Canada’s new international education strategy aims for 450,000 students by 2022

The Canadian government unveiled its new International Education Strategy this week and it is ambitious. Canada aims to nearly double the number of international students it attracts with a goal of 450,000 international students and researchers by 2022.

The strategy is closely tied to Canada’s Global Markets Action Plan (announced in November 2013), which identifies country markets important to Canadian businesses and to the growth of the economy in general, and advances Canada’s interests in them. As such, some of the key markets to the new Canadian International Education Strategy are emerging powers:

  • Brazil
  • China
  • India
  • Mexico
  • North Africa and the Middle East
  • Vietnam

The government also stressed that Canada will endeavour to “maintain” its position in more mature markets in which Canada has already established itself, such as France, the UK, Germany, Japan, Korea, and the US.

450,000 would be a great leap forward

The new International Education Strategy does not mark a departure for Canada in terms of ambition; the last several years has seen strong government commitment to increasing international student numbers. By 2012, more than 265,000 international students were studying in Canada, representing an increase of 11% over the previous year and a remarkable 94% increase since 2001.

But the strategy does represent an intensification of Canada’s drive to be a world-leading study destination. The 2022 goal of 450,000 is a significant increase over 2012’s roughly 265,000, and it would put Canada closer in scale to other major destination countries such as the US and Australia in terms of international student numbers. In 2012/13 819,644 international students were studying at American colleges and universities, according to Open Doors. Australia, meanwhile, had 515,853 full-fee paying international students in 2012 and the new government seems committed to strengthening the sector further.

A Canadian Bureau for International Education (CBIE) study conducted in 2013 estimates that Canada holds a 5% share of the global market for internationally mobile students, making the country the 7th most popular study destination worldwide after other leading hosts such as the US, UK, China, France, Germany, and Australia.

As challenging as it will be for Canada to claim more market share in the fierce global competition for international students, the government notes that:

“The number of international students is growing at a faster rate in Canada than in any other country, with the number of international students studying in Canada increasing by 51% since the Edu-Canada pilot project was launched in 2007 – an average of 8% per year.”

The new target, if met, would inject billions into the economy

According to the government, in 2010, international students in Canada spent more than CDN $8 billion on tuition, accommodation, and other spending; supported over 86,570 jobs; and generated more than CDN $455 million in government revenue. The government predicts that the new International Education Strategy goal of 450,000 will:

  • “Create at least 86,500 net new jobs for Canadians, bringing the total number of jobs sustained by international education in Canada to 173,100 new jobs;
  • See international student expenditures in Canada rise to over CDN $16.1 billion, generating economic growth and prosperity in every region of Canada;
  • Provide an approximate CDN $10 billion annual boost to the Canadian economy.”

International students are valued by universities and colleges in part because they pay so much more in tuition than Canadians do – nearly three times as much: CDN $19,500 a year to Canadians’ average of CDN $5,700.

Not just a numbers game

It isn’t just more international students that Canada wants – it’s talented students, and it’s research collaborations with universities and research institutes around the world. The government announced these areas of focus in this regard:

  • “Student and faculty exchanges;
  • Student and faculty mobility;
  • Joint research;
  • Joint curriculum development;
  • Joint course delivery;
  • Joint academic and skills-development programmes.”

The strategy document notes: “Deeper links between research institutes and the attraction of researchers will help strengthen Canada’s innovation edge and competitiveness – keys to success in today’s highly competitive, knowledge-based economy.”

Also along the economy-as-a-whole line of thinking, Canada’s International Trade Minister Ed Fast says the International Education Plan will:

” … advance Canada’s commercial interests in priority markets around the world and ensure that we maximise the people-to-people ties that help Canadian workers, businesses and world-class educational institutions achieve real success in the largest, most dynamic and fastest-growing economies in the world.”

Key drivers of the plan

To attain its goal of 450,000 international students/researchers by 2022, the government will rely heavily on two sources of funding:

  • Already established funding of CDN $5 million per year, devoted mostly to branding and marketing in the key priority markets;
  • A commitment of CDN $13 million to be distributed over two years to Globalink’s Mitacs, a national not-for-profit organisation that encourages innovation through research and training programmes and student mobility between Canada and Brazil, China, India, Mexico, Turkey and Vietnam.

One of Canada’s national newspapers, The Globe and Mail, reports that some education leaders see the funding as too meagre to boost Canada’s global profile. But Minister Fast responded by saying that “the funding is ‘sufficient’ and that, over time, the government is ‘committed to bringing the resources to bear to achieve the objectives that we’ve set out.’”

What will be required to achieve the target?

Strengthening Canada’s competitive position among leading destination markets will be crucial; it needs to solidify a unique image and set of benefits that distinguishes it from the pack. According to the new International Education Strategy, these are the branding points Canada will be promoting in priority markets:

  • “A welcoming, safe and multicultural country offering high-quality education at an attractive price;
  • A global centre of innovation, research and development;
  • A research partner of choice;
  • State-of-the-art research facilities; and
  • A world leader in skills development and other advanced skills for employment.”

Also important will be communicating the message that Canada’s visa and immigration rules make it an attractive place to study – not the least because of the opportunity to work during and after studies. The government promises:

“Additionally, it will soon become easier for those international students attending designated educational institutions to work during their studies.”

As ICEF Monitor reported last year, a plan is in the works for full-time international students with valid Study Permits to be allowed to work off-campus for a maximum of 20 hours per week without a Work Permit.

Despite a damaging strike by foreign service officers that delayed international students’ visa applications last summer, Canada has been steadily working on streamlining its visa procedures and processing times.

Optimism abounds

So far, reactions to the International Education Strategy have been positive. University of Western Ontario president Amit Chakma, who chaired the government’s international education advisory panel, told The Globe and Mail:

“It sends a signal outside of Canada. It’s one thing for a bunch of university and college presidents to say things, but it’s another thing for the government of Canada to formally announce a bold strategy.”



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