UNIVERSITIES in Canada are reassuring Indian students of their safety and offering resources to deal with the uncertainty triggered by the diplomatic crisis between the two countries, as they seek to limit the fallout on a booming business.
As Canadian colleges prepare to kick off another semester, some students are considering delaying their courses, while others are assessing whether higher education could become collateral damage of the crisis.
The diplomatic drift began last month after Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau said Delhi may have had a hand in the murder of a Sikh separatist advocate in British Columbia. India denies the allegation vociferously.
India is by far Canada’s largest source of global students in the country’s international education business, making up roughly 40 per cent of study permit holders. International students contribute over C$20 billion (£11.98bn) to the Canadian economy each year.
According to estimates by consultants in India, more than 100,000 students were preparing for the English language proficiency test and arranging financing to study in Canada next year.
Top universities in response are offering courses costing up to C$40,000 (£23,974) a year while colleges provide short-term, cheaper courses, to connect with students to ensure the diplomatic spat does not damage one of Canada’s better-known exports.
Reuters spoke to more than a dozen universities and consultants in Canada and India who said they were taking measures to reassure students.
“We’ve also reached out to various partners in India. Some are educational institutions, and foundations we are working with to reassure … we are committed to continuing on collaboration,” said Joseph Wong, vice-president of the University of Toronto, which has more than 2,400 international students from India out of 86,297 it enrolled in 2022-23.
Canadian universities said the impasse may be shortlived, but questions linger about the upcoming semesters and students are asking about safety in Canada.
Ashok Kumar Bhatia, president of Association of Consultants for Overseas Studies said many Indians are worried about their safety in the backdrop of heightened diplomatic tensions.
Kitchener, Ontario-based Conestoga College’s president John Tibbits noted about 100 students out of the thousands who enrol every year were inquiring about deferring their course, and current students want to attend classes online.
“Our biggest concern is the uncertainty. What might the Indian government do as far as visas and how might people react,” Tibbits said. “We are spending C$50 million [£30m] a year for college on support for students.”
International students have seen a strong growth in recent years, helping the industry to emerge as one of Canada’s biggest export sectors. Last week, Canadian immigration minister Marc Miller described international students as “an asset that is very lucrative”.
York University’s president Rhonda Lenton, who was in India when the news broke, expressed confidence the two sides will resolve the situation.
But in India, families and hopeful candidates in the state of Punjab are worried. In Punjab, which has a population of 30 million, almost every fourth family has a member studying or preparing to study in Canada.
In Amritsar, home to the Golden Temple, one of the holiest sites in Sikhism, over 5,000 students moved to Canada last year.
Taxi-driver Jiwan Sharma is contemplating if it is the right call for his son to board the flight to Canada he booked recently.
“I have put my lifelong savings, worth over `250 million (£2.4m) for sending our son to Canada, hoping he would settle there, and help us in old age.”
However, there are no signs of tensions easing. Last Tuesday (3), Canadian foreign minister Melanie Joly said Canada wants private talks with India to resolve the diplomatic dispute.
Gurbakhshish Singh, a student in Amritsar, said he is disappointed India’s relationship with a welcoming country like Canada has deteriorated. “The government has put our future in jeopardy,” he said. (Reuters)