if small groups form to discuss a topic then report back to the full class, it is usually a domestic student who shares what the group decided. Do foreign students have a language problem? Supposedly, they have passed some sort of language skills test. Is it a cultural issue? Are they shy? Or all of the above? All I know is that foreign students do not seem to interact with the prof or their fellow students to anywhere near the same degree as domestic students.
If what I observed is true elsewhere, foreign students are not getting their money’s worth. Equally wrong is the fact that neither are domestic students. There are always going to be classes where a few students dominate. That’s the way of the world. But for such a large proportion to not participate at all means that everyone’s education is suffering. I have no experience in who does or does not talk in virtual classes but it’s hard to imagine the participation levels are much different.
A good education is the foundation for life and career. It arouses curiosity as well as a desire for self-improvement. Without top schooling, society will eventually pay a price for selling ourselves to the highest bidder.