A planned 47-unit student residence for the Haliburton School of Art + Design (HSAD) could be in jeopardy, Fleming College president Maureen Adamson confirmed this week.

Post-secondary institutions nationwide have been left reeling after immigration minister Marc Miller announced Jan. 22 the federal government will cap the number of international student permits it issues over the next two years.

Miller said his department will approve approximately 360,000 new undergraduate permits in 2024 – a 35 per cent reduction from last year. He noted each province and territory will be allotted a set number of permits, with some provinces to see drops as high as 50 per cent. The number of permits issued in 2025 will be assessed at the end of this year.

Adamson said it would be a big hit for Fleming, with the institution having around 3,500 international students in classes for the 2023/24 school year. That accounts for half of the student body, Adamson said. She did not disclose the split of domestic to international students in Haliburton. The school also has campuses in Lindsay, Peterborough and Cobourg.

“This announcement has an immense and adverse human and economic impact for Fleming College… [it] poses a threat not only to the educational experiences of all students, but also to the vitality of our regional economy,”

Adamson said. “The economic impact… will be a staggering loss to our communities, including Haliburton.” Adamson would not confirm whether the $16 million residence would proceed. As of Jan. 31, there were still workers on-site.

She said Fleming is developing a mitigation strategy that will look at all the college’s operations and commitments, before deciding “the best steps [we] can take to build a viable and robust future.” The process will wrap up next month.

Federal cap on foreign students

“This new reality includes the elimination of Fleming’s existing key revenue streams that enable us to invest in developments like this residence,” she said. “It’s too early to say more – no final decisions have been made.”

Why the need for a cap?

Miller said changes target institutional “bad actors” such as small private colleges, which he claims have taken advantage of international students by operating under-resourced campuses and reneging on supports promised to students paying exorbitant tuitions – often three or four times that of a domestic student.

The minister also believes a reduction in foreign students may have a positive impact on Canada’s housing crisis.

Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock MP Jamie Schmale believes something needed to be done to “fix our broken immigration system.” He said it’s no secret Canadian colleges and universities have used international students to address budgetary shortfalls, particularly over the past few years.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada data shows 621,565 study permits were issued in 2021, ballooning to more than 800,000 in 2022. Numbers for 2023 have not yet been disclosed.

The Ontario government has been criticized for its lack of investment in post-secondary education in recent years. Adamson said provincial funding for domestic enrollment was first frozen in 2017, then slashed by 10 per cent in 2019 with no increase since. Quoting a report published by Ontario’s blue-ribbon panel, Adamson said Ontario provides $6,891 for each domestic student, while the Canadian average is $15,615.

MPP Laurie Scott didn’t address those concerns when questioned by The Highlander. She said the province is implementing measures to address challenges.

“These include enhancing oversight to ensure program quality, aligning education with labour market needs, and mandating housing guarantees for international students,” Scott said. “We’ll also pause new public college-private partnerships, strengthen oversight of existing partnerships, and improve regulation of career colleges to ensure educational standards are maintained.”

Mishal Venu is an international student in the visual and creative arts diploma program (VCAD) at HSAD. He arrived in Canada from Bahrain in September 2023.

Asked how he would have responded had these new limits come down before he moved, Venu said, “it would be a pretty disheartening situation. I feel for any student impacted by this. You set your heart on going away to study, to maybe build a better life. Some people are looking to escape from countries where you’re not acknowledged, where you don’t get good pay. A lot of those people will be stuck now, not able to come here.”

Dysart mayor Murray Fearrey is remaining hopeful Fleming will build the residence. The township donated almost four acres for the build and invested six figures into developing a new clubhouse for the Haliburton Highlands Nordic Trails Association, whose previous facility sat on land Fleming wanted to build on.

However, Fearrey said there was no contract or signed agreement that stipulated Fleming had to follow through.

“I am worried in case this doesn’t happen. The township has been very cooperative with the college. I’d be really disappointed for the community if it doesn’t go ahead,” Fearrey said.