Efforts by Canadian universities to recruit more foreign students could soon get a boost from a new international education marketing strategy being developed jointly by the federal and provincial governments.
In the works for a year, the marketing strategy will try to promote Canadian postsecondary institutions to students abroad with a single clear and consistent message, rather than the fragmented approach provinces and institutions now take.
“For years and years we’ve been hearing this complaint about a fragmented approach and that Canada needs to be more savvy about how it talks about itself and the message it conveys,” said Darcy Rollins, director of international education for the Manitoba government and co-chair of the federal-provincial committee working on the marketing strategy. “We are working to reduce that fragmentation.”
The marketing campaign will touch on a number of themes, but the overarching theme will be that of Canada as a place that offers students a high-quality education at a reasonable price and opportunities to realize their potential. “That’s what we really want to focus on in terms of our message to potential learners: in Canada, we will equip you to succeed in whatever you want to do,” Mr. Rollins said.
The Canadian government set aside $2 million in its 2007 budget for the development of an international education marketing campaign. Bang Marketing, a Montreal firm, was chosen to develop the brand. The company recently put forward three options for brand concepts, consisting of images, slogans and logos. The committee will select one of the three concepts which will then be incorporated in promotional materials used by provinces and institutions when recruiting abroad. The marketing strategy isn’t meant to replace efforts that provinces and institutions currently use but rather to augment those efforts, Mr. Rollins said.
The committee is expected to report on its progress to federal and provincial government officials by late winter and to unveil the brand later in 2008.
At the same time, the committee is working on rules specifying which institutions and organizations will be permitted to use the brand and how it can be used. Government officials want to ensure the Canadian brand provides students with an assurance of quality. “You can’t have quality if everybody who hangs up a shingle is allowed to use the brand,” Mr. Rollins said.
Government officials have identified several priority markets where the brand will be used, including China, India, Brazil, Korea, the U.S., Japan, Germany, France and Mexico.
David Turpin, president of the University of Victoria and chair of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada’s standing advisory committee on international relations, called the marketing strategy “an important first step” in positioning Canada as a destination of choice for international students. On a recent trip to India, Dr. Turpin noticed a billboard outside the British Council in New Delhi announcing a pending deadline for applications for Chevening scholarships, Britain’s prestigious scholarship program for foreign graduate students. He urged the federal government to follow Britain’s lead and develop an international graduate scholarship program and to streamline Canada’s student visa application process. These added measures, he said, are “critical” in helping Canadian universities better compete for international students.
Geneviève Gougeon, trade commissioner with the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, said the branding campaign aims to position Canada as the premier destination for international students after the U.S. and Britain. Canada accounts for about five percent of international postsecondary students, according to the government (based on OECD figures). The U.S. is the world’s top host country accounting for about 22 percent of all foreign students while Britain accounts for about 11 percent. Australia, which has been particularly successful in its recruitment efforts in recent years, accounts for about seven percent and has one of the highest international to domestic student ratios of any country. All three countries employ successful national marketing campaigns and well-publicized scholarship programs to attract foreign students.
The government says that international students at all levels contribute an estimated $5 billion a year to the Canadian economy through tuition fees and living expenses. It also sees international students who choose to stay as an important source of potential immigrants to offset Canada’s aging workforce and to help fill skills shortages.