Canada’s National Ballet School May Be Forced To Rescind Offers To Overseas Students

Canada’s National Ballet School says it may be forced to rescind or defer offers for its competitive teacher-training program because its status as a career college has caught it in a tangle of jurisdictional red tape over new student immigration rules.

The federal government said in January it would reduce the number of study permits it issues this year by as much as 35 per cent in a bid to reduce strain on the housing market and the health care sector. The reduction is expected to continue in 2025. The Ontario government responded by assigning 96 per cent of its permit allocations to publicly funded colleges and universities and the rest to language schools, private universities and “other institutions,” though not to career colleges.

One of Canada’s largest cultural training facilities, the Toronto-based National Ballet School offers a teacher-training program that attracts about 100 applications from around the world each year. The program’s unique structure grants globally recognized teaching accreditation from institutions such as the The Royal Academy of Dance and Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing.

But because it’s registered under the Ontario Career Colleges Act for this program, the ballet school is ineligible for new international study permits under the new regime. This appears to make the National Ballet School relatively unique in its circumstance. Other nationally recognized postsecondary arts-training schools, such as the Royal Conservatory’s Glenn Gould School, are not registered as career colleges and therefore don’t face the same restriction.

Between 20 and 25 people are in the National Ballet School’s teacher-training program at any given time, of whom five or six are usually international students. The program takes between one and three years to complete, depending on the students’ professional experience, while the school also offers joint programs with York University and Simon Fraser University. It blends traditional coursework, dance classes and pedagogy studies, while providing on-the-job training through ballet-training programs.

Six of the ballet school’s offers are affected this year, and six expected international-student positions would be affected in 2025 if governments distribute permits the same way. This accounts for about $260,000 or roughly 3 per cent of annual tuition revenue. Executive director John Dalrymple says this will also diminish the calibre of the school’s applicant pool and its reputation globally. “You need to have that balance of global talent – it makes the Canadian talent shine because it really ups the calibre for everybody,” Dalrymple said in an interview.

Because the affected program is often part of a longer-term career plan for dancers who hope to become teachers, the school tends to make offers early. In the case of cohorts affected by the new study-permit caps, some offers were made as far back as two years ago, well before the new system came into place. The affected students come from the United States, Japan and Mexico, the school said.

Dalrymple said the school is caught in a bind over the province’s response to a federal directive. The school is about three weeks away from either rescinding its offers to these students or asking them to defer, he said, in hopes that the situation will change in coming years.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said that the school’s predicament was a consequence of Ontario’s permit-allocation decision, but that it would work with provinces and territories to address any challenges.

A spokesperson for Jill Dunlop, Ontario’s Minister of Colleges and Universities, said the province took a data-driven approach to allocating applications to postsecondary institutions and focused on programs that support the province’s labour market needs.

The situation has left the school and potential students reckoning with uncertainty. Ashleigh Powell, the National Ballet School’s director of teacher training and a graduate of the program, said it’s been a difficult time.

“For these wonderful artists who are looking to make this transition and give back to the community that they’ve been a part of for so long, the idea that they have to pause their training, or put their lives on hold, and potentially wait another year until they’re able to pursue their passion and their dreams. It’s been a real challenge,” she said.

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