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Internationalization helps Canada’s economy and trade, says advisory panel

Panel unveils ambitious plan for student recruitment, international scholarships and marketing.

BY PEGGY BERKOWITZ | AUG 14 2012

An advisory panel on Canada’s international education strategy appointed last fall by the federal government is calling for a “bold long-term strategy” including ambitious growth targets for international students, more scholarships for international students, and an international mobility program for Canadian students.

The report of the six-member panel, headed by Western University President Amit Chakma, had been eagerly awaited by the education community in Canada. It made 14 recommendations, providing context and reasons for all of them. It was released in Halifax this morning by Canada’s Minister of International Trade Ed Fast.

The panel’s first specific goal is to double the number of “quality international students’ within 10 years, from today’s level of 239,000. Canada should focus on attracting students who will either make Canada their home or return their home countries as future leaders.

To attract this calibre of students, Canada needs a competitive scholarship environment. The report is calling for 8,000 new scholarships for top international undergraduates to study in Canada. As well, it says that not enough of Canada’s “substantial” investment in graduate and postdoctoral scholarships support international students: just 25 percent of the Vanier Canada Graduate scholarships and 31 percent of the Banting Postdoctoral Fellowships were awarded to international students in 2011-2012.

The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada quickly welcomed the report and said the panel had put forward “achievable goals.” AUCC President Paul Davidson commented that “Canada needs these kinds of bold initiatives and investments in order to succeed in a very competitive marketplace in international education.”

The panel recommends that Canada focus its promotional efforts on a limited number of markets that have the greatest growth potential for Canada. It names China, India, Brazil, the Middle East and North African region, Turkey, Vietnam and Mexico.

It is also calling for a large mobility program for Canadian students to study in foreign countries that will serve 50,000 Canadian students a year by 2022.

“Internationalizing education in Canada” should become a strategic component of the federal government’s official policies and plans, said the panel. It defined internationalization as “the process of bringing an international dimension into the teaching, research and service activities of Canadian institutions.”

To do that, it recommended the federal government create a council on international education and research to provide policy advice to the ministers of international trade, finance, citizenship and immigration, and industry. It called for stronger marketing of the Canada brand, since international students generally pick the country where they want to study first and the institution later. It said all partners and stakeholders, including provincial governments and academic institutions, need to make internationalization a priority and to take “aligned” actions.

The benefits to Canada of such a policy would include a global perspective for Canadians that is useful strategically; alumni networks of students who studied in Canada and return home, who can assist Canada in opening doors to foreign partners; and help in addressing demographic and labour market issues.

“We, the Advisory Panel on Canada’s International Education Strategy, believe that international education in all its facets brings tremendous value to every community in Canada, whether urban or rural, eastern or western, francophone or anglophone,” it said.

The panel argued that many foundational pieces are in place, thanks to leadership roles by many provinces and territories, education associations and institutions. “Canada now needs to take the next steps,” it said, citing OECD estimates that global demand for international higher education will almost double from 3.7 million students in 2009 to 6.4 million in 2025. There is also “huge market potential” in high school students.

The report positioned international education services as a driver of the Canadian economy: it is now Canada’s 11th largest export and its single largest export to China, said the report.

It stressed that Canada must maintain the high quality of its education system at a competitive cost. Given the provincial responsibilities for education, it called for the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada to establish clear guidelines on quality assurance and a QA framework that will maintain Canada’s reputation for quality education and its support of its international students.

It also called for reforms to Canada’s education visa processing, with increased staffing levels at Citizenship and Immigration Canada and more training for staff at Canada’s embassies and offices abroad.

 

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