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ARCHIVED - Best Practices on Managing the Delivery of Canadian Education Marketing

Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada - The Illuminate Consulting Group, 30 September 2009

Executive Summary


This report was commission by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAIT) with a view to identifying best practices for managing the delivery of Canadian education marketing. The need for commissioning this report arose from a multitude of factors, including the increase in promotion activities from competitor countries, as well as domestic struggles to respond to such competitive pressures in an coordinated manner. The aim of this report is to provide detailed guidance to Canadian policy-makers and stakeholders with a view on improving Canada ’s international education marketing delivery performance.

Methodology and Limitations

Research for this report drew on a wide variety of sources, ranging from core student mobility data sets (e.g.; CIC, OECD), to a literature search, to background interviews, to an online survey of DFAIT and CEC Network staff. Feedback discussions with stakeholders and experts were employed to assure the accuracy of data analysis and the chosen conceptual approach.

Any report which covers as wide a set of investigative topics as this report does is bound to operate with limitations. For one, data on international students is subject to collection and definition problems; this is clearly the case with regards to CIC data. Another key limitation of this report was the short timeframe in which it had to be completed and which did not allow for a further, in-depth probing of some findings.

Acquiring Talent for a Knowledge-Driven Economy

It would be easy to characterize the issue of recruiting international students as a “nice to have” policy. Nothing could be farther from reality. The transition of advanced nations from an industrial and/or service sector dominance into a knowledge-driven economy is well underway.

The talent and skills required to compete in such an economy are in short supply globally, and competition for talent has increased notably over the last decade despite the marked increase in higher education enrolments overall. Canada ’s future workforce needs require a focused, balanced, and competitive approach to succeed in this environment.

Competitor Activities

Attracting international students does not take place in a vacuum. In 2009, intense global competition for recruiting top talent on the one hand, and attracting large quantities of income-generating international students on the other is a simple reality. Competition in both areas can only increase given international students’ sought-after financial contributions to their host economies, as well as the pressure to recruit talent in order to stay competitive in key science and research fields.

The report analysed the international education landscape and performance trajectories of six key competitor countries. Findings indicate that the leading recruiter of international students, the US , has recovered from its post-9/11 enrolment slump but has yet to fundamentally improve its marketing operations. The UK is home to the most well balanced recruiting operations, aided by proficient marketing operations.

Both France and Germany experienced strong enrolment growth early in the decade only to see enrolments flatten out or outright decline in recent years. Australia without question has earned its reputation as marketing champion, but now faces a number of issues, not least a damaged quality reputation. New Zealand , owing to its small size, has seen strong fluctuations in enrolments owing to its dependence on a few Asian source countries. Common to all competitor countries are clearly articulated policies which emphasise the importance of international student recruitment.

Canada’s International Student Recruitment Landscape

Canada has managed to increase the number of international students (all sectors) from 114,098 (2000) to 178,227 (2008). Yet this growth effectively has translated into a loss of global market share from 5.0% (2000) to 4.4% (2008) in the tertiary sector (OECD). It can be said that this enrolment increase is due more to the strength of Canadian education rather than the quality of promotion activities. Going forward, this situation is not sustainable, especially since year-over-year growth rates have slowed to low single digits since 2004 in the face of a much stronger global expansion of international student enrolments.

Notable differences between education sectors emerged, with the “other post-secondary education” sector performing very well lately. By contrast, the trade sector has experienced a strongly declining enrolment trend. The largest sector, universities, has experienced a sustained decline in enrolment growth rates and entered negative growth territory in 2008.

The recruiting performance described above was underpinned by a fragmented and under-funded promotion support landscape. Unique amongst its key competitors, Canada can neither draw on a federal ministry of education, nor on a centralized, well resourced marketing agency. As a result, Canada has lacked a coordinated approach and at times even a basic presence in key international education arenas. The struggle of the CEC Network to define a viable business and service model serves as a case in point.


Introducing IEMA [1]

ICG is recommending the creation of a new, stand-alone international education marketing agency (IEMA), owned by the Canadian Government.

IEMA should be: Small, agile, and performance-oriented; expertise-driven; ready to grow and evolve; and uniquely Canadian.

IEMA will face the challenge of integrating itself into a fragmented, complex, and currently shaken-up landscape. It is important to keep in mind that in order to ensure IEMA’s success under these conditions, everyone must agree to compromises; there will be no room for dogmatic positions.

Phased Roll-Out and Development

IEMA will most likely have to be created and rolled-out in a phased approach:

  • A transition phase of ideally one to two years to repair, rationalize, and re-orient the current landscape.
  • A start-up phase ideally lasting approximately one year.
  • A ramp-up phase lasting toward the end of an initial five-year budget cycle.
  • An assessment, revision, and repurposing step following the completion of the initial budget cycle.

During the first two phases IEMA will have to outsource substantial aspects of its program activities. Some of these activities may prove to be well suited for continued outsourcing.

It is critical that IEMA be conceived, rolled-out, and developed with a view on the international education competition landscape five to ten years out. This will require a focus on expert research and analysis, high quality marketing support services to education providers, and the facilitation of high quality training.

Organizational Design and Governance

IEMA should be headquartered in Ottawa , but it should rapidly develop a deep, broad, and diversified international presence through offices, councillors, partners, and academic/administrative staff leverage models. Currently existing in-country expertise and office presences might be tapped if aligned with common promotion goals. A physical in-country presence will remain essential in the future.

Broad stakeholder representation in IEMA’s governance is desirable. But static, abstract governance models which would make it difficult to respond to changing conditions should be avoided. IEMA should set up expert program committee structures to support its program development.


While the Canadian Government should provide core funding for operational purposes and some programs (e.g. brand), additional revenue streams such as a visa permit fee are deemed essential to align providers with IEMA. ICG suggests an initial funding effort of CAD 22 million annually (run rate at year three) for IEMA.

Specific Development Recommendations

The report concludes with three specific recommendations which can be implemented independently from any eventual roll-out of a dedicated international education marketing agency.

First, the report addresses the need for expert marketing and market analysis training amongst Canadian stakeholders. Second, it suggests focusing on increasingly popular online promotion models. Third, the report proposes a comprehensive and integrated scholarship strategy. All three recommendations aim to address current practices which require either a substantial up-skilling or a more concerted approach to promote Canada as a potential destination for international students.

ARCHIVED - Best Practices on Managing the Delivery of Canadian Education Marketing (PDF, 1,254 KB)[*]

[1]IEMA is only used for convenience purposes and not suggested as a name for the to-be created agency.
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