Let’s start with some statistics! Canada ranks fourth in international student population behind USA, United Kingdom, and China. Federal Government data shows that Canada had fewer than 500,000 international students at the end of 2017. Between 2008 and 2016, the number of international students studying in Canada increased by 87.0%! The student population has nearly tripled over the past decade. They contribute over $15 billion to our economy each year, which supported 170,000 Canadian jobs.
Now the question is – should Canada continue to welcome more international students in future? In Australia, international education revenue hit AUS$21.8 billion in 2016, making it Australia’s third largest export. Whereas in Canada, education is not even in top ten.
The demand for international education has increased globally. Especially increased wealth in emerging markets such as Asia, Africa, and Middle East which has led many students to look abroad for higher studies. There were other factors that increased the demand for Canada as a study destination. For example, the political climate in USA followed by the last presidential election has been a key factor. Some other favorite study destinations have stringent visa policies.
While revenue from international students is important, there are other issues to consider. Canada’s youth population is shrinking, institutions need to recruit abroad to remain educationally and financially viable. If Canada welcomes more international students it would benefit the local students, will enrich the learning experience, will provide international perspective and above all will strengthen Canada’s ties with the world.
Canada’s reputation as an open, stable and welcoming society helps to attract foreign students. According to the annual survey of the Canadian Bureau for International Education, it’s the second-most-common reason international students come here. The primary reason is the high quality of education offered by Canadian colleges and universities. Canada also offers one of the world’s most competitive tuition packages to international students. Students are eligible to work part-time to subsidize their expenses and gain Canadian work experience. Upon completion of studies, the students from public institutions obtain post-graduate work permit (PGWP). International students are also offered a friendly suite of immigration pathways.
What more could be done to make Canada a natural choice for higher studies?
Canadian Government should consider taking initiatives to raise awareness about Canada’s education system. There are thousands of private career colleges that could be an attractive destination for many international students who may not get into the Canadian universities. But currently, Private Career Colleges are not in a position to attract many international students. If Private Career College graduates will also be eligible to apply for PGWP, then we can expect this to have an enormous contribution to our economy. Irony is that there are no seats available for international students applying for public colleges as they are full for the coming intake and some international students have to wait for 1 year to get an offer letter. On the other side, there are 1000s of private Career Colleges who can host international students but students are not opting because of the PGWP issue. If Government can give equal treatment for International students of both public and private career colleges so that the Country can host great number of International students. Also, visa processing and immigration pathways could be made easier. Canada has over 50 immigration streams, which make the system intimidating for international students.
If right decisions are made now, Canada would rank top in international student populations, the education exports would be among top three exports of the country!