'It's not fair': International students get into RRC course faster, Manitoba man says

A man who came to Canada as an international student in 2012 now says as a permanent resident of Manitoba, he can't get into a course here until 2019, even though international students are being accepted before then.

Rashminder Pal says he was offered to enrol as international student if he paid higher fee

Rashminder Pal, 27, says he was told he'd have to wait until 2019 to get into a heavy duty mechanics course at Red River College, but later found out an international student who applied earlier this year was accepted into the same course for the semester this fall. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

A Winnipeg man says international students are getting into the heavy duty mechanics course at Red River College faster than Manitobans and he doesn't think the process is fair.

Rashminder Pal tried to get into the course but was told there was no space until 2019. He later learned from one of his roommates about a friend overseas who applied for the same course as an international student and got accepted for the fall 2017 semester.

"He took the same course and he applied in March [of this year]. How come somebody from outside can get a seat right away and not a permanent resident or immigrant here?" he said.

"I was shocked."

The RRC website on the heavy duty mechanic course states: "Due to high demand, this program is open to Manitoba residents only. Applications received from non-Manitoba residents for this program will be cancelled and the application fee will not be refunded."

International students are sent to a different web page.
Pal says the wording on the college's website is misleading and that Manitobans should know if a program is being offered to international students.

Pal didn't pay the $100 application fee because he didn't want to wait until 2019 to get started in the course.

"I want to upgrade my skills, I want to secure my future, for that I need education," said Pal.

Pal is a permanent resident of Manitoba and inquired about applying to the course as a Manitoban. He came to Canada as an international student in 2012. After hearing about international students getting in earlier, Pal took his concerns to the admissions office.

"I was told that they have seats reserved for international students, like 16 seats reserved, but on the website it doesn't say anything, it says it's only for Manitoba residents," he said.

Pal, who became a permanent resident in January, emailed the international education office at the college to get answers as to how this could happen.  Eventually he spoke with someone from the office on the phone.

"He told me on the call that if I really needed he can put me in [the 2017 course] if I paid the international student fee, which was $14,000," said Pal.

The tuition fee for Manitobans is about $4,000.

Pal says he asked to get the offer in writing, because it didn't sound right to him, but the staff member refused.

In a second phone call, recorded by CBC News, Pal was again told by administrators at RRC that he could potentially apply as an international student if he paid the $14,000 tuition fee.
Pal says an administrator at the college told him he could get into the course sooner if he applied as an international student. Red River College says it was a misunderstanding, and that the staff member was trying to help and offering to look into the possibility. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

"In the last five years this is the first time that we have come across this particular situation so … we would have to talk to our higher authorities to see whether we can allow a domestic student to enter an international cohort, but if you were to do so, you'd be paying the same fees as other students," the administrator said.

They said the fees are part of a cost-recovery process because the extra spaces for international students are not subsidized by the Manitoba government and if he takes one of those spaces, the fees must be paid.

When asked if any Manitoban could take an international space if they paid the fee, two people in the call responded.

"It has never happened in the past that a domestic student would have requested [second voice begins to answer] to go into international section," said RRC administrators.

At the end of the call they encouraged Pal to visit them at the campus to discuss it.

Rashminder Pal tried to get RRC course but was told there was no space until 2019

5 years ago
Duration 1:53
A Winnipeg man says international students are getting into the heavy duty mechanics course at Red River College faster than Manitobans and he doesn't think the process is fair.

A spokesperson for RRC later told CBC it was a misunderstanding for Pal to be under the impression he could get in sooner if he entered as an international student.

"To my understanding it was a request that was made but that's not something that the college would be pursuing," said Conor Lloyd.

"We've looked into it, they discussed it today, they looked into it in greater detail and that's not a model that we want to support because that would create a two-tier [system] in the Manitoba education system," said Lloyd.

Pal insists it was not his idea to enrol as an international student, and that the offer was suggested to him by the administrator he spoke with last month. Pal says he never would have requested this because he couldn't afford the fees even if he was allowed.

Lloyd says administrators only told Pal that they would see if it was possible.

"I think there might have been a misunderstanding or a miscommunication in that conversation while they were trying to assist this student with obtaining post-secondary education," said Lloyd.

International students pay much higher fees

Pal says holding spaces aside for international students is unfair.

"I'm totally upset by this, because a reservation [for international students], it's not a solution to anything. It should be first-come, first-served," he said.

"They are paying more tuition fees, that's why there are 16 seats reserved."

But a spokesperson for the college insists that's not the case.

Lloyd says cohorts, or seats set aside for international students, are created based on demand and that the tuition is determined by a cost-recovery basis.
Conor Lloyd, a spokesperson for Red River College says they won't allow domestic students to enrol as international students, because that would create a two-tiered system. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

"That's done to ensure that the college is financially sustainable, but it allows us to invest in programs and equipment and keep tuition down for Manitobans," he said.

Courses that are open to Manitobans are subsidized by the Manitoba government and therefore cost less, but the college only gets a certain amount of funding for each course.

When the subsidized spaces are full, students are put on a wait list. But if there is still physical capacity to take on more students, those spaces are offered to international students.

Pal says if Manitobans are waiting they should get priority.

"If somebody is coming after me and I'm still waiting then that's not right, it's not fair," Pal said.

Pal also says the wording on the website is not transparent because he assumed that the course he chose was only available to Manitobans.

"I think there should be transparency in the website so that every Manitoba resident, or Canadian, they should know if it's for Manitoba residents and international students," said Pal.

Lloyd agreed that the website could be more clear about how the international program works.
Lloyd says international students make up about six per cent of the college's student population. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

"That's something that we're actually going to be clarifying on the website so that it's abundantly clear to all applicants that that is in reference to funded seats for Manitobans," said Lloyd.

Pal says he doesn't blame international students for taking part in cohorts, because he was once an international student.

"To get education is everybody's right," he said  "[But] it should be transparent, it shouldn't be money-making," he said.

Pal says he may look at going to school outside the province but moving away is a whole new challenge.

"It's again starting from the bottom, you don't know anyone, then life is tough again," he said.

International student enrolment on the rise

Red River College did not have the numbers of international students readily available but they did say they make up about six per cent of the student body.

University of Manitoba and University of Winnipeg also accept international students, but neither school holds spaces aside for them. In some instances, the U of M has limits on how many international students they will take and some programs have different admissions criteria, such as the engineering program, which make it more difficult to be accepted.

The U of M does not allow international students to enrol in programs that are subsidized by the government, such as medicine, pharmacy and dentistry. They say international student enrolment is on the rise, jumping to nearly 17 per cent last year, up from around 11 per cent five years ago.

International students at the U of W are admitted based on meeting both academic and English language requirements. They attend integrated classes with the rest of the student body.

Their numbers jumped from around five per cent of the student body five years ago to over seven per cent last year.