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Lakehead University president not pleased with student cap

By CJ Goater Mar 1, 2024 | 2:37 PM

Acadia Broadcasting File Photo

Lakehead University is among several organizations in the city that would like to see the international student permit cap removed.

On Monday, city council voted to advocate to the Federal Government on behalf of those organizations looking to see an adjustment to the cap.

About 20 per cent of Lakehead’s student population are international students. With the current tuition freeze in place, fewer international students means lower enrollment levels and less money for post-secondary institutions.

The university will not be the only place impacted, “I’ve talked to the mayor and talked to the CEDC and Chamber of Commerce and we all agree that international students, both at the college and at Lakehead bring such value to the city and to to the region,” explained Lakehead University President Gillian Siddall. “They take on work at small local businesses, which is much needed and many of them when they graduate stay here, work here, live here, have families here, and given that we have a declining population in Thunder Bay, that’s a tremendous asset.”

“(International students) graduate from programs with degrees much needed with skills much needed in nursing and in social work, in education and engineering and mining. So it, it would be just a tremendous loss to the university and to the city if we were to lose the number of international students that we currently have.”

The cap was announced in January by Federal Immigration Minister Marc Miller who said this is the latest in a series of measures to improve program integrity, set international students up for success, and maintain a sustainable level of temporary residents in Canada.

However, many including LU President Siddall see the change as housing-related, “I think it’s so important not to vilify international students in this whole narrative because they bring such value to the communities that they come to, to the post-secondary institutions that they come to and so those that are attending responsible universities and colleges, they are not to blame for the housing crisis, which is what is really being, you know, used as the concern here.”

“At Lakehead, we have housing for international students. If they want a residence room, they can have it, and we help them find housing in the city if they need it, and we’re in conversation with the city as well about what we can do to improve the housing situation, not just for students but more in general.”

City council has approved advocating to the federal government at committee of the whole, but final approval is still required at city council, and Lakehead has a clear goal from the advocacy, “our hope is that the city and other advocates can convince them to at least adjust the way in which they’re doing this so that those of us who have been responsible actors and bringing in international students are not penalized by that, and our cities and communities are not penalized,” said Siddall

The federal government has tried to supplement the loss of income by announcing additional funding for post-secondary institutions. 

“You know, we’re disappointed about the tuition freeze, but we’re, you know, very happy to get that increase to base funding and also you know we’re still sorting out all the details, but my understanding is that there’s funding available to support Northern Universities recognizing the kinds of barriers that we face and so I’m hopeful that, you know, this won’t totally resolve our financial problems, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction and we’re very grateful for it,” added Siddall