St. Clair College suspends intakes for some international students amid COVID-19 pandemic

For any international students who were planning to attend programs at St. Clair College in the spring and fall semesters in person, their plans are on hold as the school figures out how to continue with its schedule amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

"International students have really helped not just St. Clair College but all post-secondary institutions in the province and in Canada in general because they really have helped the enrolment base at campuses," said Waseem Habash, vice president of academics at St. Clair College. 

But this year enrolment is way down. The school's regular intake of international students is 1,300 to 1,500 students in any given season, Habash said. For the spring semester this year, he said, the school has under 500.

"We were about 850 students short of our plan and the only programs we could run in the spring were the programs that were completely online," said Habash.

For courses which were supposed to go ahead in the spring and required face-to-face learning from day one like CAD/CAM, industrial millwright and robotics, the school has suspended international intakes in to those programs.

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"We couldn't run those programs when the students are overseas," Habash said. "Those are three programs that we don't get any domestic students in the springtime for, normally."

Habash said they hope to run those programs in the winter semester instead.

For students in semester two and beyond for those courses, they will be learning online in the beginning with the hopes of having approval to do some face to face learning after June 29.

"It would have to be a hybrid delivery essentially," Habash said. 

"We can hopefully get back face to face sometime during the summer." 

A 'long shot'

Habash said it's a "long shot" that international students are going to be allowed to come for school for the fall semester in September. 

"We looked at those intakes that could not deliver online the whole semester," Habash said. "If we are able to deliver online the whole semester then we are able to run those programs and we are able to run them for international students." 

Any time we're losing out on talent like that, I think it's employers that suffer the most. - Justin Falconer, Workforce Windsor-Essex

But when it came to any programs that would require the students to be at the school in the fall, the college has suspended the international students from attending those as well. These programs include power engineering, motive power technician and horticulture. 

"Those are programs that we're still running for domestic students but we cancelled the international intakes for them." 

Habash said the changes affect 15 programs in all and the school is estimating it will be down 50 per cent in enrolment for international students for the fall term. He hopes the school can begin to recover them come January.

"We think the students will come back," Habash said. "There will likely be a pent up demand because a lot of students might be deferring their education or delaying their education."

Power engineering

Dave Belanger, the program coordinator and professor of power engineering technology at St. Clair College, said that in last year's program there was 42 domestic students and 20 international students.

Without the international students, he said, he's basically losing one third of his class.

He said he values what the international students bring to the school.

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"I have a lot of international students who are now living here, contributing, making good money, helping out society," Belanger said.  

And while losing those students is a bump in the road, it won't affect things too badly in the short term.

"If this was a permanent thing, then yes we would because there is an aging workforce in the power engineering industry as in most industrial places in Canada and Ontario," Belanger said. "We're all dealing with COVID and we're doing it the best we can." 

Employers suffer

Justin Falconer of Workforce Windsor-Essex recognizes the importance of international students coming to Windsor to learn.

"These are students that we'd like to keep and to some extent they're coming for post-grads and programs that are in need so any time we're losing out on talent like that, I think it's really employers that suffer the most," Falconer said.

Katerina Georgieva/CBC

He said that while the students will not be able to attend when they may have been able to if there were no pandemic, it is in the name of safety and saving lives. 

"To some extent, everything just seems to have been paused, or like they can't proceed in the way they normally do and so if some of these educational programs, you may miss a semester," Belanger said. "But everyone is just trying to adjust and make good decisions for the health and safety of workers and for clients and students and customers."