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Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada

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

Chapter 2: Why International Education Matters


International education is a key driver of Canada’s future prosperity, particularly in the areas of innovation, trade, human capital development and the labour market. In addition, Canada lives by international trade and we face an increasingly dynamic and competitive market place. We 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.

In the global knowledge-driven economy, Canada needs to educate highly qualified and skilled people who can take their place among the best and the brightest in the world. The internationalization of Canada’s education and research institutions through international partnerships and exchange of talent is thus of substantial importance as it supports Canada’s S & T and innovation agendas.

The second benefit to Canada of international education is that it allows current and future generations of Canadians to acquire a global perspective, thus helping them to become citizens of the world who can contribute to the “diplomacy of knowledge”. 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 great strategic importance.

Third, the near-term economic impact is significant to Canada’s national and regional economies as we strategically diversify our exports by sector and by region. With the alumni networks established through those international students who return to their home countries, Canada gains advocates who can assist in opening doors to foreign partners.

Fourth, an international education strategy that is well aligned with our immigration and labour market strategies can help Canada in addressing demographic and labour market issues.

Fifth, we must recognize the immediate benefits of international education for Canada, spanning economic growth, job creation and increased exports and investment. These benefits are distributed across all of Canada, from coast to coast to coast.

“Education is one of the most important drivers of a country’s competitiveness. In this increasingly globalized world, ensuring that Canadian university students have access, not only to the best education in the world but also to the best international students in the world, is crucial for our long-term competitiveness and success.”—Dominic Barton, Managing Director, McKinsey and Company

2.1 Supporting Canada’s innovation, science and technology agendas

We have seen that Canada recognizes the value of innovation, science and technology as drivers of sustainable long-term economic growth. The Government of Canada has made its commitment in this area clear. Guided by Mobilizing Science and technology to Canada’s Advantage, an S & T strategy launched in 2007, the federal government has invested heavily in fostering Canada’s competitiveness through our entrepreneurial advantage, knowledge advantage and people advantage. This involves substantial efforts to maintain Canada’s reputation for research excellence. In its 2009 progress report on the S & T strategy, the government upheld that: “Performing top-notch research and attracting and retaining outstanding researchers at our Canadian universities will help advance Canada’s position in the global, knowledge-based economy and increase our access to the world’s best ideas.”1

The Science, technology and Innovation Council (STIC) noted in its State of the Nation 2010 report that: “Research excellence is defined at an international level, and the competition for research talent is global. As a mid-sized, open, trading economy, Canada’s orientation must be global if it is to access scientific knowledge generated outside our borders.”2 With respect to research talent, STIC reported, “the number of doctoral degrees is also an indicator of the labour force potential to engage in cutting-edge research and training the next generation,” but pointed out that Canada produces fewer doctoral candidates per capita than many other OECD countries.3 For example, compared to Australia, Canada has a significantly higher share of the domestic population with a post-secondary education at 49 percent compared to approximately 18 percent.4 However, in 2008 Australian universities produced nearly 270 graduates of doctoral (advanced research) programs per million population, compared to only 145 per million population in Canada.5 this trend might be accounted for by a higher number of international students pursuing their doctorate education in Australia. Attracting a greater number of international doctoral candidates would likely improve Canada’s performance in producing greater research talent. The council applauded the value of recent programs supporting Canada’s research excellence through international talent, including Canada Excellence Research Chairs (CERC), Vanier CGS and Banting Postdoctoral Fellowships. These programs are steps to enable Canada to produce internationally competitive research and become a part of important international research networks.

We believe that international research collaboration makes a valuable contribution to Canada’s innovation agenda and economic future. Collaborating with international partners on major research programs is an efficient means of managing human, financial and capital resources, especially in disciplines requiring specialized instrumentation or facilities. Research collaboration is also key to recruiting the best and brightest graduate students and researchers. Canadian institutions have a reputation for high-quality, leading-edge research and infrastructure, and supporting their engagement in large-scale research collaboration will help fill a critical gap in Canada’s innovation system.

In its S & T strategy, the Government of Canada also stressed the necessity of growing Canada’s base of knowledge workers with talented, skilled and creative people. The recent Review of Federal Support to Research and Development, led by an independent expert panel chaired by tom Jenkins, emphasized the message that top talent is necessary to support innovative activity. As the Jenkins panel stated in its report:

Canada’s future as an innovation-based economy depends on ensuring there are sufficient numbers of talented, educated and entrepreneurial people. […] This demands a collaborative approach that brings together our post-secondary institutions, federal and provincial agencies as well as industry and other partners to ensure appropriate recruitment, training and deployment for industrial innovation needs.6

We recognize the ample investments in job creation through innovation, research, education and training that the Government of Canada has made, particularly through funding allocated in its Economic Action Plan 2012. We see international education as the perfect complement to many of these initiatives. A 2007 study published by Duke University and the University of California, Berkeley, found that one quarter of all engineering and technology companies established in the United States between 1995 and 2005 had at least one immigrant key founder.7 Strikingly, in 2005 these immigrant-founded companies generated more than $52 billion in sales revenue and created almost 450,000 jobs.8 A follow-up study found that of these immigrant entrepreneurs, 52 percent initially entered the United States as students.9 We are certain that Canada’s innovation, science and technology agendas would benefit greatly from this kind of increase in importing entrepreneurship and competition. International education will make a powerful contribution to Canada’s competitiveness on the global stage, by reinforcing our supply of talent to provide input to the innovation that Canada needs.

Mitacs Globalink: Showcasing Canada as a top research destination

Now in its fourth year, the Mitacs Globalink program brings the world’s top undergraduate students to Canada for a research project at a Canadian university. For students, the three-month program is an opportunity to experience Canada’s universities and research facilities, while building friendships and relationships with Canadian students, faculty members and industry representatives.

This year, Mitacs is preparing to welcome close to 300 of the world’s best and brightest. Since the program was created, close to 100 former Globalink students applied to return to Canada for their graduate studies.

One example of a student who returned to Canada is Girish Nivarti. In 2009, Girish was a top science undergraduate from the Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur and participated in Globalink. Girish, who chose to return to UBC in September 2011, says, “I thank Mitacs and Globalink for giving me three months with Professor Kendal Bushe, one of North America’s top professors in combustion research. That convinced me to come back to UBC so I can work with Professor Bushe again.”

Internationalization also allows Canadians to learn from the world leaders in scientific and technological research, build capacity for future growth, spread Canada’s reputation for research excellence, and play a role in providing solutions for the world of tomorrow.

Datawind: Canadian innovation serves the world

In April 2012, Canada was featured front and centre at the commercial launch of the UbiSlate tablet computer. The seven-inch portable device, priced at approximately $60, was developed and designed in Canada by Datawind. The Montréal-based company previously made headlines for developing the Aakash, an affordable tablet contracted by the Indian government to provide at a subsidy to millions of Indian students (the UbiSlate tablet is the consumer version of the Aakash). The founders of Datawind, brothers Suneet and Raja Singh Tuli, came to Canada as young boys and eventually pursued their education at the University of Toronto. Describing his education in Canada, Suneet says, “It taught me how to think outside of the box. Passionate teachers and professors, safe and cosmopolitan welcoming communities, at the doorstep of the world’s biggest markets—Canada is the only place in the world I’d choose for my kid’s education.” Now, with products like the UbiSlate and Aakash tablets, he is working to make the Internet more accessible to people in India and other parts of the world.

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2.2 Internationalization and the “diplomacy of knowledge”

Through our experience and our engagement with the education sector, we have seen first-hand that internationalization of Canadian institutions is a highly pressing priority on campuses across the country. We view internationalization as the process of bringing an international dimension into the teaching, research and service activities of Canadian institutions.iv Activities supporting internationalization include exporting Canadian knowledge services, engaging in international research collaboration, attracting international students and researchers to Canadian campuses, and encouraging Canadian students to pursue international learning experiences.

We have heard from some institutions that are very active in all of these areas, whereas others are in the early stages of internationalization, depending on their strengths and priorities. Nonetheless, all of these institutions are working hard to ensure that the education their students (both Canadian and international) receive is supplemented with a sense of global citizenship, by providing them with the intercultural competencies to become leaders in the global knowledge economy. The development of global citizens makes a powerful, positive contribution to what is described as the “diplomacy of knowledge”.

International education enables a multidirectional flow of young people around the world and enables knowledge to transcend boundaries. By engaging in international education, Canada advances its own public diplomacy goals and prosperity while supporting the growth of the global knowledge economy. International alumni of Canadian institutions can go on to become leaders around the world. Their experience of Canada’s culture, values and opportunities will form the foundation for meaningful bilateral relations between Canada and their home countries. Conversely, Canadians who have the opportunity to learn and work abroad will develop the cultural and language skills to act as ambassadors for Canada by demonstrating Canadian values the world over.

Memorial University of Newfoundland: Balancing internationalization on the edge

At Memorial University of Newfoundland, balancing internationalization is a tri-focused effort: supporting inbound students, facilitating international experiences for domestic students and engaging the local community with diversity. Memorial works to balance the realities of geographical isolation and high costs of travel with a special obligation to prepare students who have little experience with cultural diversity to be comfortable with different world views. While continued recruitment of international students is important, equally important is ensuring that our domestic students are provided with opportunities for meaningful international education experiences at home and abroad. This vision guides the planning of Memorial’s internationalization initiatives.

One of the university’s career programs aimed at professional skills development connects international students to volunteer opportunities in the local community, for example assisting a local community organization with the logistics of running the weekly farmers market. Memorial’s Peer Mentor Program not only supports new international students but also focuses on domestic student mentors using the Intercultural Development Inventory as an assessment tool to measure mentors’ pre- and post-experience with internationalization at home. The Global Engagement Grant is a fund accessed by both domestic and international students to plan joint events that meet campus internationalization goals. Throughout these examples runs a common thread: that Memorial strives to portray its international student population as a valuable resource, with the hope that through this positive approach, everyone benefits.

Educating international students in Canada also has the potential to have a significant impact on Canada’s future trade and foreign policy relationships in foreign countries. Likewise, the strategy should ensure that Canadian students have the opportunity to add value to their quality Canadian education with the opportunity for an international exchange or internship. Recruitment and retention of international talent is an essential and increasingly important component of building a modern society and an innovation economy. Through international education, Canada will be better positioned to engage in global trade and investment, geopolitical affairs, and international development.

University of Regina: Fostering long-lasting international networks

As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, the University of Regina recognizes that the development of international education provides post-secondary institutions with a valuable and necessary competitive edge in the global marketplace. To this end, the university strives to foster strong and meaningful international partnerships based on principles of mutual respect and trust.

University of Regina international visiting scholars, 2011-12.
University of Regina international visiting scholars, 2011–12. Photo courtesy of the University of Regina.

One of the most successful programs between the University of Regina and China is the Visiting Scholar Program. This unique scholarship welcomes dynamic individuals from the Foreign Affairs Bureau of the National People’s Congress to study at the University of Regina for a maximum of 12 months. Participants are among China’s brightest and most promising, selected by the National People’s Congress based on their high involvement in China’s central public administration and governance bodies.

“The lasting relationships we’ve forged and our networks of alumni across China have helped to strategically shape our institution as a leader in international education and innovation,” says Dr. Vianne Timmons, President and Vice- Chancellor, University of Regina.

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2.3 Economic impact of international education

As an export, international education services have a significant impact on our economy. A 2011 report commissioned by DFAIT indicated that, in 2010, international student expenditure on tuition, accommodation, and living expenses contributed more than $8.0 billion to the Canadian economy and more than $445 million in government revenues. Their expenditures spurred on economic activity that sustained jobs for more than 86,000 Canadians.

The spending of international students in Canada in 2010 was greater than total Canadian exports of unwrought aluminum ($6.0 billion) or helicopters, airplanes and spacecraft ($6.9 billion). The value of international education exports also represents a sizable portion of Canada’s trade with key international partners when compared to the value of the goods they import. It was estimated in the report that Saudi Arabia spent the equivalent of 44 percent of the value of its imports from Canada on education services; this ratio was also high for India (28 percent), South Korea (19 percent) and China (14 percent). Moreover, education services are now viewed as Canada’s number one export to China.

We believe that the economic impact of international students is noteworthy not just for its value, but because the economic benefits are spread throughout the country. Institutions in communities across Canada are actively attracting top talent from around the world. The expenditure of these students, therefore, makes a valuable contribution to all of Canada’s provinces and territories.

Estimated expenditure of long-term international students in Canada by province (2010)
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A pie chart displaying the amounts long-term international students spend in each province.

Source: Data from Roslyn Kunin and Associates, Inc.

In addition, there is tremendous scope for economic contributions from the direct export of Canadian education services abroad by institutions. Canadian schools, colleges, polytechnics and universities generate millions of dollars in tuition revenue from programs of study offered abroad (i.e. knowledge exports). For example, in 2007–08, $29.72 million in tuition revenue was reported for 32 programs provided abroad by 16 Canadian universities.10 During the same period, $22.52 million in tuition revenue was generated by 57 Canadian colleges for 64 educational programs and 52 educational services offered abroad.11 These figures—representing only a snapshot of revenue being generated at the time the institutions were surveyed—illustrate the impact of knowledge exports.

There is no doubt to us that international education makes a very considerable contribution to the Canadian economy. More importantly, the revenues generated by Canadian institutions through international education services, both domestically and abroad, enable them to build on their capacity to provide globally minded education that supports the development of highly skilled human capital.

2.4 Pipeline to the Canadian labour market

There have been numerous warnings that Canada will suffer a severe shortage of skilled labour within as little as a decade. Canada’s talent shortfall will span all occupations: managerial, professional, technical and skilled trades, as well as highly accomplished researchers and scientists. The demographic pressure of an aging workforce will affect occupations in all sectors. These forces are leading to a situation where, as the Canadian Chamber of Commerce puts it, “We will have too few workers to meet the needs of our economy and of society.”12 In some regions, the challenge of talent shortages is already surfacing.

In the 2011 Annual Report to Parliament on Immigration, it was noted that, “Although school-leavers and other domestic sources contribute the largest proportion of new labour market entrants, immigration is projected to account for all net labour force growth in Canada within the next decade and all population growth within the next two decades.”13 International recruitment strategies targeting both the quantity and quality of talent are needed to address Canada’s future shortfalls in the human capital needed to compete in the knowledge economy.

A recent survey of Canadian corporate executives suggested that many companies are facing challenges in finding available, qualified employees. nearly one third of these executives strongly agreed that labour shortages are preventing their companies from growing.14 the ability to recruit top talent will continue to be a priority for companies across Canada in the years to come. This need for talent is especially evident among certain skilled occupations. In its 10-year outlook for the Canadian labour market, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC) has projected shortages in several occupational groups, including the health sector; business, finance and administration; and the natural and applied sciences and related occupations.15 According to the 2009 UNESCO Global Education Digest, compared to local students, a higher proportion of all internationally mobile students are enrolled in fields of study such as business, science, and engineering.16 these international students are ideally positioned to help meet skilled labour needs in areas of high demand within Canada’s economy.

Toronto Financial Services Alliance: Linking talent to employment

Canada’s financial services institutions have a global presence in locations such as Asia, Europe, Latin America and the United States. The nation has an international reputation as the soundest financial system in the world. Within Canada, Toronto is the country’s financial capital, accounting for two thirds of financial services employment in the province and approximately 20 percent of the city’s GDP.

The Centre of Excellence (COE) in Financial Services Education of the Toronto Financial Services Alliance works collaboratively to strengthen the talent pipeline for financial services in the region. This supports economic development and addresses talent requirements of employers. The COE aggregates information on the skills, knowledge and capabilities needed by individuals for key roles identified by employers and disseminates this information through its Career Advisior portal. Links from the portal to educational institutions and professional associations serve to inform job seekers of the courses and programs relevant to employers’ needs.

According to COE Executive Director Dr. Catherine Chandler-Crichlow, “An international education strategy is not only good for attracting the best and the brightest to study in Canada, it is also integral to the sustained economic development of its sectors locally and globally.”

We are confident that international students choosing to remain in Canada after graduating from our post-secondary institutions constitute a desirable source of qualified immigrants who are capable of integrating well into Canadian economy and society. They are an excellent pool of highly qualified and skilled persons who can meet our current and future labour market needs. On the other hand, those graduates who choose to return to their home country will have the skills to contribute to the global supply of human capital, while retaining a valuable connection to Canada. For Canada, these are both positive outcomes that strengthen our economy and reinforce our international mind share.

“Foreign students make a far more valuable contribution to our country than most of us realize. They pay a premium to attend our institutions, where they expose Canadian students to international perspectives and ways of doing things. Because studying abroad demands a major commitment by the students and their families, they are serious about learning and often raise the educational bar at the institutions they attend. And they are a valuable source of skills for Canadian businesses—speaking the language, being trained on Canadian equipment to Canadian standards, and understanding our culture—all the while offering potential employers a link back to their own countries and cultures.”

The Honourable Perrin Beatty
President and Chief Executive Officer
Canadian Chamber of Commerce

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iv Adapted from the AUCC definition of “internationalization”. Refer to Chapter 5.2 for more information.

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Date Modified:
2014-02-03