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.
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 the 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,
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