Canada: New international education strategy focuses on diversification and outbound mobility

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • Canada’s new international education strategy includes significant funding for market diversification, with particular focus on digital recruitment
  • The strategy centres in part on ten priority sending markets
  • It will also place a renewed emphasis on boosting the number of Canadians going abroad to study

The Government of Canada has announced a new international education strategy entitled “Building on Success: Canada’s International Education Strategy (2019-2024),” which defines a new stage in Canada’s approach to internationalisation. The plan commits CDN$148 million over five years to international education initiatives, followed by a further CDN$8 million per year of ongoing funding.

The clear priority areas for the new strategy are (1) diversifying source markets for Canadian institutions, and (2) encouraging more Canadians to go abroad to study.

Also included in the budget is a plan to extend Canada’s Student Direct Stream (SDS), which allows students who submit applications electronically and “meet additional up-front requirements” to access faster visa processing times. The SDS is currently available to students from China, India, Vietnam, and the Philippines, and was recently expanded to include Pakistan. Under the new strategy, SDS will be expanded to additional markets through 2024.

Managing growth

Notably absent in the new Canadian international education strategy is a target for increased international student numbers. The last time Canada released a national recruitment strategy was in 2014, and that plan was built around a target to host 450,000 international students by 2022.

Canada surpassed that target in 2017 when it enrolled 494,525 students – an increase of 20% over the previous year. In 2018, Canada added another 80,000 international students to reach a total of 572,415 students for growth of 16.3% over 2017.

Canada’s rapid growth trend is similar to the one in Australia, where international student numbers grew by 11.4% to 693,750 in 2018, following a 12.6% increase in 2017. This trajectory is beginning to attract some critics in Australia; industry observers have recently raised red flags about a perceived overreliance on international enrolments, and on students from China in particular.

Canada’s international student population also includes a heavy concentration of Chinese students, as well as an even larger proportion of Indian students thanks to strong growth from this key market over the last three years. Together, China and India made up 55% of all foreign student enrolments for Canadian educators in 2018.

The new Canadian strategy appears to address questions of how the country will manage growth by emphasising diversification in the enrolment base. Part of the budget – CDN$24.1 million over five years and CDN$5.4 million ongoing – is directed to a new digital marketing effort aimed at prospective students from several priority targets: Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Morocco, Turkey, France, and Ukraine.

The Canadian government notes that, “The new marketing strategy will feature new tools, channels, and technologies that influence the choices of international students and will fully capitalise on the EduCanada brand.” (The EduCanada brand was launched in 2016 to help promote the benefits of Canadian education around the world.)

While diversification of source markets is a top priority going forward for Canada, India and China will remain key markets. Recruitment from these markets is meant to evolve according to the following goals:

“The new strategy will focus on diversifying source regions within China and India for students, as well as levels, programmes and regions of study across Canada, to amplify economic benefits and create jobs in even more of our communities.”

Boosting outbound mobility

The Canadian strategy also highlights a concern that (1) many Canadian students today graduate with technical and/or academic knowledge but lack soft skills and work experience and (2) they are going abroad in smaller proportions than students in other highly developed economies. The strategy document cites research showing that “approximately 11% of Canadian undergraduates study abroad during their academic career—significantly fewer than students from France (33%), Australia (19%) and the United States (16%).”

The new strategy includes a five-year pilot project that will provide financial aid of between CDN$5,000 to CDN$10,000 per year to 11,000 undergraduate students to study or work abroad, particularly in Latin American and Asian destinations. Priority groups for the pilot will be low-income students, Indigenous students, and students with disabilities.

Patricia A. Hajdu, Canada’s Minister of Employment, Workforce Development, and Labour noted of the new emphasis on outbound mobility that,

“When Canadians have the opportunity to study and work abroad, they develop portable, transferable skills like adaptability, problem-solving, resilience and intercultural competencies. They also develop new relationships that can lead to higher earnings and better employment. Through this new strategy, more Canadian students will have the chance to develop internationally valued skills, setting them up for a lifetime of success.”

The strategy includes budget for increased promotion of the International Experience Canada programme, a federal initiative that sends Canadians between the ages of 18 to 35 to work and travel to one of 30 partner countries.

Industry reaction

Paul Davidson, president of Universities Canada, the association representing 96 universities across the country, told Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper that educators are “really pleased with the countries [the government] has chosen” and regarding the new outbound mobility push, that “the higher-education community has been looking for this for about 20 years…We don’t want to be poachers of talent, we want to be partners.”

Denise Amyot, the president and CEO of Colleges and Institutes Canada (CICan), said that CICan is pleased to be co-administrating the new outbound mobility project in collaboration with Universities Canada:

“In an increasingly globalised world, study and work abroad programs are essential international learning experiences that ensure students are culturally literate, resilient, and adaptable. The Outbound Student Mobility Pilot will equip Canadian students to remain competitive in today’s global marketplace. We look forward to working with our members to ensure students have the global skills needed to succeed.”

Larissa Bezo, the president and CEO of the Canadian Bureau for International Education (CBIE), supported a commitment to making the outbound mobility pilot a success. She noted that such an initiative reinforces defining traits of Canadian society:

“Supporting international learning experiences through study and work integrated learning is one of the best ways to reinforce the values of openness and inclusion that are the hallmark of Canada’s success as a diverse society.”

A major CBIE research study of more than 7,000 Canadian students found that 86% of respondents were interested in study abroad but that 80% would require financial assistance to do so.

International students contributed an estimated $21.6 billion to Canada’s GDP in 2018, and supported almost 170,000 jobs for Canadians, according to Canada’s Minister of International Trade Diversification, James Carr.

For additional background, please see:



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