*Featured in Embassy Magazine on January 21, 2015.
By Karen McBride
A year ago last week, the federal government unveiled Canada’s first International Education Strategy (IES), signalling that global perspectives and experience are needed to ensure Canada’s prosperity in the 21st century.
The IES is a major achievement for the education sector, which had been urging a pan-Canadian strategy for two decades. It demonstrates a remarkable degree of consensus across governments, organizations and institutions for a country where education is a provincial and territorial jurisdiction and there is no national education ministry. Moreover, international education increasingly viewed as a cross-cutting public policy priority, as its success underpins Canada’s diplomacy, trade and immigration objectives.
The IES sets out the following objectives:
- Double Canada’s international student population.
- Focus on priority education markets: Brazil, China, India, Mexico, North Africa and the Middle East and Vietnam, and reinforce established markets.
- Brand Canada to maximize success.
- Strengthen institutional research partnerships and educational exchanges, and leverage people-to-people ties.
- Leverage resources – government, associations, institutional, other sectors – to maximize results.
Checking in now, early in 2015, what progress has been made over the year in order to position Canada to achieve these objectives and where do we need to focus more attention going forward?
Ambitious Targets: The IES aimed to increase – nearly double – the number of international students in Canada from the 2011 level of 239,000 to 450,000 by 2022. In fact, as of 2013, there were 293,500 – so we are well on the way. While our international student numbers were already on the upswing thanks to effective promotion by institutions, organizations, provincial governments and existing federal programs, the IES focused our attention on the potential for a dramatic increase and on preparing our services to ensure incoming students’ academic and social success.
Study Permits, Work and Post-Grad Opportunities: On June 1, 2014, a host of changes was brought to Canada’s international student regulations. For example, as of that date, study permits for full-time international students at most public post-secondary institutions allow the student to work part-time off campus without applying for a separate work permit. In the 2014 student engagement survey conducted by the Canadian Bureau for International Education (CBIE), 35% of respondents indicated that the chance to gain work experience is a top reason for choosing Canada as a study destination. Work during studies also positions students for entry to the Postgraduate Work Program and possible future application for permanent residence. These opportunities allow international students to be catalysts for stronger economic, scientific and political linkages between Canada and their home countries in the longer term, as well as contributors to Canada’s economy and society while they gain practical work experience to launch their careers.
Involve our Youth: As reported in a 2014 study released by the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC), 97% of Canadian universities offer study abroad programs but only 3.1% of students participate each year. Participation of college and high school students in international education opportunities is even lower. While CBIE’s pioneering work on this issue in 2009 identified several obstacles which contribute to this low participation rate, the cost of study abroad was clearly the major barrier. CBIE plans to update this research in the coming months with a view to supporting the objective of the IES to enhance people-to-people connections. As the IES suggests, international education is a two-way street. By sending Canadian students abroad for meaningful learning experiences, we are developing the worldviews and leadership skills they need to thrive and to innovate in the decades to come.
We Are All Responsible: Achieving these goals isn’t solely the responsibility of education institutions and governments. The private sector could play a catalytic role by speaking out about the critical importance of international education to Canada’s future. In a recent survey of SMEs across Canada undertaken by Leger Marketing for AUCC, two out of three hiring managers surveyed said Canada is at risk of being overtaken by dynamic economies like China, India and Brazil unless young Canadians learn to think more globally, and 82% say employees who have cross-cultural knowledge and an understanding of the global marketplace enhance their company’s competitiveness. Students need to hear this message from employers, educational institutions at all levels need to continue their efforts to support students’ international education aspirations, and governments need to signal that this is a critical endeavour to secure Canada’s future prosperity, as the Brazilian, US and UK governments, among others, have already done.
Canada’s Global Engagement Challenge 2017: Canada will be celebrating a milestone 150th anniversary in 2017. What better time to reach a new level in Canadian student mobility by offering 15,000 small-scale grants annually by that year to help our young people take advantage of international education opportunities offered by their institutions? That would be major step forward and a call to action for key stakeholders to work together to address Canada’s Global Engagement Challenge, the challenge of ensuring our citizens remain fully engaged, immersed, capable and competent on the world stage, and called on as partners of choice in a globalized context. Such an initiative to celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary would be a fitting and forward-looking investment in Canada’s future.
Karen McBride is the President and CEO of the Canadian Bureau for International Education (CBIE) which promotes internationalization across the education spectrum.