Over the last decade Canada has slowly increased its international student population with well-timed international student-friendly policies. Now, with the recent recommendations from the Advisory Panel on Canada’s International Education Strategy to further increase the inflow of international students, it is very likely that the international student population will continue to grow.
While portions of the panel’s overall recommendations have now been rightly emphasized, including the call for increasing the international student population in Canada, others, like the emphasis on the need for more support infrastructures, have not received as much attention.
While it is true that international student recruitment represents a potential source of skilled human capital and that international students can contribute to innovation and trade, it is equally true that some international students face serious cultural and academic challenges that may undermine their ability to contribute in the long run to the Canadian labour market. As a result, making sure that international students receive the support they need in Canada is of the utmost importance.
Furthermore, the report noted that as the competition for international students intensifies, cross-sector partnerships among business, government, and university leaders will likely determine how successful Canada is at attracting and retaining international students. The ability of sector leaders to adjust leadership styles and modus operandi to put common priorities ahead of sector-specific priorities will be important as well. Cross-sector partnerships face other challenges, such as making sure campuses, communities and workplaces are welcoming to students.
The recruitment of international students cannot be discussed separately from questions of support, welcoming communities and welcoming workplaces. While the report provided a hopeful vision and road map for sustaining Canada’s leading role in the global knowledge economy, it is important to keep in mind the work that still has to be done to implement this vision.
Abu Kamara is a doctoral candidate in the interdisciplinary PhD program at Dalhousie University who recently submitted his dissertation, “International students and the politics of growth.”
International education in a digital world
One omission in this report is recognition of Canadian universities’ expertise in online education and how it can complement the traditional strategies recommended in this report.
For example, our universities offer hundreds of first-year courses online that students can take before coming to Canada. Promoting these courses to students who are awaiting visas, saving money, or just maturing another year can channel a new demographic of international students to oncampus programs in Canada.
In addition, hundreds of complete degrees, diplomas and certificates are available online, making a Canadian education and its related benefits accessible to more than just the most wealthy or the very highest achievers.
In the digital age, the notion of studying “at” a Canadian university or receiving an international education does not necessarily require physical relocation. A broader definition of international education that takes into consideration new ways of teaching and learning is necessary if Canada is truly to become a leader in international education.