August 25, 2023
The University of Toronto is excited to welcome students arriving for the fall term. Many already call the Toronto region home, while others come from across Canada and from nearly 170 countries around the world. Our students’ diverse experiences and global perspectives enrich our classrooms, campus life, and community and create lifelong friendships and networks. Robust international engagement – including recruiting talented students to U of T and sending students abroad – is critical to our mission as a global university.
As such, we are deeply concerned that recent conversations around housing affordability and availability have unfairly focused on international students. The housing challenges Canada faces are a complex and long-standing societal problem with no single driver and no quick solutions.
Post-secondary educational institutions have an important role to play in providing housing supports for students. At the University of Toronto, we guarantee housing to all first-year undergraduate students. We are looking forward to welcoming more than 10,000 students into University housing again this year, including 750 students in the newly opened Harmony Commons residence at the University of Toronto Scarborough. Next year, an additional 500 new spaces will be available on our St. George campus, with more residence projects in the pipeline.
We continue to build new residences to meet increasing demand from students in all years of study as market options become less affordable. Universities do not receive public funding for student housing, nor can they use tuition fees for this purpose. But we think providing students with suitable housing options is so important that we have made a decision to assume debt to build these new residences. We are working with government partners to identify and hopefully remove key barriers so we can build more residences even faster to support our students.
In line with our long-term strategic academic plans, we have gradually increased the proportion of international students to 30 per cent of our total enrolment, consistent with our peer institutions globally. We have done this in a measured way that keeps pace with comprehensive services that we offer to all students, including academic support, health and mental health services, spiritual care, extracurricular activities, and recreational opportunities. We also provide additional resources to help international students adjust to life at the University of Toronto and in Canada. We are proud to see our students become graduates who make significant contributions to Canada and the world.
Post-secondary institutions that pursue responsible strategies like these should be able to continue admitting top students from around the world. To that end, the University of Toronto, working with Universities Canada and other sector groups, has suggested the government develop a “trusted institutions” framework that encourages best practices in recruiting, retaining, and supporting international students, while expediting processing of study permits for institutions that meet these high standards.
Addressing Canada’s housing crisis is an urgent problem that requires thoughtful collaboration among all levels of government and community partners. It will take creative solutions and long-term vision. The University of Toronto is actively engaged in that conversation. As an academic institution, we have world-leading experts in fields such as urban planning, architecture, economics, geography, engineering, public health, and social work who research housing issues and will continue to put forward solutions.
We all benefit when talented international students choose to study in Canada at universities and colleges that support them throughout their academic journey. Singling out international students as a primary driver of our current housing crisis hurts individuals and groups, and damages Canada’s reputation abroad. Instead, supporting post-secondary institutions to provide student housing should be part of a principled conversation around building affordable, sustainable and vibrant communities where everyone can thrive.
Professor Joseph Wong