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Canada urged to seize its ‘window of opportunity’ to attract international students

Canada sees a ‘window of opportunity’ opened while its competitors Australia and the United Kingdom are facing policy challenges that are expected to reduce demand from international students. “We must act quickly to strengthen Canada’s position as an ideal destination for the most talented students and researchers”, writes Stephen Toope in a paper Strengthening education and research connectivity between Canada and Asia: Innovative models for engagement commissioned by the Canadian Council of Chief Executives released in July. Toope opines that Canada should turn to emerging markets (China, India, Brazil) instead of relying on traditional markets which are now “experiencing difficult and trouble economic setbacks”. He calls for greater private sector involvement and supports the establishment of a new Canadian international education strategy that is ‘robust and at scale’ to brand Canada as the partner of choice in higher education and research.

Echoing Toope’s proposal, the Advisory Panel on Canada’s International Education Strategy appointed by the Harper government also sees the need for Canada to have a national strategy to international education. In a report presented to the Minister of International Trade this month International education: A key driver of Canada’s future prosperity, the advisory panel puts forward 14 recommendations. It recommends that an International Education Strategy be incorporated as a part of the Canadian government’s agenda to ensure policy alignment with economic, trade and immigration policies. It also recommends numerical targets for mobility (450 000 full-time incoming international students by 2022 and 50 000 outgoing Canadian students per year for study abroad by 2022), the formation of a high-level coordination structure – Council on International Education and Research (CIER), the identification of geographical priorities (e.g. China, India, Brazil), the development of a comprehensive communication strategy including a Canada brand and e-marketing, and the improvement of its visa application system, etc.

The recommendations are not ground-breaking, but the proposed national approach to international education indicates a paradigm shift in the Canadian higher education policy. Despite its position as one of the major study destinations for international students, Canada does not have a ‘national’ policy for international education. Post-secondary education is a provincial responsibility, meaning that the federal government has limited involvement apart from research.

Canada’s drive to develop a national strategy for international education is largely explained by the above-said two reports as well as a report on the Economic Impact of International Education in Canada that portrays international education as a key driver of Canada’s future prosperity. The last report, finalised in May 2012 and released by the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade in August estimates that in 2010, international students in Canada spent more than CAD 7.7 million (EUR 6.22 million) on tuition, accommodation and discretionary spending; created over 81 000 jobs and generated more than CAD 445 million (EUR 359.41 million) in government revenue. Canadian universities are publicly-funded. It is unclear whether full costing has been calculated in the estimate of the students’ tuition and fee spending.

Nevertheless, the Canadians seem to be convinced of the long-term benefits of international education on economic, social and cultural ties with other economies that are beyond calculable fee incomes. This conviction is based on the assumption that Canadian universities are able to attract the best and brightest foreign students who then occupy influential positions upon return to their home countries or stay behind as skilled immigrants. Such a conviction is not shared by the Canadian Department of Citizenship and Immigration, however. On the contrary, it appears that there is a national concern of non-genuine students entering Canada with student visas for illegal employment rather than enrolment. Quietly published in the Canada Gazette in late June is a proposal to weed out such cases that are potentially harmful to the Canadian brand.

Strengthening education and research connectivity between Canada and Asia: Innovative models for engagement

International Education: A Key Driver of Canada’s Future Prosperity

Economic Impact of International Education in Canada - An Update

The Canada Gazette