About 3,000 international students attending Ontario’s colleges asked for a tuition refund after a faculty strike, according to new data released by the provincial government Thursday.
The number represents roughly five per cent of the approximately 58,000 full time international students enrolled in the system.
In comparison, of the approximately 192,000 full time domestic college students, just over 22,600 — nearly 12 per cent — asked for and received the tuition refund.
Advanced Education Minister Deb Matthews said the international student figures, which are still preliminary and could change, make sense given the substantial costs incurred by international students to attend Canadian post-secondary institutes.
“I think we’ve got more work to do to fully understand the numbers but I would say, for sure, they have a lot at stake,” she said. “They had to get visas to come here. They’ve sacrificed a lot to be here. It’s harder for them to just go home until January. I think they continued because they’re really committed and didn’t have a lot of other options.”
Matthews said from the early days of the strike, which started on Oct. 15, that the complex needs of international students were flagged to her ministry. The province began talks with the federal government to address concerns surrounding visa issues, she said.
“We were able very early in the strike to get confirmation from the federal government that visas will be extended to accommodate an extended term,” she said. “That was an important provincial federal collaboration.”
Matthews said she also would not be surprised if a large number of international students who chose to continue with their semester apply to a financial assistance program the province set up after the strike to help students experiencing hardship as a result of the protracted labour dispute.
The government says that overall, 10.3 per cent of full time students — 25,700 students — sought the refunds.
“The numbers are higher than I expected,” Matthews said. “But we wanted to give students the (chance) … to make the choice that was right for them, 90 per cent chose to stay but 10 per cent did choose to exercise the option of getting a refund of their tuition.”