Op-ed published in Embassy
By Paul Davidson
President, Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada
The vision is bold; the potential is real. But what will it take to get Canada to be a world leader in international education? It will take a high degree of coordination, decisive action and commitment to move quickly, before opportunities pass us by.
That’s the vision outlined recently by the federal government’s expert panel on international education – a bold strategy that would see Canada become a 21st century leader in attracting top talent and preparing Canadians for the global marketplace. It’s a vision whose time has come.
That’s not so say Canada hasn’t made great strides already – we have, and in many ways. Canadian universities have long embraced the importance of internationalizing our campuses, from recruiting international students, to developing joint programming with overseas partners, to finding new and innovative ways to provide international experiences to Canadian students.
There has been significant progress at the federal level. Immigration policies, for example, demonstrate a clear recognition that students are a valuable source of talent – the kind of immigrant Canada wants and needs to attract to address our labour shortages.
Forward-looking policies introduced by CIC now provide Canada with an advantage over other potential destination countries for international students. These students can now work in Canada – both on and off-campus – while pursuing their studies. They can participate in co-op programs. They can even work in Canada for up to three years after graduation. The Canadian Experience Class was introduced as a path to permanent residency for international student graduates of Canadian education institutions who have gained skilled work experience in Canada. We’ve just celebrated the 20,000th person to become a permanent resident under the program – in four short years, a remarkable achievement.
CIC has recently launched consultations on the review of its International Students Program. The review is being undertaken to improve the integrity of Canada’s immigration system, enhance accountability, and improve Canada’s reputation as a destination of choice for studies abroad. These steps are critical to keep Canada competitive in the drive to attract our share of the world’s 3.5 million international students.
Yet issues persist and hurdles must be cleared. Having worked diligently to reduce visa processing times, they are now increasing. Our immigration officers overseas are faced with increased demand for processing study permits at a time of fiscal restraint and reduced government spending. The result is unintended delays in processing and loss of students to other countries that can issue student visas more quickly. Canada needs to find a way to ensure CIC can meet the demand. It is time to explore new ways to ensure that visa offices are adequately resourced for student permit processing, including a review of the fees charged for these permits.
From a foreign policy and trade perspective, there is growing recognition that universities are an underleveraged asset in promoting Canada to the world. The advisory panel on the development of a comprehensive international education strategy for Canada has submitted its recommendations to Finance Minister Flaherty and International Trade Minister Fast. One very straightforward recommendation is to establish a council on international education and research that will bring together senior government officials and representatives of the sector to keep our focus on this important part of Canada’s economy and link our efforts to research, innovation, commerce and human resource strategies.
The consultations to refresh Canada’s Global Commerce Strategy have heard that access to talent is a priority for Canadian employers, and central to this is attracting high-quality international students and researchers. International research collaboration is also globally recognised as a strategic investment in economic growth, bilateral trade and talent development. Given these linkages, education should be clearly identified as a priority economic sector that will actively be promoted and support by Canada’s Trade Commissioner Service.
We will be asking much of our officers overseas in taking this on – particularly those who are hired locally and who may never have experienced education in Canada at any level. AUCC and partners are ready to share expertise and enhance understanding of the education sector among staff of Canadian missions abroad.
International education – in all its aspects – is key to Canada’s success in a rapidly changing integrated global knowledge economy. The bold strategy recommended by the expert panel will benefit Canadians across the country, by giving employers access to the talent and global markets they need, enriching communities and making our country more prosperous and innovative. That’s a vision we can all support.