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International Education: A Key Driver of Canada’s Future Prosperity

Chapter 1: Mandate of the Advisory Panel

1.1 Guiding principles


Budget 2011 allocated $10 million over two years to develop and implement an international education strategy that will reinforce Canada as a country of choice to study and conduct world-class research.

In order to achieve this vision, an advisory panel of experts, reporting to the ministers of Finance and International Trade, was named on October 13, 2011. We, the panel, were tasked with making recommendations on the strategy and setting out the contributions of all partners. Specifically, the panel was asked to provide advice on a range of issues related to the post-secondary international education sector. Early on, we acknowledged the need to consult extensively with federal, provincial and territorial governments. We took particular note of CMEC’s international education marketing action plan, entitled Bringing Education in Canada to the World, Bringing the World to Canada: An International Education Marketing Action Plan for Provinces and Territories, released in June 2011. Given the interrelatedness of the different education sectors, we also adopted a broader approach to our mandate and included education stakeholders from all sectors and all regions of the country. Our aim throughout this process was to root our work in the values of inclusiveness, openness, transparency and collaboration.

The terms of reference that framed the mandate of the advisory panel specified that we were to ensure the strategy maximized economic opportunities for Canada in the field of international education, including strengthening our engagement with emerging key markets, focusing on attracting the best/brightest international students, expanding the delivery of Canadian education services abroad, and building and expanding greater partnerships between Canadian and foreign institutions.

1.2 Our vision for Canada

Our vision for Canada: become the 21st century leader in international education in order to attract top talent and prepare our citizens for the global marketplace, thereby providing key building blocks for our future prosperity.

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. The underlying goal of the strategy is to attract top talent that will drive Canada’s future prosperity through strengthening our educational institutions, promoting research and innovation, building linkages for the future around the world, and attracting valued immigrants to help grow our economy. Canada is facing a unique window of opportunity. We believe this opportunity can be seized if we all coordinate our promotion efforts to ensure Canada achieves greater mindshare among the world’s best and brightest, which is a necessary step toward increasing our market share of international students and researchers.

The panel has come to the conclusion that international education is a key driver of Canada’s future prosperity, innovation, entrepreneurship and international trade. This report seeks to outline the benefits that international education brings to Canada. We have seen that there is close alignment between international education and a range of federal and provincial/territorial policies related to human capital, innovation and economic growth.

Broadly speaking, internationalization of education in Canada allows future generations of Canadians to acquire a global perspective, thus helping them to become engaged citizens of the world. In an increasingly integrated world, and in light of Canada’s own growing engagement in trade, investment and geopolitical affairs, providing Canadian students with a global perspective is of strategic importance. A bold long-term strategy is required to realize these benefits.

Fortunately, many of the foundational pieces are already in place. Provinces and territories have already taken a leadership role in international education. Institutions at all levels of our education sectors—language schools, K-12, post-secondary education (colleges, polytechnics, Cegeps and universities)—have been active in the international arena, as have many professional associations.

Canada now needs to take the next steps. The OECD estimates that the global demand for international higher education is set to grow from 3.7 million students in 2009 to 6.4 million by 2025. Most of the growth will come from developing and emerging countries as they recognize the importance of an educated and intercultural population as the driver for economic prosperity and social progress. The strategy should support the development of partnerships, including with the private sector, bring greater coordination to our various initiatives and make a commitment to strategic investments. This will strengthen Canada’s engagement with emerging economies and ensure greater collaboration between institutions in Canada and abroad.

1.3 Process

1.3.1 Online consultations

At the outset of our work, we saw an immediate need to consult in the broadest way possible. A consultation process was launched using an online survey. A total of 143 submissions were received. The majority of submissions came from the college/polytechnic sector (28 percent) and the university sector (27 percent), with other submissions coming from education associations, Canadian missions abroad, private organizations, language schools, K-12 school boards, and private colleges. Submissions were received from across the country, the majority from Ontario and British Columbia (accounting for 50 percent of submissions received).

The most frequently mentioned issue was that the international education strategy should be inclusive of all education sectors (K-12 through PhD). Great emphasis was also placed on undergraduate student recruitment, international partnerships, international research collaboration, visa and immigration policies, and opportunities for Canadian students to study abroad.

1.3.2 Regional round tables

In order to gain further insight into the thoughts and issues raised in the online consultation process, the panel hosted a series of in-person round tables to engage and exchange ideas with partners and stakeholders in Ottawa, Halifax, Montréal, Toronto (two), Edmonton and Vancouver. During the seven round tables, we met with 138 representatives of national and regional education associations, institutions and private organizations. Citizenship and Immigration Canada was represented at each round table. Provincial and territorial representatives were also invited to attend, given our awareness of their jurisdiction over all matters related to education.

Overall, the most salient themes of these discussions were: the importance of two-way student and faculty mobility, maintaining quality, that the strategy be mindful of regional and sectorial differences, ensuring adequate visa processing timelines, and aligning the strategy with labour market shortages and immigration policies.

1.3.3 National collaboratory

The Governor General and participants at the collaborator.
Participants at the collaboratory following a keynote address by His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada.

To establish priorities based on the round table discussions and online consultation, the panel invited a group of individuals to a “collaboratory”. At the collaboratory, the advisory panel invited all partners (provincial representatives) and stakeholders (education associations, institutions and experts) to discuss new ideas based on the previous consultations and round tables. The collaboratory brought together 57 representatives from the federal government (including CIC), provincial governments (at the deputy minister or assistant deputy minister level), education associations and institutions (presidents and/or directors of international offices). Finally, this process helped identify a set of priorities to guide our recommendations on the international education strategy. The consensus determined the priorities that now form the basis for our recommendations, as presented in this report.

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1.3.4 Group discussions

International students in Canada participating in a group discussion.
Current international students participating in the group discussion session on March 27, 2012.

Following our engagement with provincial/territorial governments and the education sector, we also wanted to take the opportunity to meet with specific groups that could provide valuable insights for our recommendations. We met with representatives from private-sector industries to discuss their labour market needs. These discussions raised a key point related to the entrepreneurial potential of international students. We reached out to international students currently studying in Canada to listen to their views and learn from their experiences. We were particularly interested in their views on the costs incurred related to health care (which was raised several times as a potential inconvenience). International students are savvy shoppers; they are courted by several competitors. Their views indicated we must ensure we are true to our promise and that we are providing a quality education experience and adequate support services. In an era of social media, there is a strong risk that any negative experience will be shared with a broader audience. These discussions allowed us to validate and recalibrate our findings.

1.3.5 Benchmarking mission

Our research revealed that China and India are important markets for education providers in Canada. The panel traveled to both countries to gain a more in-depth picture of opportunities to expand our Canadian presence in these markets. This education familiarization tour visited four cities: Shanghai, Beijing, New Delhi and Bangalore. We met with international partners, educational institutions and government agencies. This opportunity allowed us to validate our initial thoughts with regard to future directions for the strategy. The most important lesson from this mission was the common realization that the world has moved beyond the bricks and mortar approach to providing services. We found that a digital approach would be a more effective use of resources to reach a wider target audience, as opposed to the establishment of physical offices. Our recommendations thus turned to a greater focus on being successful in social media and e-communications. We also saw that each market is unique: there is no one-size-fits-all approach.

1.4 Research papers

We turned to a variety of research to inform our deliberations. two reports were of particular importance: Economic Impact of International Education in Canada—An Update, by Roslyn Kunin & Associates, and Canada’s Capacity for International Student Enrollment, by the Illuminate Consulting Group.

1.4.1 Economic impact of international education in Canada—an update

This report suggests that, in 2010, international students in Canada spent in excess of $7.7 billion on tuition, accommodation and discretionary spending (up from $6.5 billion in 2008). More than $6.9 billion of this revenue was generated by the 218,200 long-term international students in Canada, of which 37 percent came from China and South Korea. In addition, short-term language students contributed $788 million to the Canadian economy. When accounting for additional tourism benefits from international students, the report finds that the expenditure resulting from international students in 2010 was $8.0 billion, which translates to 86,570 jobs and $455 million in government tax revenue.

1.4.2 Canada’s capacity for international student enrollment

Overall, this report found that Canada displays no notable capacity issues regarding international post-secondary education students at a national level. According to 2009 data, international students comprise 7.5 percent of post-secondary enrollment in Canada at the national level (compared to 23.2 percent in Australia) and only 0.7 percent of K-12 enrollment. These enrollment ratios vary only slightly across Canada. In some smaller provinces (population-wise) the ratio is very low in international comparison (and relative to larger provinces), allowing for sustainable growth opportunities. Projecting a high-growth scenario (if domestic enrollment were to grow at its average rate over the last five years and international enrollment were to grow at 10.0 percent year-over-year), international students would account for 17.3 percent of total post-secondary enrollment in Canada by 2020. The report concludes that given the strong international student growth dynamics since 2008, the issue to be faced is not capacity itself, but how capacity is being managed to maintain Canada’s reputation for quality.

1.5 Our value proposition: consistent quality at a reasonable cost

Canada’s brand is based on consistently high quality and a reputation for excellence across the entire education sector. Canada offers international students a safe and multicultural learning environment where they can choose to study in English or French. Further, international students have the option to work during their studies and can also apply to work upon completion of their studies and become immigrants through the Canadian Experience Class (CEC), a pathway to permanent residence.

Given the growth in global demand for international education, Canada is well positioned to capitalize on this window of opportunity with the value proposition of consistently high quality at a reasonable cost.

We firmly believe that maintaining high quality is paramount. The Government of Canada must work in partnership with the provinces/territories, via the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC), to reach a better understanding of existing quality-assurance mechanisms.

The education brand for Canada is characterized by a broad spectrum of possibilities for international students and researchers with across-the-sector quality at its core.

  • In the K-12 sector, students in Canada are consistently ranked among the world’s top five academic performers in reading, mathematics and science by the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment.
  • Language schools in Canada also offer opportunities for international students at all levels, providing a wide variety of programs in English and French for further study, personal development or business training.
  • Canada’s colleges, polytechnics and Cegeps complement the universities with their industry-aligned, career-focused programs and their growing levels of applied research directed at solving industry problems.
  • Canada’s universities are among the best in the world: in 2011, there were 22 Canadian universities in the top 500 of the Shanghai Academic Ranking of World Universities; 20 in the top 500 of the QS World University Rankings; and 18 in the top 400 of the times Higher Education World University Rankings. Our universities are also linked to the international community through more than 5,000 active exchange agreements with university partners around the world.

1.6 Parameters for the work of the panel

It is important for us to underline that our recommendations are mindful of the economic constraints in which the Government of Canada currently operates. Our recommendations were developed with a long-term perspective, recognizing that investments from all relevant parties will be required over the years to ensure Canada’s enduring success in international education. We therefore submit our views to inform the Government of Canada’s policy development in regard to its international education strategy with a long-term view.

Further, we were mindful and respectful throughout our process of provincial/territorial jurisdiction over education. However, we do hope that our efforts will inspire provinces/territories as well as education associations and institutions to carry forward the spirit of engagement we saw come alive during the engagement process. So much good work has already been accomplished. We see the way forward as needing to coordinate and build upon these achievements, as we firmly believe the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This is a critical time for Canada; we hope our recommendations will help coordinate our collective efforts to seize this window of opportunity.

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Date Modified:
2012-08-16