Fleming commits long-term

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It was big news this week when Fleming College officially reaffirmed its commitment to Haliburton County.

There was a lot of local concern, and rightly so, when Fleming president Maureen Adamson told The Highlander in January that all projects and operations at campuses in Haliburton, Lindsay, Peterborough, and Cobourg would be assessed, analyzed, and carefully considered as the college came to terms with new federal caps on international student intake.

If you missed that announcement, immigration minister Marc Miller said the federal government plans to limit the number of international study permits over the next two years. Approximately 360,000 new undergraduate permits will be approved this year – a 35 per cent reduction from 2023.

Each province and territory will be allotted a set number of permits, with some provinces to see drops as high as 50 per cent. Ontario is expected to see the greatest reduction.

The news sent most, if not all, post-secondary institutions provincewide into a tailspin. Fleming was no different. The school has grown dependent on the inflated tuition it receives from overseas students – sometimes 10 times what a domestic student would pay. Adamson said Fleming had an approximate 50/50 split of international and domestic students for the 2023/24 school year.

So, when it was revealed 29 programs at its Lindsay and Peterborough campuses are to be shuttered over the summer, no one was surprised.

What may have drawn a few eyebrows is the fact high-enrollment courses in geographic information systems (GIS) and environmental management were cancelled while arts programs, and a new $16 million student residence for Haliburton, went untouched.

Higher-ups didn’t reveal much when asked what the key considerations throughout this months-long assessment were. They didn’t say why Haliburton had been spared.

Fleming has a rich history in the community stretching back more than 50 years. The Haliburton School of Fine Arts became part of Fleming College in 1969. Its current facility in Glebe Park turns 20 years old in 2024. Programs in glassblowing, artist blacksmith, ceramics, and jewelry-making are among the finest in Ontario – anyone who has been to an open house can attest to the geographic diversity of the student body.

Perhaps tellingly, though, the majority of the Haliburton campus’ students in recent years have been domestic. There have been no programs or services specially created for international students. The campus has thrived based on Canadian enrolment. And, speaking as a former international student, that’s the way it should be.

Canada’s post-secondary institutions have been used as an expensive bypass for the country’s immigration system for too long. Change was needed.

But not here in Haliburton. For once, community members can breathe easy knowing HSAD is safe from cuts, while larger, more established communities in Lindsay and Peterborough scramble. In fact, programming is being improved – dean Xavier Masse said the continuing education calendar is being extended, with new programs in digital media and video game development starting this summer.

That the student residence is proceeding is notable. I don’t need to take up any more ink writing about this community’s housing problem, but once those 47 units are complete, I think it’s going to have a huge impact. Students will finally have a dedicated space to live – no more bidding wars for rentals, no more couch surfing, camping, or sleeping in cars.

And the trickle-down is there will be more rental opportunities in Haliburton village for the public.

This is a win for Haliburton County no matter what way you look at it.