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Broken promises from Ontario colleges take a toll on mental health, international students say

While trying to figure out which Canadian college to attend, Saurav Adhikari was at the mercy of what recruiters in Nepal told him — about the best city for him, how difficult the course work would be and which program would help him land a job. 

Thankfully, Fanshawe College proved to be the right fit on all fronts, said the 19-year-old, now three semesters into a business accounting diploma. But he knows other students who aren’t so lucky. 

“You hear of students being promised things, thinking it would be easier to study here, but now they have to drop out because of the schedule. The consultants promised it wouldn’t be that difficult,” Adhikari said. 

“I think if we are not getting what we were expecting, you will end up having a lot of stress and you will go through depression and it would be a really hard thing for a student here. They need to be straight to the point.” 

Ontario’s colleges are aiming to give international students a better experience.

They’ve agreed to a new set of rules to protect students like Adhikari from recruiters who make promises about job prospects and education standards they can’t keep. 

The standards — which colleges must comply with no later than June 2024 —  include not making misleading guarantees about academic, immigration or employment outcomes. They aim to provide students with a rewarding post-secondary experience, to support their well-being to help them achieve academic and personal success.

Fanshawe ‘following what’s expected of us’

Fanshawe College, for its part, is already meeting and exceeding those standards, said Jeff Wright, the college’s vice-president of corporate strategy and business development. 

“We’re leaders in this space, and we’ve been doing these these things and have a maturity and a rhythm that is second to none. We’re very well positioned and we’ve been following what’s expected of us since we’ve been at this.” 

A student stares at the camera.
Pramod Bhandari, 20, an international student at Fanshawe College, says he knew what his accounting program would be like, but others taking different programs fail because they didn’t know the workload would be so high. (Kate Dubinski/CBC)

Almost half of Fanshawe’s students are from abroad, and almost half of those international students are from India. The rest come from 120 countries, with Philippines, Nepal, Nigeria, China and South Korea sending the most students, Wright said. 

“The world is global and we want to create this extraordinary immersive multicultural condition where domestic and international students alike are mixing with people from all over the world.” 

Fanshawe has routinely ranked in the Top 10 in the world and Top 3 in Ontario among international students for satisfaction, according to the iGraduate Barometer. 

Adhikari was drawn to London because of the free student bus pass, which saves him several hundred dollars. He eventually hopes to move to Vancouver. 

“Students need to know what they will go through as a student and what it will be like after so they won’t be stressed about the future,” he said. 

His friend, Pramod Bhandari, said he knew what his accounting program would be like, but he’s seen others who are taking different programs fail because they didn’t know the workload would be so high. 

“Between first semester and second semester, so many people drop out because it’s very difficult, and then they opt for a different program and they lost their semester fees because they’re taking a new course. It’s a lot of money,” said Bhandari, 20.

crowd of people in a hallway
Students filter out of a lecture theatre at Fanshawe College. Almost half the students at the London school are from abroad. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

“The colleges must be genuine about stuff. They need to tell us, ‘You might find this course difficult, you should have basic knowledge first.’ They shouldn’t give them an offer letter and not tell them how difficult it will be. They need to be up front.” 

Arriving in a foreign country with little support and having the pressure of being on your own for the first time and not succeeding can be draining, Adhikari said. 

“It’s a loss of time and money.” 

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