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Renewing Canada’s IES - Proposed pillar: International scholarships

Published on March 1, 2023


The International Education Division of Global Affairs Canada (GAC) offers a suite of international scholarship programs, differentiated by names, guidelines and geographic areas. Other branches of GAC also offer scholarship programs that serve different policy objectives and target countries, as do other federal departments, and the Tri-Council Agencies (NSERC, SSHRC, and NRC). This paper will briefly present the GAC programs, particularly the International Education Division suite of scholarships, summarize major challenges they currently face and seek feedback on how GAC could better leverage them to benefit the Canadian international education sector. Ideas include streamlining the suite of scholarships, and the adoption of a common brand for all of GAC’s scholarships (and possibly other federal scholarship programs) in order to better respond to international students’ and Canadian institutions’ needs, to better market them abroad, and to better support Canada’s objective of being recognized as a top study destination internationally.

Summary of GAC’s scholarship programs

Short Exchange Programs (SEPs)

Short Scholarship Programs originated from the 2007 restructuring of GAC’s Commonwealth Scholarship Program, which consisted of traditional 2-4 year full scholarships for Masters or Ph.D. studies in Canada. The new short-term format (SEPs) was intended to reduce the “brain drain” phenomenon and increase the number of scholarships available to develop a “critical mass” of international students for greater results. The SEPs model also offered the necessary flexibility to quickly respond to potential budgetary constraints (as students would only be in the system for up to 6 months vs. up to 4 years) and to more quickly align with the Government’s changing priorities.

For over 15 years now, Short Exchange Programs (SEPs) have enabled Canadian institutions to bring international students, faculty, and administrative staff on short-term exchanges ranging from 2-3 weeks to 5-6 months for study, research, teaching, or professional development. Based on tuition-waivers, the programs allow for significant return on investments by maximizing the number of recipients, their countries of origin, and participating Canadian institutions in any given year. The programs serve the international trade objectives of the Canadian Government by raising Canadian institutions’ international profile, which over the medium and long-term may help attract tuition paying students from abroad, lead to other revenue generating activities with overseas partners, and, finally yet importantly, create reciprocal mobility opportunities for Canadian students.

At present, the International Education Division offers two flagship SEPs focused on two geographic zones:

Latin America and the Caribbean (approx. 530 scholarships/year)

Emerging Leaders in the Americas Program (ELAP) for (students only): established as part of the 2009 Americas Strategy, it caters to Mexico and 38 countries and territories in Central and South America and the Caribbean. The program has fenced funding ($4.7 million/year) and no sunset date.

Rest of the world (approx. 130 scholarships/year)

Study in Canada Scholarships (SICS) for (students only): established in 2019 as part of the second International Education Strategy, $1million/year over 5 years, is a Short Exchange Program with a list of 20 eligible countries from Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. These countries were selected following consultation with multilateral and geographic divisions, diplomatic posts and other key stakeholders, as well as a deep data analysis, to support the Department’s trade diversification efforts and broader foreign policy priorities. The funding for this program ends in March 2024. A key question for the new IES will be regarding the renewal of this program in order for these scholarships to continue, as well as the amount of funding to seek, and eligible countries.

In addition, three additional initiatives complement the two flagship programs:

Latin America and the Caribbean (approx. 80 recipients)

  • Faculty Mobility for Partnership Building—outbound program for Canadian faculty for 2-3 week stays in ELAP-eligible countries
    • Approx. 50 scholarships/year
  • CARICOM Faculty Leadership Program—inbound program faculty and international liaison officers from the CARICOM member and associate member states
    • Approx. 15 scholarships/year
  • ELAP Collaboration Mission of international liaison officers and executives from Latin American and the Caribbean academic institutions
    • Approx. 15 participants/year

GAC’s other scholarship programs

Other GAC branches operate the following scholarship programs:

  • Canada-ASEAN Scholarships & Educational Exchanges for Development (SEED) offering SEPs for students originating from ASEAN countries
    • Approx. 120 scholarships/year
  • Programme canadien des bourses de la Francophonie (PCBF) offered both traditional and Short Exchange Programs to professionals from 37 developing countries that are members of la Francophonie. This program is presently winding down.
  • GAC has approved a new program to replace the PCBF, the Canadian International Development Scholarships Program (2021-2029), which will focus on 26 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa as well as Haiti, and expands the geographic reach beyond la Francophonie.


Geographic concentration of the programs vs. the international diversification objectives: Support to SEPs allows Canada to multiply and diversify target countries in order to align them with the priority markets of the Canadian post-secondary institutions and Canadian provinces and territories

Challenge: the predominant focus on Latin America and the Caribbean due to the fencing of a large part of scholarship funding for this geographic area. Potential solutions include: a) removal of the fenced funding for Latin America and the Caribbean to open up the geographic reach of the program, b) seeking approval for the renewal of the SICs program at $1 million/year over 5 years, c) increase the yearly SICs allocation up to or equal to the ELAP program allocation ($4.7 million/year), and d) expand the support initiatives (Collaboration Mission, Faculty Mobility and Faculty Leadership Program) to include SIC-eligible countries.

Domestic diversification objectives: the SEPs effectively support domestic diversification objectives, in terms of provincial/territorial/linguistic/sectoral/gender representation, through outreach to underrepresented groups and adjustments to adjudication criteria.

Challenge: tuition-wavers do not appeal to colleges and smaller universities, which depend on tuition revenues and might not have enough reciprocal outbound mobility to balance the accounts. As a result, GAC receives a fewer number of applications from this group of institutions. Potential solution include: working with colleges to use the program for applied research initiatives; adjusting adjudication criteria to adjusting adjudication criteria to promote college recipients.

Challenge: No scholarships offered for K-12 or Language Education sectors. Potential solutions include: opening up the suite of scholarships to K-12, scholarships for language training for teachers, support for teacher exchange programs, specific scholarships at the PSS level for language learning, leveraging EduCanada website to promote existing K-12 scholarships and exchanges.

Branding: Over time, GAC created different SEPs and other scholarship programs in response to various policy strategies with foreign policy, international trade and/or international development objectives. As a result, GAC designs, administers, and markets these different programs separately, including on different digital platforms. 

Challenge: the lack of a coherent narrative and common brand for all the GAC programs (and other federal scholarship programs) risks diluting their international visibility as well as Canada’s reputation as a top study destination. Potential solutions include: creating a scholarship tool kit for trade commissioners enabling them to present all international scholarships offered by Canada in a more compelling and cohesive manner; enhancing EduCanada scholarship section as a one-stop shop for all international scholarships; creating an umbrella brand.

Questions for consideration 

  • Do GAC's suite of scholarships, and in particular the Short Exchange Programs, provide support for your international education objectives? If yes, how? If no, how could GAC restructure them to serve better your objectives? 
  • Based on your international diversification priorities, how would you adjust the geographic scope of Canada's Short Exchange Programs?
  • Do you think placing all of GAC’s scholarship programs (and other federal programs) under a common umbrella brand would make a difference for post-secondary institutions in terms of facilitating their international outreach? How about for international students?


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