Address by Minister Day to the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada

No. 2009/53 - Ottawa, Ontario - October 28, 2009

Based on a Transcript

Ladies and gentlemen, I don’t know why people say this is a tough crowd. When you stand up in the House of Commons and begin a speech, you stare into a sea of angry and sullen faces. And you get heckled and jeered and that’s just from your own colleagues. Then there’s the opposition. So it is always a nice transition to talk to people outside of that particular crucible.

It’s good to see some familiar faces from British Columbia and the great institutions that I’m so delighted to be able to represent specifically and as minister responsible at the federal level for things in British Columbia. It’s great to see the President from Dalhousie University here. One of my sons graduated from Dalhousie and is one of its major cheerleaders and trumpeters of good things.

We so much appreciate the work that each of you does and truly we are talking about international outreach. Within Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, we’ve taken international outreach on as a major mission. We realize as anybody does that globalization and its many positive attributes have resulted in, along with a multitude of other things, emerging and developing economies all around the globe. And as those economies emerge, quite rightly the people emerging in and with them through those economies are looking for educational opportunities in a variety of fields. And as their own educational institutions begin to develop increased capacity, which they are, which is a very positive thing, still the search for other educational outreach and opportunities is something that is very real, not just in emerging and developing countries but also in others. We want to make sure that the things we’re doing to capitalize on that—I use that word carefully—are bringing results. And we want to know what’s working.

I don’t know if you’ve seen the copy that’s been released to you today. This is news, okay. You have to be careful with good news because people get used to it if you have too much of it. So that’s why we just put it out in little pieces. We want to keep the good news rolling.

But we commissioned a report, which we just released today. We’ll get copies to you. It’s a report that attempts to measure what we’ve been doing and also what are the economic impacts of a policy of internationalizing our educational outreach. That’s what it’s all about through International Trade, through the department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. Can we see some results? What are the kinds of things that are working and also where can we do better? We do look seriously at the full gamut.

Over the last ten years, there has been a significant increase in the number of international students coming to Canada. The number of international students in Canada has more than doubled since 1998 to 178,000. That’s a very significant increase.

And so we run the econometric models. We run the averages on what international students will spend in tuition, on the things they buy, on their accommodation and on everything else. Politicians can’t go very long without doing a poll of some kind. What do you think those students spend? Just some ballpark estimates. What do you think those 180,000 students spend in Canada in a year? Ah, you’re more indecisive than the students who attend your wonderful facilities. Anyone want to take a guess?

It’s about $6.5 billion a year that those students spend in Canada. Incidentally, that’s more than we export in the softwood lumber industry in Canada. That’s more than we export in coal, which of course is going down because of our environmental progress. But, you know, when you juxtapose those numbers with other realities, it starts to really bring home the fact that truly this is investment. And we’re talking about reaching out, using Foreign Affairs and International Trade and other means to invest, reach out and bring students in. It does have a corresponding value.

The estimate in the report of which you’ll get copies, says that about 83,000 jobs are directly created because of those students and the things they buy and the services they need. And there are significant revenues that come with various levels of government, because people pay some taxes on things they buy, and those come to about $280 million. So the investment that is put into that at a variety of levels, if you truly want to be just brutally mercenary, we can make that argument. Now of course we know the effects are far more and bring far more advantages than strictly economic ones, but those are important ones to realize and to keep our focus on.

Now the increase that we see didn’t happen accidentally. In the 2007 budget, we introduced the Edu-Canada Initiative, the largest federal investment in education marketing in over a decade. We believe that it’s very important to invest in education. We believe in our economy, our diversity, the reputation of our country. It’s very, very important that the country continue on this path. Very important we continue this particular process.

In 2007, following the Education in Canada campaign, we tied in, as you know at the provincial level, college and universities with the Imagine Campaign. We’re running the themes from that in a number of what we call test markets, but they are real markets where we linked up in various trade and education events with these education themes. We’ve done this in Spain. We’ve done this in China, in Brazil, in India, all with positive and corresponding results.

As a matter of fact, of all the students coming into Canada, the largest number right now, right in the top 10, we’ve got China, India, the United States of course, France, Japan. Tremendous markets of both educational and commercial opportunities. We want to see that continue.

Now along with the dollar investment in those particular areas, we heard from you over the last few years that we need to have a focus and an increase on facilitation on the immigration and visa side. I just want to say that this particular organization of which you are members, has been instrumental over the last, well, I guess you could say the last hundred years since you’ve been an organization. I don’t think, no, none of you were here a hundred years ago. You have been instrumental in terms of affecting government policy. Do you ever wonder if your efforts are bearing fruit? They are. And your recommendations along some of the lines of policies we develop have proven to have results, which this report points out.

On the immigration and visa side, we heard from you about increased facilitation. In the last two years, we put an increase of $22 million into visa-related resources so that we can speed that program up. We now have, as you’re probably aware, online applications also to accelerate things.

Along with reaching out to make it easier for students to get here, we’ve also looked and worked through our labour department to make sure that when they get here there are work programs or work opportunities that students can get into. And so we have the Off-Campus Work Permit Program. That will provide for or help students in the area of part-time work while they’re taking their courses and full-time work during summer or when they’re in the period in which they’re not actually engaged in educational activities. So we’re operating aggressively at that particular end.

Then there’s the area of encouragement through scholarships. You know about the Vanier Scholarships and the Emerging Leaders in the Americas scholarships; we are working with the granting commissions there. About 800 of those have been utilized to bring in quality students. This is the pursuit these days: the high-quality people. The HQP is the target market.

Now, we are not the only country in the world that is going after that market. We’ve looked at what percentage of that market share we are managing to win over internationally of all the countries that are going after that particular HQP market. We’re getting about 3 percent. Sometimes we’re criticized because people say, “You know, Australia is far more aggressive, they’ve got 7 percent.” I’m not making excuses for that, but looking at the international component that it attracts, distance is a very clear factor. It is a lot closer to some of the highly densely populated markets where it gets a good portion of its international travel. So it would be a little bit like criticizing UBC because it’s not getting as big a share of the Atlantic Canada market as maybe Dalhousie is. I mean there are some times when there are geographic realities that you’re also up against.

But we have a 3-percent share of that market. That’s not bad looking at all the other countries that are in the fray, but we think we can do better. And that’s where we’ll continue to look to you for your advice and for your input along those lines.

And then as a final item, on the broader plan that we have in terms of the Canadian advantage, through International Trade we are actively pushing our science and technology agreements with other countries. Now, we do this for two reasons. There’s a huge educational component to that. Joint ventures that take place between universities, especially those that lead to very positive commercial aspects, have ongoing and obvious effects. In countries that may not be open to full free trade type of agreements, science and technology agreements can be used as a very positive lever to open up the doors of exchange, open up the doors of opportunity and open up the doors of discussion.

And that’s why one of my first missions as Minister of International Trade was to go to Brazil. We have accomplished a number of things there, including establishing some science and technology agreements. We’ve done the same elsewhere as well. When I was in China, we announced six science and technology agreements, and these vary from state-of-the-art new developments related to water treatment in municipalities, to one particular project that is fascinating. I got an invitation from my counterpart, the Minister of Commerce in China [Chen Deming], to take me out camping to observe this particular project. It’s one that looks at crop development and the effects of climatization on grasslands in Tibet. So these science and technology agreements are wide-ranging, always leading to positive benefits on both sides and having a positive impact on the educational component.

We believe that students who come to Canada, who are drawn here because of specific policies, because of attractive arrangements, because we are known for our reputation not just in terms of quality of education but the diversity of culture we offer, those students in turn become global ambassadors for Canada and, as you know, for your own institutions.

Ladies and gentlemen, these are some of the things that we have embarked upon to increase this particular component. We have mapped and charted the results and the effects and we are taking guidance for the areas where we can even be more aggressive. I want to thank you so much as an organization for your significant input and for giving us the type of sometimes push, sometimes pull, in directions that are going to enhance our capabilities in this area.

Again, thank you.