FPJ Exclusive: “Working On Fast-Track Approval Process For Study Permits,” Says University Of Toronto VP

FPJ Exclusive: “Working On Fast-Track Approval Process For Study Permits,” Says University Of Toronto VP

In an exclusive conversation with The Free Press Journal (FPJ), Joseph Wong, the vice-president of the University of Toronto, talks about the university's proactive measures to enhance the student experience.

Simple VishwakarmaUpdated: Sunday, May 12, 2024, 08:31 PM IST
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On the one hand, there is India-Canada diplomatic row and, on the other, international students in Canada are facing a housing crisis. In this context, University of Toronto claims that it’s managing to address the issues that affect Indian students. In an exclusive conversation with The Free Press Journal (FPJ), Joseph Wong, the vice-president of the University of Toronto talks about the university's proactive measures to enhance student experience. These measures include accommodation provisions and advocacy for streamlined study permit processes. Through this conversation, Wong provides a comprehensive overview of the university's stance on fostering international cooperation and ensuring a conducive learning environment for all students.

FPJ: How does University of Toronto aim to tackle the India-Canada diplomatic row?

Wong: The University of Toronto, and the university sector in general, operates independently from the government. Therefore, the University of Toronto is committed to continuing its collaborations in India and attracting exceptional students from India to the university. Despite the ongoing diplomatic tensions between our governments, we hope for a speedy resolution. Nonetheless, we will continue our efforts to maintain the status quo and carry out our plans as usual.

FPJ: Has the number of Indian student enrollments been affected by this issue?

Wong: We have a few issues to address. Firstly, we want to clarify to prospective Indian students that the University of Toronto remains open to welcoming students from India. Due to the current diplomatic tensions, we have observed a decline in the number of applications from India, but we want to assure students that we still welcome them. To illustrate, last year we awarded four-year renewable scholarships to some of the top students, and 37% of those scholarships were given to students who graduated from Indian high schools. Therefore, students from India or those who studied at Indian high schools are still a top priority for the university.

FPJ: What is the percentage of the decrease in the number of Indian students?

Wong: Currently, we have around 2,500 students enrolled at the University of Toronto. Our application numbers have decreased by approximately 40%, but we are still uncertain about the actual registration numbers. However, we are hopeful that we will be able to maintain similar enrollment numbers as in the past. To attract more students to the University of Toronto, we are offering scholarships.

FPJ: What collaborations can we expect between University of Toronto and Indian institutions?

Wong: We have established partnerships with several universities in India, including IIT Bombay, which is one of our major partners. Additionally, the University of Toronto's India Foundation was formed in collaboration with Tata Trust. We also collaborate with various civil society organisations. In fact, we have many flourishing partnerships throughout India that continue to flourish. 

FPJ: What is the possibility of opening a campus in India?

Wong: No, the University of Toronto, as a matter of principle, does not establish branch campuses in other parts of the world. So, there are no University of Toronto campuses outside of Canada.

FPJ: Does the university provide accommodation to all international students? 

Wong: We have been working with the federal government to create a fast-track approval process for study permits. This is to help international students, especially Indian students who have faced challenges while studying in Canada. Certain institutions in Canada, particularly in the community college sector, have been problematic. They use agents who do not provide adequate housing for students. Many students attend these colleges not to study but to work. Therefore, we proposed a fast track scheme for those institutions that do not use agents, provide housing for their students and meet certain standards. At the University of Toronto, we guarantee first-year students a residence space on campus. We want to raise the standards of education and living for international students. The government was planning to launch a pilot programme this year, but due to the cap issue, it has been postponed. We hope that it will be implemented next year. We have laid all the groundwork and made our case to the government.

FPJ: How is the university planning to support international students with reduced work hours to afford living expenses?

Wong: It is unlikely that the restriction on the number of hours that international students are able to work will affect the university sector, as most students can find on-campus employment through research assistantships, internships and similar opportunities. These opportunities are one of the benefits of studying at a university. Additionally, full-time students are expected to be focused on their studies, so the restriction on working hours is unlikely to have any impact on our student body.

FPJ: Are there any collaborations with companies for internships, mentorship programmes or on-campus jobs?

Wong: The University of Toronto has extensive partnerships with the private sector, industry, public sector, civil society, and more, which provide opportunities for students to gain professional experience through internships and work placements. The university has a robust internship placement office in engineering, which is a key priority of the university: work-integrated and experiential learning. The university provides and facilitates these opportunities for students, but it's ultimately up to them to decide where they want to work.

FPJ: What support do students enjoy amid challenges like distance from family and cultural differences?

Wong: The University of Toronto has a Center for International Experience, which offers one-on-one support to students with immigration challenges. The immigration advisors handle 15,000 cases, but they treat each student separately. The university has many health supports, especially for mental health. Students seeking mental health services can get same-day appointments, and the university offers a 24/7 mental health hotline in over 100 languages. This is to ensure that all students can comfortably talk about mental health issues. International students graduate at the same rate as domestic undergraduate students, which shows the quality of support they receive. Furthermore, international students participate in co-curricular activities like clubs and leadership opportunities at a higher rate than domestic students, indicating their engagement with university opportunities.

FPJ: Could you shed light on some of the most popular courses in your institution? 

Wong: There are five main disciplines: commerce, business studies, computer science, engineering and social sciences. However, the most important ones are computer science, math, engineering and programming.

FPJ: What kind of scholarships and financial aid can Indian students avail?

Wong: 37% of our four-year renewable scholarships were granted to students who had completed their high school education in India. These students were mostly of Indian origin. These scholarships are with a value ranging from $50,000 to $100,000. We also offer the Pearson Scholarship, which is a full-ride scholarship that covers full tuition and living expenses. The Pearson Scholarship is valued at nearly $100,000 per year, and 27 of the winners in the last five years have been from India. We only give out 30 Pearson Scholarships per year. At the University of Toronto, we understand that finances can be a barrier for many students, and we are committed to supporting them. We have a variety of financial resources available, including emergency bursaries, assistance for scholars at risk and other extenuating circumstances.

FPJ: Can you share some insight on Canada’s educational landscape?

Wong: The University of Toronto is a great choice for Indian students because Canada is a very multicultural and diverse society. This makes people feel comfortable when they move there, especially to a city like Toronto where they can immediately see people who look like themselves and share similar experiences. The University of Toronto is consistently ranked in the top 20 or top 25 universities in the world and is the number one university in Canada. One of the biggest benefits of studying there is that graduates are highly employable, with a degree from the University of Toronto being recognised around the world. In fact, the University of Toronto is ranked 12th in the world for employability, which is amazing. The university is committed to ensuring that its students get jobs after they graduate, which is why 50% of domestic students qualify for financial aid. This makes the University of Toronto one of the most inclusive universities in the world, despite being one of the top-ranked universities. The university is incredibly diverse, with 95,000 students from various backgrounds and experiences. This provides students with an enriching experience that is both transformative and inclusive. The University of Toronto is an elite university that is not elitist, making it accessible to everyone.

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