Boon for enrollment, bane for housing

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A person with a backpack, standing in front of another person carting a suitcase and luggage, both of them thinking of school.
International student juggles school, jobs, homesickness and the constant dread of being so far from home Clker-Free-Vector-Images via Pixabay and Graphicnet via Pixabay, manipulated by lee lim

Rising international enrolment brings new challenges

The University of Regina (U of R), like many institutions across Canada, attracts a good number of international students every year. As the international student population at the U of R swells, it appears to seemingly offset the dip in domestic enrollments. This increase in international students certainly adds to the diversity of the campus, but beneath the surface lies a pressing issue: the hidden yet significant costs of international education, particularly the housing problem. 

This Fall 2023 semester at the University of Regina has seen a record-breaking enrollment surge, totaling 16,860 domestic and international students. This impressively adds to the campus’ existing diversity, where international students make up 17.7 per cent of the total student body and 14.7 per cent declare as Indigenous. Yet, with this growth comes a set of challenges that the university and the city need to address.  

The most pressing of these nowadays seems to be the housing accommodation. It’s obvious that as more international students flock to the university, demand for affordable and accessible housing has increased as well. While universities offer on-campus housing, the limited number of spaces often falls short of demand. This pushes students to seek off-campus housing, putting them headlong into a competitive rental market they might not be prepared for.  

Local housing and rental markets are feeling the strain. There are many students who are finding it difficult to secure accommodations that are both close to the campus and within the budget. It has led to a situation where students agree to compromise on their living conditions to save a few bucks, and the housing problem has broader implications.  

Over a month ago, during an interview with CTV News, the current housing, infrastructure, and communities minister Sean Fraser said that the rapidly increasing number of international students does need to be examined as part of the bigger housing crisis picture. He adds on by saying that he thinks housing has instead become a national crisis for some, including students who live more than an hour away from where they study.  

In the minister’s own words, “The International Student Program makes extraordinary economic and social contributions to Canada. It contributes to tens of billions of dollars to our GDP annually.” But when asked whether the federal government was willing to put a cap on international students to address the current housing crunch, the minister let out that “it was one of the options we ought to consider.” This makes it clear that the housing problem is not just a localized issue but has garnered national attention. 

A cap on international enrolment might seem like an immediate solution to the housing crisis, but it will potentially have long-term repercussions. International students bring more than just tuition fees to Canadian universities. They cultivate and endorse diverse perspectives, cultures, and experiences that enrich the campus life and academic environment. Beyond university, they fill critical jobs, contribute to innovation, and often establish businesses that create more jobs.  

A cap on this number can impact Canada’s future talent pool. Coming back to the University of Regina, one of its prominent on-campus housing spots is the Kīšik Towers. Built to accommodate domestic and international students, it has become increasingly sought after, and with the surge in international enrolments, the Kīšik Towers feel the pressure with waitlists growing longer each semester. This causes many students to venture into Regina’s rental market, often with limited knowledge about the intricacies of renting in Canada. International students may find themselves at a disadvantage in instances where landlords charge above-market rates or impose unfair conditions in rental agreements, especially if the former are unaware of their tenants’ rights. There may be students who do not know of the housing standards and may become hesitant to voice out for fear of eviction.  

It’s crystal clear that this is not just about housing and is instead also about the ethics of enrolment. Institutions must make sure that they equip international students with practical resources as they join the academic community. Community and student awareness as well as ethical rental practices should be taken into account. Policy interventions, based on thorough cost-benefit analyses, can help provide structural solutions. One example could be introducing rental caps in student-dense areas or offering tax incentives to landlords providing affordable housing can make a tangible difference. I believe that there is not really a one-size-fits-all approach but such measures can help create a supportive and inclusive housing environment especially for international students. 

To conclude, the international student surge is not just a U of R phenomenon; it’s a trend seen across Canadian universities. The housing challenges offer valuable insights into the complexities of managing international enrolments while ensuring students have a holistic experience. The need for proactive planning, collaboration, and the commitment to ensuring that every student, domestic or international, has access to safe and affordable housing should be addressed. As the University of Regina continues its journey as a global educational hub, its response as well as the response of other institutions to this challenge will for sure be keenly watched and awaited! 

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