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

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Chapter 6: Policy coordination and ensuring Sustainable Quality

6.1 Internationalization as a priority

We see international education as the most positive aspect of globalization. International education is a key vehicle to engage with other countries and to share our Canadian values worldwide. International education makes an important contribution to Canada’s culture, diplomacy and prosperity. Canada can be a model of excellence for the world. Our recommendations aim to capture this opportunity and reinforce Canada as a country of choice to study and conduct world-class research by expanding its mind and market share in international education.

The education field is diverse and covers the gamut from training and skills development to research and innovation. These issues are intimately linked to economic prosperity. Increasingly, the Government of Canada is recognizing a continuum between education, innovation and trade.

We were mindful of existing Government of Canada policies and priorities, such as the Americas Strategy, as well as a new shift in bilateral relationships whereby education is a pillar. For example, the governments of Canada and China recently agreed to make education the fifth pillar of their bilateral relationship, to better acknowledge its growing importance in the relationship, and also set specific targets related to two-way mobility of students. As the mutually reinforcing education, innovation and trade relationship becomes more articulated, we believe international education can play an increasingly pivotal role. As such, and given the transversal nature of education, we advise that it should be included in a comprehensive approach to official Government of Canada policies and plans.

Recommendation 3: Make internationalizing education in Canada a strategic component of the Government of Canada’s 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 and 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’s International Education Strategy must be a part of the government’s 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.

6.2 Policy coordination

By calling for an international education strategy, the government was signalling the need to better coordinate all areas of international education.

Therefore, we, the advisory panel, were asked to look at how the strategy might be implemented and by whom, including contributions of partners and stakeholders, based on their mandate and responsibilities. In our recommendations, we have addressed the need for an integrated and coordinated approach to international education at all levels. We specifically analyzed the role and contribution of provincial and territorial governments, particularly in light of the International Education Marketing Action Plan for Provinces and Territories as well as contributions of the education associations and Canadian institutions.

During our consultations, we acknowledged that there is an overall consensus among education partners and stakeholders about the challenges of effectively coordinating a strategy with the contributions of many actors, including federal government departments and agencies external to DFAIT (particularly CIC and the granting councils), provincial/territorial governments (who have the constitutional jurisdiction over education), and the many educational associations and institutions that cover diverse subsectors of the education landscape.

One of the coordination issues raised was the lack of a federal government body with responsibility for education issues. This makes it challenging for the international education strategy to achieve a whole-of-Canada approach and a consistent education brand in terms of international activities. It was also noted that some provincial/territorial governments do not have an international education strategy, but those that do have indicated a willingness to work with the federal government in an integrated fashion.

6.2.1 Coordination of the international education strategy

There was overall appreciation of the work done by Edu-Canada, which was generally considered as an important contribution to building a pan-Canadian strategic approach to international education. It was frequently noted that the coordination of the international education strategy should stay with DFAIT and its network of embassies and offices abroad, working closely with education associations including the CCIEM. There are several factors that provide context for this recommendation.

In 2006, Canada was the only major receiving country that did not have a government-supported agency or body devoted to promoting international education. Despite annual investment by Australia, New Zealand and the United States, all totalling more than $10 million each in marketing initiatives, Canada’s modest $1.0 million allocated each year from 2006 to 2012 was effectively managed to achieve stated goals. It now provides a foundation to increase the overall flow of top-quality students to Canada.

From 2007 to 2011, Edu-Canada exceeded its goals with an increase of international students by 36 percent, an increase in Canadian curricula abroad of 41 percent, and a visibly enhanced profile at bilateral round tables and signature events that brought together the entire education sector in Canada. The next evolution for the international education strategy must be to elevate Canada’s position to ensure we achieve growth in market share. We should not simply attract greater numbers of students and partnerships. The investment is to ensure Canada attracts students of the best calibre and supports partnerships that contribute to Canada’s competitive knowledge advantage.

In making final recommendations, we weighed all of the contributions of the engagement process, the jurisdictions that legislate education in Canada and the priorities raised by advocacy from the education sector. We have analyzed best options and various models for the delivery of a pan-Canadian international education strategy to ensure there is continued coordination in delivering a high-quality, sustainable strategy.

Delivery models reviewed included an external agency, an external consortium led by the education industry and variations of a federal-provincial/territorial-industry partnership. It was concluded that the federal government should remain the coordinating body. This reflects the confidence and authority the Government of Canada imparts in markets abroad, and its interaction among other government departments. There is uncertainty related to an external body that is not accountable to the Canadian public and the high costs to create a new infrastructure in Canada (as well as offices abroad) with education staff. Resources at Government of Canada embassies and offices abroad provide a cost-effective and informative source to deliver in-country strategies, enabling a shift from funding more bricks and mortar to implementation of a digital strategy. A digital strategy capitalizes on modern technology—the tools most used and readily accessed by our audience—and it offers a platform that will best serve the entire education sector in Canada for its promotion across all global markets.

Furthermore, we realize that this is not the first foray in supporting international promotion of education. The Canadian Education Centre network (CECN) was established in 1994 with joint funding by DFAIT and CIDA with the goal of self-sufficiency by 2005. With a total of some $26 million in federal support, the CECN had a certain impact in raising Canada’s profile but was faulty in its management and heavy infrastructure resources and subsequently discontinued operation. It left a significant gap in services to promote education in key markets. The Edu-Canada initiative stepped in to implement a mitigation strategy through brand coordination and the Trade Commissioner Service.

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6.2.2 Coordination mechanisms

To ensure effective positioning of Canada on the international stage, our conclusion is that an ongoing senior coordination body is required. We suggest the creation of an entity that will provide a formal coordination structure: the Council on International Education and Research (CIER). This council will provide high-level policy and planning for the international education strategy. The CIER would meet on a semi-annual basis, would be chaired by DFAIT (at the deputy minister level) and must include provincial/territorial governments (also at the deputy minister level, via CMEC). There would also be a role for experts or sector associations to discuss progress on the implementation of the international education strategy. This council would ensure each representative provides expertise and networks to support the overall success of the strategy.

This structure is inclusive and would leverage the respective strengths of the federal government, the provincial/territorial partners and stakeholders. It will build on existing assets but will require clear roles and responsibilities for each member.

Existing DFAIT resources and the established federal-provincial/territorial partnership allow for immediate and effective implementation. Existing collaboration with the education industry can be further enhanced to leverage strengths and maintain coherent and cohesive momentum. Mechanisms are already in place to coordinate the delivery of the strategy and ensure that all partners and sectors are engaged, including:

  • Federal-Provincial Consultative Committee on Education-Related International Activities (FPCCERIA): Co-chaired by DFAIT and CMEC for federal-provincial/territorial interests in international education, including brand co-management.
  • Council of Ministers of Education, Canada: CMEC is an intergovernmental body for policy, collaboration, collective representation and federal co-operation.
  • Canadian Information Centre for International Credentials (CICIC): the CICIC is CMEC’s source for foreign credential assessment and quality assurance concerning Canada’s education systems.
  • National Education Marketing Roundtable (NEMR): Chaired by DFAIT to facilitate consultation between governments, partners and stakeholders in the education community.
  • Advisory Committee on International Students and Immigration (ACISI): CIC’s consultative forum to engage stakeholders, partners and other government departments in immigration matters related to international education.

Each of the education subsectors has a professional association with responsibility in meeting members’ interests as they relate to quality assurance, internationalization initiatives and core interests regarding delivery of education.

Contributing key advocacy throughout the engagement process, the Canadian Consortium on International Education Marketing has established a strong alignment of subsectors (language, secondary and post-secondary education) in a coordinated approach to international education promotion. Any of the CCIEM members or other Canadian education associations may be a strong candidate for a competitive, contractual arrangement that would offer a nimble approach to deliver components of the strategy.

The provinces/territories have clearly signalled their interest in working with federal partners through the International Education Marketing Action Plan for Provinces and territories. Ministers responsible for education and provincial and territorial ministers of immigration recommend that they “pursue discussion with federal ministers of international trade and immigration with a view of aligning federal initiatives relating to international students

with the priorities outlined in this action plan”. In Canada, Section 93 of the Constitution Act 1867 states that “in and of each Province, the legislature may exclusively make laws in relation to Education.” Provincial/territorial jurisdiction includes the design, planning and delivery of their post-secondary education and skills training systems as outlined by the Council of the Federation. The provision of educational services is overseen by way of departments or ministries of education headed by an elected official, the Minister of Education. These departments/ministries are responsible for services to assure quality education for their population, such as through setting policy measures, providing adequate financial resources, determining the core curriculum content, and having personnel available to deliver services.

Federal authority for promoting Canadian post-secondary education abroad is specific to legislation related to international trade within the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Act. The FPCCERIA has effectively coordinated activities between jurisdictions. Thus, with an established alignment at all levels of government, the way forward will ensure a stable and sustainable delivery of Canada’s International Education Strategy.

Ongoing implementation should be measured and evaluated to inform future decisions, to set competitive benchmarks and to ensure that the overall quality of the education experience and immigration policy is not compromised. Coordinated research regarding capacity, economic impact, labour market needs and quality assurance across all sectors can be coordinated by DFAIT on behalf of the CIER, through federal or provincial/territorial initiatives released to provide advice to the CIER.

Recommendation 4: Create a Council on International Education and Research (CIER) 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. We recommend that the council should be representative of all the sectors of education and regions of Canada and be composed of the three 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.

We see a need to work closely with CMEC and the provinces/territories to fully embed education, innovation and trade into Canada’s ongoing policy development

6.3 Ensuring sustainable quality

On several occasions, we heard from partners and stakeholders that growth in the number of international students coming to Canada should not occur to the detriment of quality. Each and every international student should have a quality experience at a quality education institution. Consequently, quality assurance became a salient issue for consideration, as did the safeguarding of the integrity of Canada’s visa process.

Quality-assurance policy framework

Given that education is a provincial/territorial jurisdiction, each province/territory has developed its own approach to credit recognition, credit transfer and quality assurance.

The panel recognizes a need for more training opportunities for institutions related to good quality-assurance practices. Chapter 9 will look more specifically at our training recommendations.

Further, within each provincial/territorial context, institutions and professional bodies also have their own approaches and policies. Being mindful of the provincial/territorial jurisdiction over quality assurance, a clear and consistent presentation of the various approaches is needed to compete with countries that have a centralized approach to education (and by extension, a centralized approached to quality assurance).

The panel took note of CMEC’s Bringing Education in Canada to the World, Bringing the World to Canada: An International Education Marketing Action Plan for Provinces and territories. The action plan makes specific statements related to quality assurance, including calling to:

Protect and enhance Canada’s reputation as a provider of high-quality educational opportunities


  • Develop a periodic survey of international students in Canada to provide information about their satisfaction with their studies, financial situation, perception of their security and quality of life in Canada, and plans after graduation.

  • Create communications materials that are accessible to an international audience and that convey the nature of the Canadian regimes of quality assurance in all education sectors.

  • Share information about leading Canadian and international practices to support international students.

  • Work with CIC to balance the need to prevent fraudulent entry into Canada with the need to remove obstacles to the entry of legitimate international students.

Quality control is crucial to preserve Canada’s reputation in terms of credibility and national branding. For the time being, at the international level, the Imagine Education au/in Canada brand eligibility and the visa approval constitute the only “filters” in terms of integrity and quality control of our systems.

In the current global context, quality assurance is an important counterpoint to institutional rankings. In the case of Canadian universities, where there is no accreditation system, it is particularly important to clearly communicate the various approaches to quality assurance.xi The combination of approaches to quality assurance is quite robust, though our approaches need to be communicated in a clear way to prospective international students and to key influencers (e.g. agents, parents).

A quality experience for international students

The panel became aware via certain submissions and round table participant interventions that the quality of the experience of international students varies across Canadian provinces/territories and institutions. For example, students in some provinces/territories are covered by health insurance, while other provinces/territories do not provide health benefits. The scope and nature of the support services provided to international students also varies across campuses. The panel places an intrinsic value on ensuring each and every international student has a quality educational experience.

Recommendation 5: Maintain and enhance the quality of the education system and ensure its 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 Canada’s 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 Canada’s ongoing policy development.

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xi According to the AUCC website: “Canada has no formal system of university accreditation. Membership in AUCC held in conjunction with an appropriate provincial legislation or charter may be accepted in lieu of institutional accreditation.”