Postmedia News: Ottawa aims to double number of international students

The Harper government will outline plans today to double the number of international students in Canada by targeting China and other fast-growing countries, The Sun has learned. It is the latest step in the federal strategy to make economic development the heart of Canada’s foreign policy.

More diplomatic, visa-processing and marketing resources will be shifted to China, Vietnam, India, Brazil, Mexico and the Middle East/North Africa region (including Turkey), in order to help recruit the world’s best and brightest, Trade Minister Ed Fast is to announce in Toronto.

The goal is to boost the number of international students and academic researchers to more than 450,000 by 2022, which translates into a huge cash injection for universities due in part to the higher tuitions paid by non-Canadians.

That will be done “without displacing Canadian students,” Fast is to tell an audience at Ryerson University, according to a partial transcript of his prepared statement.

Canadian full-time undergraduates paid on average $5,772 this year in tuition, or 3.3 per cent higher than 2012-13, according to Statistics Canada.

Internationals paid more than triple that, and the average $19,514 tuition they paid was 6.8 per cent higher than the previous year.

The federal strategy is to boost the number of Canadian jobs “sustained” by international students by 86,500, or double the current number, according to Ottawa’s calculations.

“International education is a key driver of jobs and prosperity in every region of Canada,” Fast, the MP for Abbotsford, is to say.

Canada is in a “fiercely competitive” battle with other countries, especially the U.S., Britain and Australia, for international students.

The strategy will “help us advance Canada’s commercial interests in priority markets around the world.”

The strategy includes $13 million over two years for Mitacs, a Vancouver- based national not-for-profit company that helps Canadian university students obtain placements in academic institutions in China, Brazil, India, Mexico, Turkey and Vietnam.

Another $5 million a year will fund a “branding and marketing” campaign that will promote Canada as a destination for students seeking a high-quality education at a relatively low cost.

A 2012 study estimated that international students spent $8 billion a year on tuition, accommodation and discretionary spending – an amount greater than the total annual overseas sales of Canadian aircraft. Ontario and B.C. get two-thirds of all international students in Canada.

Sandra Schinnerl, director of Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s Office of International Students and Scholars, said they would love to see more support from the provincial and federal governments, noting “they’ve always pushed back” for years.

Canada is ranked about fifth in the world as an international education destination, and it’s critical that Canada ups its game to keep or improve this rank, Schinnerl added, especially as countries such as Singapore and Malaysia jump into the fray. Russia may also become a competitive force for international education if it re-invests in its post-secondary infrastructure.

“From Canada’s perspective and B.C.’s perspective, we hope to have more international students than our share traditionally,” Schinnerl said. “Canada is now paying more attention and the government is putting more resources into raising the profile of the country as a destination.”

A 2012 advisory report said adding more international students will boost innovation in Canada, make Canadian students “citizens of the world,” create international alumni networks that will facilitate trade and investment, and help ease Canadian skilled labour shortages.

“The more the merrier,” said Ajay Patel, dean of international education at Langara College. “They add a richness not only to our classrooms but our culture and help Canadians have a better idea of what the world is like.”

“What we’re seeing is more and more students are becoming mobile; they want to travel and get an education abroad. Part of it is because the globe is getting smaller. Canada is

definitely a destination of choice and Vancouver has a soft spot in that.”

Many of B.C.’s universities and colleges – including Langara, Kwantlen Polytechnic University and Simon Fraser University – tend to draw most of their international students from Asia, predominantly China, but also from Japan, Hong Kong and Korea.

Langara, Kwantlen and the University of B.C. are also a big draw for scholarship students from places like Brazil and Saudi Arabia.

But most say they are also eyeing other parts of the world, mainly the countries with a fast-growing middle class that the Harper government has targeted.

Langara, for instance, is focusing its latest recruitment drive on India, while Kwantlen has set its sights on Kazakhstan, Colombia, Nigeria and Vietnam or “anywhere there’s an increasing middle class” to add to its 18,000-student population, said Sandra Schinnerl, director of Kwantlen’s Office of International Students and Scholars.

“We’re less interested in the numbers than we are in the mix,” Schinnerl said. “You wouldn’t want all international students coming from the same country.”

Aaron Andersen, UBC’s regional recruitment director, agreed, noting UBC does not have one single country that represents more than 30 per cent of its 9,000 international students.

The university is working in about 60 countries, including Brazil, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

UBC is planning a recruitment trip to Mexico, which he said is a fantastic partner and offers strong economic, cultural and tourism opportunities. “It’s international but it’s still close,” Andersen said.

According to the B.C. Council for International Education, there were more than 100,000 international students in B.C. in 2011-12, injecting more than $2 billion into the economy – up 17 per cent from 2010, according to a recent report by Roslyn Kunin and Associates, Inc.

Andersen noted international students also enhance UBC’s reputation, not just abroad but in North America. Both UBC and SFU say the U.S. is one of its most important sources for international students and offers “fantastic business opportunities for Canada.”

SFU, for instance, is seeing rapid growth among international students from the American west coast, mainly because it is an NCAA sports school, said Bing Lee, SFU’s assistant director of new student enrolment and transition. He said SFU is also looking to recruit more students from Africa.

“It adds to the dynamic of being an undergrad,” Lee said. “It opens our eyes, having that experience working with undergraduate students from other parts of the world.”

By: Peter O’Neil

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