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Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

Student Polling Program (SPP).

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney’s recent troubles, and those of his governing Conservative Party, have an interesting intersection with the recruitment of international students to Canada’s community colleges.

As the Globe and Mail put it on March 4th:
“[There] are the 1.3 million South Asians living in the Greater Toronto Area. The Immigration Minister’s unceasing efforts to deliver their votes and those of other new Canadians into the welcoming arms of the Conservative Party have landed Mr. Kenney in the biggest trouble of his ministerial career.”

(http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/letter-reveals-tories-plan-to-capture-immigrant-vote/article1929227/)

There is little doubt that the Tories pushing of the Student Partners Program (SPP), which has led to a quadrupling of the number of Indian students in Canada, is right up the alley of a political strategy to entice the urban “ethnic” vote to join the congregation of Conservatives.

For decades this has been the domain of the Liberals and NDP, and played a key role in the final count when the Conservatives were on the outside looking in at power in Ottawa. As this demographic has become more dynamic to deciding election fortunes, Kenney and his colleagues are on record now, as going right after them.

So no surprise to read the Conservative strategy posted on virtually every front page in Canada. It confirms why the SPP was implemented. After all the program empowered so many individuals and organizations (many of which are unscrupulous education and immigration agencies) who see the Canadian study permit process as an easy mark for getting persons into Canada whether or not there is any intention to study there. For experienced observers of Canadian immigration matters, SPP seemed implausible for an immigration department which for years was extremely conservative and oversaw a disciplined, rigorous and robust review of study permit applications.

No doubt it’s been great for Indian students, mostly from Punjab, who have strong connections in Canada. It’s made those Canadian families, often with many voting eligible members, feel good about the political status quo. It’s benefited business people in India (again many who are connected to Canada) in the multi-million dollar people-moving business.

But it’s moving Canada over to the Australian student recruiting scheme of quantity at any cost, and for the cash. From many accounts from Provincially-funded community colleges in Canada who are the participating institutions for SPP, the last two years have seen a morass of unprecedented huge totals of applicants, many no-shows, an unprecedented number of tuition refunds issued once the “student” arrives in Canada (commonly indicating the student will not honour the study permit), and as a few college administrators put it – a real mess. Meanwhile the high-end degree bound students to Canada’s world-class universities, have been getting lost in the forest of fraud and poor applications.

Of course for the Tories – it’s a good strategy to win another election.

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About Mel

Mel has consulted universities, colleges, governmental and non-governmental organizations in the field of international education since 1997. He is co-founder of Higher-Edge, the parent of Overseas, Overwhelmed, and a director of the Canadian University Application Centre. He is a former award-winning CBC reporter and holds a Masters degree from Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism.

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