The old saw is that Canada is rich in natural resources, and this is true. But the country’s greatest natural resource is a long, shared, undefended border with the sole global superpower. It is in Canadians’ interest to make sure that this resource is renewable. One way might be through university education.
As American college education becomes increasingly unaffordable for the middle class, Canadian institutions should do more to reach out to prospective American students and families.
The recent craze among Canadian postsecondary institutions to increase their intake of international students often puts the emphasis on emerging markets such as China and India. But despite best intentions, many recruitment efforts as well as the satellite campuses established by Canadian institutions often end with a lukewarm response. A good example is the recent announcement of the closure of the University of Waterloo Dubai campus.
The fact is that Canadian institutions have trouble recruiting outstanding international students, often competing against the powerhouse institutions south of our border. No amount of marketing can change this fact. However, our institutions can and should compete with the state schools and the private colleges which are often overpriced for what they offer.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper declared that the brain-drain had been plugged in 2011. The next logical step is to move forward and reverse the trend to draw more talented people to our cities and communities. Getting an education abroad is one of the most effective ways to understand other peoples and enrich one’s world view. Americans have distinct advantages over international students from other locations in adapting to our campuses because of the similar culture and the lack of language barrier.
American postsecondary and postgraduate education has met no serious challenges from other countries thus far. Yet, U.S. tuition fees are still growing in the midst of a high unemployment rate and fragile economic recovery. (For example, Michigan State University would cost $20,000 annually in tuition fees for in-state students, and twice that for out-of-state Americans. Private universities can cost three times as much.) But, international students pay $15,000 to $30,000 in tuition annually in Canada. This is the marketing opportunity for Canada.
Financial incentives alone make Canada a promising place for Americans to study. Any institutions that wish to increase Americans enrollment can draw on the experiences of McGill University, which has over 2,000 American students in a 30,000-member student body (in all, 20 percent are international students). McGill has one of the lowest international tuition fees in the U15 and runs aggressive recruitment campaigns. Canadian institutions should work together for more effective outreach and to minimize costs. Provincial and federal governments could do more by providing further incentives such as scholarships for the best American students to study here.
It’s time for Canada to stop playing catch up with United Kingdom and Australia in competing for the same pool of foreign students from Asia, Middle East, and Africa. Canada’s sole advantage to the U.K. and Australia is its proximity to the world’s third largest population and superpower. Canada, despite its many strong institutions and affordable tuition fees, is not proactive enough in reaching out to Americans. Providing strong education to the next generation of Americans would bring the two countries closer to build a stronger future.
Jim Kuo is a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto’s faculty of applied science and engineering, in the department of mechanical and industrial engineering.