B.C., Ontario vow to crack down on diploma mill schools exploiting international students

After years of documented problems with some private post-secondary institutions accused of exploiting international students, the federal government announced it will cap the number of student permits for the next two years. Now, B.C. and Ontario are promising to rein in "bad actors."

Ottawa to cap international student permits for next 2 years, says sector needs to be reined in

A woman wearing glasses is speaking.
Selina Robinson, B.C.'s minister of post-secondary education and future skills, pictured at a July press conference, says B.C. will announce measures next week aimed at cracking down on private post-secondary institutions. (Ethan Cairns/The Canadian Press)

B.C. and Ontario are vowing to crack down on private post-secondary institutions that are accused of exploiting international students, after the federal government announced Monday it will cap the number of student permits issued in the next two years.

Federal Immigration Minister Marc Miller announced the government will reduce the number of student visas by 35 per cent for 2024, stating the goal is in part to target private institutions he described as "the diploma equivalent of puppy mills."

Each province and territory will be allotted a portion of the total student visas, distributed according to population, and in some provinces, permits will be reduced about 50 per cent. 

Speaking with CBC's Power & Politics, Miller pointed to B.C. and Ontario in particular as areas where private institutions are giving out what he called "fake" degrees. He said these institutions have "exploded in the last couple years" and federal and provincial governments need to get it under control.

"We also need to put this on the table to make provinces do the jobs that they're supposed to do," he said, adding provinces have the "surgical fine tools to be able to do this in a way that shores up the integrity of the system."

CBC News has reported in the past about private post-secondary institutions misleading international students, and recruiters making dubious claims about jobs and residency and allegedly issuing fake documents for visa applications. 

WATCH | Hundreds of institutions:

Canada needs to rein in institutions granting 'fake' degrees, minister says

3 months ago
Duration 2:45
Immigration Minister Marc Miller, who announced that the federal government will cap the number of international student permits over the next two years, told CBC's David Cochrane that there are hundreds of 'degree-granting institutions' across the country, and that the provinces bear part of the responsibility for cracking down on them.

B.C. to announce plans next week 

B.C. Post-Secondary Education and Future Skills Minister Selina Robinson said her government is working on "a suite of actions" to be announced next week that will "significantly increase quality standards in international education." 

Speaking with CBC Radio's BC Today, Robinson said B.C. has more than 250 private post-secondary institutions, and she has been "appalled" by some of their actions, including recruiting students with false promises of in-class instruction and guaranteed housing. 

"The student does all the right things and they arrive and there is no housing, there are no supports, and in fact I've heard cases where there is no classroom," Robinson said. 

She said the province is working with the federal government to increase provincial oversight and ensure student visas are applied appropriately.

"We're going to be requiring much more accountability by these private institutions." 

WATCH | 'Egregious' private schools:

B.C. to target 'egregious' providers who mistreat international students

3 months ago
Duration 2:24
B.C. is set to announce measures that will improve oversight and accountability of private education providers that advertise services to international students, Post-Secondary Education Minister Selina Robinson tells BC Today host Michelle Eliot.

Post-secondary education is a provincial responsibility in Canada.

Jill Dunlop, Ontario's minister of colleges and universities, said in a statement that the province is also working with the federal government on ways to crack down on practices like predatory recruitment.

"We know some bad actors are taking advantage of these students with false promises of guaranteed employment, residency, and Canadian citizenship," she said.

'Emotional roller-coaster' 

The federal government announced other accompanying changes, including a requirement for international students applying for a permit to provide an attestation letter from a province or territory.

Starting in September, international students who start a program that's part of a curriculum licensing arrangement — where a private college has been licensed to deliver the curriculum of an associated public college — will no longer be eligible for post-graduation work permits.

Provinces and territories will have to decide how permits are distributed among universities and colleges in their jurisdictions. The cap will be in place for two years, and the number of visas to be issued in 2025 will be reassessed at the end of this year.

Man standing at a podium with Canadian flags behind him.
Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Marc Miller speaks to the media during the federal cabinet retreat in Montreal on Monday. (Christinne Muschi/The Canadian Press)

Philip Landon, interim president and CEO of Universities Canada, said the move could decrease the "explosive numbers" of students attending these institutions, but is concerned about the scale of the reduction being tasked to provinces on a tight timeline.

"To take something like that and then sort of say to the provinces, 'You figure it out, right away … the scale of it is significant and concerning," Landon said.

Sarom Rho, national coordinator of Migrant Students United, would like to see provinces better fund public education and reject the growing privatization of post-secondary education.

Rho said a string of recent government announcements affecting international students, including a recent hike to income requirements, has been an "emotional rollercoaster." She is calling for consistency, as well as comprehensive changes that get at the root of the problem without harming students.

"We need to be looking at the people who making this possible and making money off of it, rather than punishing working-class international students and their families," she said. 

"If a school is considered to not meet the standards for students or graduates to get a postgraduate work permits, then they shouldn't have the ability to charge tens of thousands in tuition fees by allowing students to come on study permits."


Kevin Maimann

Digital writer

Kevin Maimann is a senior writer for CBC News based in Edmonton. He has covered a wide range of topics for publications including VICE, Toronto Star, Xtra Magazine and the Edmonton Journal. You can reach Kevin by email at

With files from Aaron Wherry