This op-ed was published in the Hill Times on September 3, 2012.
By Paul Davidson
President and CEO
Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada
A high quality product, affordable pricing and growing demand. That’s a typical recipe for success in business. When we think about international education, these three ingredients are a recipe for driving economic growth in communities across the country. And Canada has them all.
We are fortunate to have an outstanding offering in education at all levels. At the university level, our very high quality programs coupled with affordable tuition provide exceptional bang for the buck. Increasing demand for such excellent educational opportunities is evident in countries around the world, especially in places such as India, Brazil and China, where a rapidly growing middle class is looking for high quality education beyond domestic borders.
Our challenge – and it’s an urgent one – is how to leverage our assets in a way that will strengthen our education brand around the world, enhance international study opportunities for Canadian students, and help address changing labour market needs here at home. A new report released this week provides the federal government with a roadmap to achieve just that.
The report of the Advisory Panel on Canada’s International Education Strategy, released August 14, presents a robust plan for building prosperity in Canada through strategic investments and partnerships in international education.
We will only maximize our strong potential in international education when partners in government, higher education and the private sector come together to strengthen our international brand, build and grow partnerships in research and innovation, and ensure more Canadian students benefit from international study experiences. The return on investment is huge in terms of ongoing economic, social and cultural benefits.
We have a strong foundation upon which to build. In 2011, the number of international students enrolled in Canadian universities grew for the 16th consecutive year. Full-time international enrolment has increased by more than 11 percent since 2010. We have four times more international students today than in 1995. There are now 100,000 international students from more than 200 countries studying at Canada’s universities. These students are attracted by our strong reputation for high quality education, diverse opportunities, and a safe and welcoming environment.
Students from around the world add value to the educational experiences of Canadians, bringing global perspectives and cultural insights to our campuses. And their presence has a huge economic impact. According to a federal government report released in July 2012, international students pursuing their education in Canada generate 81,000 jobs, nearly $8 billion in spending and more than $445 million in government revenue. That’s worth more to Canada than our export of wheat. We’ve gone from being the bread basket of the world to being the “brain basket.”
Among the advisory panel’s most significant recommendations is a call for a major new program for Canadian student mobility abroad. Canada’s employers tell us they need people with knowledge of other countries, languages and cultures. We need graduates who can establish partnerships with colleagues around the world. We need to develop global citizens.
Unfortunately, only three percent of today’s undergraduates participate in international study experiences for academic credit in any given year. Financial considerations are often cited as the most significant hindrance to participation in international academic exchanges, research collaboration and internships. The panel’s recommendation is to create opportunities for 50,000 Canadian students a year to go abroad for study and cultural exchanges, service learning and other experiential learning activities by 2022. Partnerships are a key component to this strategy, with the suggestion that universities, provincial and territorial governments, and private sector partners join with the federal government in funding a major new student mobility program.
Canada’s universities agree that partnerships and collaboration are fundamental to our success in international education. Five national education associations, including AUCC, work together in partnership through the Canadian Consortium for International Education Marketing to advance Canada’s brand more effectively in the global education market. Canada’s universities also work with private sector and government partners to build international connections in education, research and innovation.
With the advisory panel’s report, the federal government has an opportunity to better coordinate its strategies for economic development, science and technology, global commerce, immigration and the labour market. It has a plan to help position Canada as an international leader in education, research and innovation. And it has the business case for investment in key areas that will build prosperity.
Ongoing market changes in global education will dictate the necessary scope, scale and urgency of Canada’s next steps. They must be purposeful, coordinated, bold and ambitious. Let’s get to it.