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.
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 recognition of this value, the Government of Canada named an advisory panel to provide guidance and direction for the development, implementation and evaluation of an international education strategy for Canada. 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. This report seeks to outline the benefits that international education brings to Canada and presents recommendations for an international education strategy that can align with federal policies related to prosperity and innovation, as well as complement provincial/territorial policies.
In a knowledge-driven economy, Canada needs to educate highly qualified and skilled people who can then 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 to supporting Canada’s science and technology (S & T) and innovation agendas. We view internationalization—the process of bringing an international dimension into the teaching, research and service activities of Canadian institutions—as the first benefit to Canada.i
Second, international education 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”.ii 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 studentsiii 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, which span economic growth, job creation, and increased exports and investment. These benefits are distributed across all of Canada, from coast to coast to coast.
A bold long-term strategy is required so that these and other benefits can be realized. Fortunately, many of the foundational pieces are in place. Many of our provinces and territories have already taken a leadership role in international education, including British Columbia, which has just released its “International Education Strategy” (view/download PDF - 2.09MB). All components of our education sectors—ranging from language schools, K-12 to post-secondary education (colleges, polytechnics, Cegeps and universities)—have been active in the international arena, as have many professional associations. We already have a strong base to build on and the panel welcomes the increasingly active role the federal government has taken in promoting Canadian education internationally, including recognizing education as a key pillar of Canada’s bilateral relations with key countries.
Canada now needs to take the next steps. The opportunities are immense and ready for a sustained Canadian response. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) estimates that the global demand for international higher education is set to grow from nearly 3.7 million students (in 2009) to 6.4 million in 2025. On top of this is a huge market potential in high school students. The K-12 sector can make a significant contribution, as the students who attend these schools can decide to pursue post-secondary education in Canada. Further, international students at the K-12 level can shape internationalization by bringing a diversity of experience to the classroom. The more Canadian students are exposed to an internationalized curriculum and intercultural experiences at an early age, the greater the impact on their development.
Most of the growth will come from developing and emerging countries as they recognize the importance of an educated and intercultural population that is the driver for economic prosperity and social progress. What is required is a strategy that develops partnerships, including with the private sector, and brings coordination of our various initiatives and a commitment to make strategic investments. This will strengthen Canada’s engagement with these emerging economies and ensure greater collaboration between institutions in Canada and abroad.
We believe that a clear long-term strategy will ensure that Canada maintains and increases its market share of the best and brightest international students and researchers, fosters opportunities for Canadians to study abroad and enables Canadian citizens to be more fully engaged in an understanding of the diversity and multicultural nature of the world in which we live.
Our specific goal is to double the number of quality international students within 10 years, from 239,000 today, with a focus on attracting top talent who will either decide to make Canada their home or return to their home countries as leaders of the future. We believe that this goal allows us to focus on sustaining the quality of our education systems while at the same time attracting those students who meet our high standards.
Attracting top talent also requires a competitive scholarship environment. Although Canada has invested substantially in graduate and post-doctoral scholarships, not enough of them support international students. Only 25 percent of the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships (Vanier CGS) and 31 percent of the Banting Postdoctoral Fellowships were awarded to international students in 2011–2012. Many of the awards funded under the Canada Graduate Scholarships Program are not open to international students. In comparison, Australia has just increased its graduate scholarships to 10,000, and the United States is estimated to have 100,000 scholarships. In both cases, the majority are available to international students.
The panel is committed to the concept that the international education strategy should uphold and illuminate Canada’s brand of quality and excellence. Additionally, we are of the opinion that such a strategy will align with other important national strategies (such as Canada’s S & T strategy, a revamped immigration strategy and a labour market strategy) and complement existing and future comprehensive economic and trade agreements.
The panel believes that Canada has a competitive advantage over many other countries, including Australia, New Zealand, the United States and the United Kingdom. The time to act is now so that Canada’s full potential in international education can be fully realized.
A 2011 report commissioned by Foreign Affairs and International Canada (DFAIT) indicated 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. In addition, short-term (staying for less than six months) 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.
In addition, there is tremendous scope for economic contributions from the direct export of Canadian education services abroad. Canadian schools, colleges, polytechnics and universities generate millions of dollars in tuition revenue from programs of study offered abroad. For instance, education services are now Canada’s 11th largest export, and its single largest export to China. The spending of international students in Canada is greater than Canada’s export of unwrought aluminum, and even greater than the export value of helicopters, airplanes and spacecraft.
The education sector is a future economic growth sector that brings economic benefits to every region of Canada from coast to coast to coast and to communities large and small. Educating international students in Canada also has the potential for 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.
Numerous studies warn 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. In some domains, Canada is already being challenged by talent shortages.
Seventy-five percent of Canada’s workforce growth now comes from immigration. It is expected to reach 100 percent by the end of the decade. International recruitment strategies targeting both the quantity and quality of talent are needed to address Canada’s future shortfalls in the human capital necessary for building a world-class knowledge economy. International students provide an excellent source of highly qualified and skilled persons to meet our current and future labour market needs, although Canada faces strong global competition with industrialized countries to attract the same pool of young international talent.
International students choosing to remain in Canada after their studies constitute a desirable source of qualified immigrants who are capable of integrating well into Canadian economy and society. Those who return to their home country will become allies with Canada by fostering successful commercial and political relations, given their understanding of Canadian values and society.
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 in which they can choose to study in English or French. Compared to other countries such as the United Kingdom or the United States, Canadian tuition fees and the cost of living are quite affordable. Further, international students have the option to work during their studies and can also apply to work in Canada upon completion of their studies.
Given the growth in global demand for international education and challenges being experienced by some of our main competitors (Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States), 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.
Currently, this value proposition is reinforced by the co-managed Imagine Education au/in Canada global brand and Canada's visa approval processes, but the Government of Canada must work in partnership with the provinces and territories, via the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC), to reach a better understanding of existing quality-assurance mechanisms. Subsequently, a communications strategy must be developed to better convey Canada's robust approaches to quality assurance to prospective international students.
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.
The Edu-Canada initiative, a pilot launched in 2007 by DFAIT as part of the Global Commerce Strategy, has been successful in achieving all of its program objectives. The Imagine Education au/in Canada brand was created in partnership with the provinces and territories.
Edu-Canada’s main achievement has been to bring greater coordination of recruitment and marketing efforts.
To build effectively on the partnerships with the provinces and territories, it is important to consider CMEC’s response to the Council of the Federation’s plan, Bringing Education in Canada to the World, Bringing the World to Canada: An International Education Marketing Action Plan for Provinces and Territories (view/download PDF - 3.11MB) . The plan, released in June 2011, emphasizes better coordination between provinces and territories, and closer collaboration with the federal government (DFAIT and Citizenship and Immigration Canada [CIC]) to attract a larger number of international students to Canada and to create more opportunities for Canadian students to study abroad.
Numerous provinces currently contribute significant marketing funds to international education and are developing more fulsome international education strategies, including British Columbia’s International Education Strategy. In addition, associations such as the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC), Association of Canadian Community Colleges (ACCC) and Canadian Bureau for International Education (CBIE) have been actively supporting their member institutions to prepare them for the international market and assist them in developing relationships with institutions in priority markets. But it is the institutions themselves that have shown the greatest investment, by maintaining long-term marketing initiatives, foreign representatives and offices, and by developing partnerships with foreign institutions that support joint research and education.
Of particular note is the contribution of the Canadian Consortium for International Education Marketing (CCIEM). The CCIEM has managed to unify most major associations that represent the full spectrum of the education systems in Canada to speak with one voice. The CCIEM has been active and vocal in its advocacy for international education in Canada, including leading research into establishing pathways between the respective sectors. We encourage the CCIEM to continue its efforts to unify all major Canadian voices in education.
We believe Canada is facing a unique window of opportunity that requires coordination of our promotional efforts in order to seize Canada’s share of top talent. The panel has come to define Canada’s value proposition as one of offering high quality at affordable costs in a safe, multicultural environment.
We believe that Canada can only reach its potential when the federal government, the provinces and territories, education associations and institutions align their respective strengths under the same umbrella: Canada. We have reached a consensus that Canada’s International Education Strategy should focus on a set of recommendations that can be categorized into five themes:
Recommendation 1: Double the number of international students choosing Canada by 2022
Canada’s International Education Strategy should seek to double the number of full-time international students, from 239,131 in 2011 to more than 450,000 by 2022. We consider this to be a realistic goal, given our assessment of the growth trends in international education and our ability to sustain quality. Canada’s education systems have the capacity to absorb new international students without displacing domestic students.
Recommendation 2: Introduce an International Mobility Program for Canadian Students to serve 50,000 students per year by 2022
In order to fully realize the multifaceted aspirational goals of internationalization, the Government of Canada should consider co-funding, with academic institutions and/or provincial/territorial governments, a major student mobility program to create opportunities for 50,000 Canadian students per year to go abroad for study and cultural exchanges, service learning and other experiential learning activities by 2022. It is anticipated that this investment will be matched by institutions and/or provinces/territories and private donors by a 2:1 ratio. This opportunity would be available across the sector (K-12 through post-secondary institutions).
It is essential that institutions also continue to provide opportunities for faculty exchange and research partnerships with foreign institutions. We also see a role for the private sector to encourage Canadian students to become global citizens.
Further, we acknowledge that Canadian students are powerful ambassadors that can market opportunities to study in Canada to their fellow students abroad.
Recommendation 3: Make internationalizing education in Canada a strategic component of Government of Canada official policies and plans
The importance of internationalizing education in Canada has to be recognized as a strategic component of the Government of Canada’s Economic Action Plan, its international trade and innovation strategies, and its immigration and foreign policies. All partners and stakeholders (relevant government agencies, provinces/territories, and academic institutions) should be strongly encouraged to make internationalization a key priority and to take appropriate, aligned actions.
The panel recommends that education be a key pillar of official missions undertaken by the Government of Canada to priority countries. For example, the Prime Minister during his speech at the 2012 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, stressed the need to make key investments in science and technology to sustain a modern competitive economy. Given the interconnectedness of the knowledge economy, Canada International Education Strategy must be a part of the government agenda to ensure policy alignment with economic, trade and immigration policies. Further, to engage in knowledge diplomacy, the international education strategy needs to be integrated into official missions abroad.
The way forward: The panel sees the Prime Minister as a unifying champion for international education.
Recommendation 4: Create a Council on International Education and Research to provide policy advice to the ministers of International Trade, Finance, Citizenship and Immigration, and Industry
To ensure effective positioning of Canada in international markets, a high-level, formal coordination structure is required. The panel recommends the formation of a Council on International Education and Research (CIER). We recommend that the council should be representative of all the sectors of education and regions of Canada and be composed of the three federal deputy ministers (international trade, citizenship and immigration, and industry), the chair and two other deputy ministers of the Advisory Committee of Deputy Ministers of Education, and other stakeholders appointed by the Government of Canada. It will provide policy advice to the ministers of International Trade, Finance, Citizenship and Immigration and Industry monitor progress on implementation of the strategy and will remain accountable to the Canadian public via annual reports.
The way forward: Overall responsibility for operational management of Canada’s International Education Strategy should rest with DFAIT. The department will work in close collaboration with CIC (a major partner in this initiative) and stakeholders. The work of the council should be supported by a secretariat within the appropriate branch of DFAIT. We also recommend that, as required, small joint working groups with appropriate representation be convened under the auspices of the CIER on issues related to marketing, scholarship coordination, immigration and visa processing issues.
Recommendation 5: Maintain and enhance the quality of the education systems and ensure their sustainability
Across-the-sector quality is the core of Canada’s brand. We recommend that adequate mechanisms be put in place to ensure that this quality is maintained and enhanced. Such mechanisms should be a core part of our international education strategy.
The way forward: Given provincial/territorial jurisdiction over education, we recommend that the Council on International Education and Research work closely with CMEC to establish clear guidelines on quality assurance and a quality-assurance framework that will ensure that Canada’s reputation for quality education and support of international students is maintained.
We see a need to work closely with CMEC and the provinces/territories to fully embed education, innovation and trade into our ongoing policy development.
Recommendation 6: Focus Canada’s promotional efforts on a limited number of priority markets for targeted resource allocation
We recommend that resources for promotion activities should be focused on the markets currently assessed to have the greatest growth potential for Canada: China, India, Brazil, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region including Turkey, Vietnam and Mexico. These markets should receive priority resource allocation. Mature markets, such as South Korea, the United States, France and the United Kingdom, should receive substantial resources to maintain activities at a level at least equivalent to current funding.
The way forward: A re-evaluation of priority markets should be carried out every three years (under the purview of the CIER with appropriate consultation with provinces/territories and CIC). As one size does not fit all, the panel recommends the development of country-specific strategies and an enhanced role for Canadian embassies and offices abroad. These activities will draw heavily on a strengthened, innovative and renewed e-platform.
We also recommend that, in order to complement the expertise of trade commissioners, experts from the academic institutions or associations should be seconded to DFAIT. Canadian offices abroad in the key markets should form education teams comprising trade commissioners and visa officers. These education teams should be accountable to the head of mission for the promotion and facilitation of the international student recruitment process.
Recommendation 7: Increase marketing of Canada’s brand
Research shows that international students first choose the country in which they wish to study and, subsequently, the institution. A stronger presence of the Canada brand abroad at key international events, where stakeholders and institutions are united under one banner, will strengthen Canada’s recognition and international students’ exposure to the possibility of studying and conducting research in Canada.
The way forward: Develop a comprehensive communications strategy that will see the profile of the Imagine Education au/in Canada brand reflected in all areas of marketing, media relations, event promotion and digital communications, to ensure the coordinated messages of the brand proposition and representation of education opportunities in Canada are delivered with even greater impact and to develop comprehensive strategies for priority countries. Organizing participation at key international education trade fairs, branded promotion activities and continued Canada trade fairs are all part of this initiative. Tailored activities should be undertaken for specific subsectors to ensure the niche needs of each sector are met and that brand-eligible education providers in Canada come to fully endorse and apply the brand in their own marketing activities.
Recommendation 8: Develop a sophisticated and comprehensive e-communication system that will serve as a national portal for international students interested in education in Canada
To effectively share information with potential international students, it is critical to have a sophisticated website that is well populated with easy-to-navigate resource material on education options in Canada. This website could have comprehensive information on institutions, with links to each institution’s website; a comprehensive list of potential programs of study; advantages of studying in Canada; and video testimonials from international students currently studying in Canada. As peer-to-peer marketing is known to be particularly effective, alumni testimonials should also be featured prominently.
The world has undergone a digitization process. The Canadian embassy in Beijing’s Weibo (the Chinese version of Twitter) currently has 300,000 members. We strongly believe that e-marketing has replaced the “bricks and mortar” approach, given its capacity to multiply the effectiveness of communications. As such, the panel urges investments in the e-communication system.
This sophisticated operation should be carried out in three phases:
The way forward: The panel recommends a thorough re-tooling and upgrading of the current website, Education au/in Canada, which could be designed by a professional e-commerce company external to government. The enhancement of the website should be coupled with a greater use of social media platforms to communicate Canada’s marketing messages, tailoring key messages for social media usages in specific priority countries.
A pan-Canadian coordination centre: In phase two, explore coordinating international student applications to Canadian institutions through the use of state of the art information technology. Given provincial/territorial jurisdiction for education, a pan-Canadian coordination centre would best be facilitated by the CMEC.
In phase three, integration with visa processing would occur. This would require continued and strengthened collaboration between DFAIT and CIC.
Recommendation 9: Brand Canada through scholarships for international undergraduate students
As a means of attracting top talent at the beginning of their post-secondary education, and to compete more effectively with the major competitor countries for the best and brightest international students, the Government of Canada should provide co-funding for 8,000 new Canada scholarships for top international undergraduate students to study at Canadian universities, colleges and polytechnics. It is anticipated that this investment will be matched by institutions and/or provinces/territories and private donors by a 2:1 ratio.
Recommendation 10: Regroup grants and scholarships available to international graduate students and post-doctoral fellows under one label/brand, with a focus on priority areas aligned with Canada’s innovation and prosperity agenda
To enhance Canada’s innovation and S & T strategy, existing funding available to international graduate students in the forms of grants/scholarships from various government agencies should be coordinated and, where necessary, repackaged in such a manner that allows effective promotion under the Canada brand.
Additional investment would allow Canada to leverage existing opportunities to attract top students by matching country scholarship programs, such as the China Scholarship Council, the Brazilian Science Without Borders scholarships, or the Saudi Arabia King Abdullah scholarships. It will also enable Canada to compete with key international scholarship countries such as the United States, United Kingdom and Australia to attract top scholars and researchers.
The way forward: We recommend a better alignment of international research grants offered through Canada’s granting councils [the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR)], with particular emphasis on a small number of priority countries. An inter-ministerial working group, with representatives from the granting councils and other government departments, could develop a coordinated strategy to re-package existing grants/scholarships to streamline the delivery of the various programs supporting international graduate and post-doctoral students, to ensure cohesive branding and that potential international students are made aware of these opportunities.
Ultimately, all international scholarships should be regrouped under one label/brand, such as Canada Scholarships, to manage all available resources to maximize Canada’s brand recognition. At steady state, there should be sufficient funding (from existing grants and new investments) to enable the Government of Canada to provide 2,000 international graduate scholarships/grants and 1,000 post-doctoral fellowships per year under a unified brand.
Recommendation 11: Develop comprehensive and multifaceted bilateral agreements with priority countries that focus on all aspects of graduate education and research, supported by appropriate levels of funding
From our benchmarking work, we have learned of comprehensive and multifaceted bilateral relationships developed by countries (such as the United Kingdom) with priority countries. The panel sees tremendous strategic value for Canada in developing such agreements and recognizes that relationships in the area of R & D already exist with some priority countries. The panel recommends that these elements be incorporated into more comprehensive, country-specific bilateral agreements with a focus on all aspects of graduate education and research and that appropriate levels of funds be allocated to support such a strategy.
Recommendation 12: Improve education visa processing to provide consistent and timely processing of high-quality candidates
Aggressive processing time targets should be established, especially in key markets, to compete with other competitor countries and jurisdictions. CIC needs to increase staffing levels to accomplish this goal. Funding for this activity should come from visa fees collected from the applicants.
Efforts to attract international students and researchers to Canada will be hampered without a coherent and well-supported visa system to process their entry. The panel stresses that efforts to recruit international students must be congruent with CIC activities.
However, it is of national importance that the integrity and quality of the visa and immigration system be maintained. CIC must be supported in efforts to ensure competitive processing times and client service in the face of growing volumes. Meeting this processing demand will put pressure on visa officers, requiring an increase in staffing levels and a need for accurate training.
The way forward: The panel recommends that visa offices be adequately resourced to allow the processing of increased numbers of study permit applications. This will require additional operating funds. A review of the fees charged for study permits, which are significantly lower than our competitors, should be considered.
Recommendation 13: Expand and facilitate comprehensive training for staff at Canadian embassies and offices abroad on Canada’s diverse education offerings and study pathways. Training opportunities should also be available for stakeholders to gain a deeper understanding of both the programs and cultural support required by international students
A two-way flow of information is required to ensure quality control and management of capacity. Given frequent changes to visa policies, it may be helpful to provide learning opportunities where experts from the education sector can come together with visa officers abroad. Visa and trade officers would benefit from training to gain a clear and detailed understanding of the education offerings in Canada. Overarching lessons learned could be shared with the broader community via targeted workshops or webinars. The underlining objective of the training is to ensure that qualified applicants obtain their visas and that students have a quality experience that is supported by adequate services.
Recommendation 14: Support the expansion and promotion of the existing Canadian Experience Class program to contribute to Canada’s skilled immigrant and labour market needs
CIC’s Canadian Experience Class program can be better promoted and leveraged to retain graduates from eligible institutions and post-secondary programs who have at least one year of work experience in Canada in a managerial, professional, technical or trade occupation after graduation.
In our view, Canada has strong foundations in international education. Canada’s institutions offer high quality in all subsectors. Provincial/territorial jurisdiction has allowed for the development of a rich and diverse educational landscape.
For Canada to achieve its goals, we do not see the need for a major overhaul. It is clear to us that collectively, the efforts of provinces/territories, education associations and individual institutions are putting Canada on the right path. Rather, we see the need for course corrections so that we do not stray from that path. Some changes are required, mainly regarding the coordination of our promotional efforts to ensure they are cohesive and coherent, as well as more extensive use of digital strategies. Furthermore, governments, both federal and provincial/territorial, must ensure there is an alignment of education, labour market and immigration policies.
This report will highlight the many benefits of international education, both economic and societal. It is important for the panel that all Canadians embrace the benefits to Canada of international education. In the global knowledge economy, how we manage international education will affect the course of our economic prosperity as well as our
place in the world.
The panel recognizes recent Government of Canada investments related to international education, including specific funding allocations to revise the international education strategy. The extent to which Canada can seize this current moment and become a leader in international education is commensurate with the investment we, as a country, are prepared to make to support internationalization efforts at all levels.
i Adapted from the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada definition of “internationalization”.
ii Inspired by the Governor General, His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, who defined the diplomacy of knowledge as “our ability and willingness to work together and share the knowledge we uncover and refine across disciplines and across borders to improve the human condition together” (from the Opening Address to the Conference of the Americas on International Education in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, April 26, 2012).
iii It is worth noting that throughout this report, the term “international students” will be used to reference students who left their country of origin and moved to another country to study. In counter distinction, the term “foreign students” is often used in literature in this field, but it has a broader use as it refers to students who are not citizens of the country in which they are studying and can, therefore, include permanent residents.
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