Many universities report big jumps in foreign enrolment
Universities across Canada say better marketing and better awareness of Canada as a place to study are the main reasons behind the dramatic increase this year in foreign student enrolments.
But there are several other factors at play, including the greater difficulty some students are having getting into the U.S. as a result of the terrorist attacks of September 2001.
Based on early fall figures reported by members of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, foreign-student enrolment is up more than 15 percent across the country, with many provinces showing jumps of 20 percent or greater. Several universities report increases of 25 percent in 2003 compared to last year. Applications are up, too, in some cases even more dramatically. The University of Manitoba reports a 75-per-cent increase in applications over last year, with enrolment up more than 40 percent.
Even with these increases, foreign students represent less than seven percent of the student body in Canada.
Many universities are actively trying to recruit foreign students, helped by the federal government and the Canadian Education Centre Network. In calls to a dozen universities across the country, better marketing was singled out by most as the biggest factor behind the increase.
Yves Jodoin, director of admissions and recruitment at Université du Québec à Montréal and national vice-president of the Association of Registrars of the Universities and Colleges of Canada, said UQAM has been recruiting actively in francophone countries in North Africa and the Middle East, and the results are starting to show.
Federal government officials calculated that in 2001, foreign students spent $4 billion in Canada. Universities want more foreign students because they contribute to the mix on campus, and also because of the money the international students contribute.
"We are building a new international building that is privately funded," said Ray Pillar, admissions and records manager at University College of the Cariboo in Kamloops, B.C., "and in order to pay for it and make other revenue contributions, we plan to increase international student intake by probably another 33 percent."
But not all universities have been marketing themselves more aggressively. Queen's University saw applications to its graduate programs more than double over two years even though it's not making new efforts to promote itself.
Ulrich Scheck, dean of graduate studies and research at Queen's, said, "We suspect that the reasons for the increase since the fall of 2001 are - roughly in order of importance - the terrorist attacks of September 2001 and the subsequent more restrictive U.S. policies with respect to international students; the decrease in educational opportunities in the students' home countries; and an increase in the value of studying at and receiving a degree from a North American university."
Relative cost also enters into play. A Canadian education often costs less than a comparable education in the States. "Our international students tell us that lower tuition is certainly a factor," said Peter Dueck, director of enrolment services at the University of Manitoba.
One more reason is the Internet. If in some cases applications are way up, it's because people are able to apply electronically, from anywhere in the world.
No single country is providing the bulk of the foreign students. The U.S., France and China send the largest numbers. And the increase is not being felt across the board. University of Toronto registrar Karel Swift reports the number of undergraduate applications is down this year. Some observers think the SARS emergency in Toronto may have had an effect, since applications were due in the spring when the much-publicized outbreak was at its peak.
Isil Toreci, 24, who came to Canada from Turkey two years ago to do a master's degree in chemical engineering at the University of Ottawa, may be typical of other students coming to Canada. She'd participated in a one-year exchange program in the U.S. and was looking to go back there to do her graduate work. But when she started researching the details, she realized the cost of living was cheaper in Canada and that Canadian universities compare favourably to American ones. In other words, she would get a good education for a lower cost.
Ms. Toreci said U.S. universities often land at the top of potential students' lists simply because they are better known, and because many professors abroad did part of their studies in the States.
But that is starting to change. For one thing, she, like many of her fellow foreign students, enjoyed Canada and Canadians. They're taking that favourable impression back home with them.
Plus, she said, the marketing campaigns are having an effect: "In the last couple of years, there are more advertisements about Canada, so people are starting to consider Canada.