As Tensions Rise, Canadian Colleges Confirm Indian Students Welcome

    14 October 2023

    Canadian universities are confirming the safety of their Indian students and providing resources after a diplomatic crisis between the two countries.

    Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau publicly accused the Indian government of being involved in the killing of an Indian separatist leader in Canada. India deplores the accusation.

    As Canadian colleges prepare to open classes, some students are considering delaying their studies. Others are wondering whether higher education could be damaged in the current crisis.

    FILE - People walk on the grounds of the University of Toronto in Toronto, Ontario, Canada September 9, 2020. (REUTERS/Carlos Osorio/File Photo)
    FILE - People walk on the grounds of the University of Toronto in Toronto, Ontario, Canada September 9, 2020. (REUTERS/Carlos Osorio/File Photo)

    India by far supplies the most students to Canada's fast-growing international education business. About 40 percent of study permit holders are from India. International students provide over $14.6 billion to the Canadian economy each year.

    Estimates by professionals in India show that over 100,000 students are preparing for an English language test and organizing financing to study in Canada next year.

    Top universities offer programs costing up to $29,000 a year. Colleges provide short-term, less costly programs. They are connecting with students to confirm the diplomatic disagreement does not damage one of Canada's better-known exports.

    Reporters from Reuters news agency spoke to numerous universities and professionals in Canada and India who said they were taking measures to reduce students' questions or fears.

    Joseph Wong is vice president of the University of Toronto. He said the university has reached out to many partners in India to confirm they are committed to continuing cooperation. The University of Toronto had more than 2,400 international students from India in 2022-2023.

    Canadian universities say the diplomatic disagreement may only be temporary. But Ashok Kumar Bhatia, President of the Association of Consultants for Overseas Studies, said many Indian students have become concerned about their safety.

    Companies like IDP Education have been sending video messages in an effort to calm nerves.

    John Tibbits is president of Conestoga College in Ontario. He noted about a hundred students out of the thousands that register every year were asking about delaying their study. Some current students were also seeking 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 $36 million a year for college on just support for students."

    International education has seen strong growth in recent years, helping the industry become one of Canada's biggest exports. Education tops auto parts, building materials and airplanes.

    York University's President Rhonda Lenton was in India when news of the dispute broke. She said she is sure the two governments will be able to eventually resolve the situation.

    But in the Indian state of Punjab, families and hopeful students are worried. An estimated 25 percent of families in the state have a member studying or preparing to study in Canada. Over 5,000 students from one city in Punjab moved to Canada last year.

    Taxi-driver Jiwan Sharma is considering whether his son should complete his recent travel plans to Canada.

    "I have put my lifelong savings worth over 250 million rupees ($4 million) for sending our son to Canada, hoping he would settle there, and help us in old age."

    Tensions do not seem to be decreasing. After a report that India's government asked Canada to withdraw 41 diplomats, Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly said Canada wants private talks with India to resolve the diplomatic dispute.

    Gurbakhshish Singh, a student in Punjab, told Reuters he is sad that India's relationship with a welcoming country like Canada has worsened.

    "The government has put our future in jeopardy," the student said.

    I'm Gena Bennett.

    Nivedita Balu, Wa Lone, and Manoj Kumar reported this story for Reuters. Gena Bennett adapted it for VOA Learning English.


    Words in This Story

    uncertaintyn. unknown, not knowing for sure

    jeopardyn. danger of loss, harm or failure