Canada: Partner of choice in international education



The Canadian university community AUCChas a long history of internationalisation through activities such as student mobility, research collaboration and international development cooperation. An international dimension to the student experience is becoming increasingly vital in order to provide graduates with the necessary skills for living and working in a global economy. Employers place a high value on inter-cultural understanding, the ability to build strong networks with colleagues from other countries, and multilingualism. These are but a few examples of the many skills that can be developed through studying abroad or interacting with international students and faculty on a Canadian campus.

A destination for high-quality, globally engaged learning

Canada has become a key destination for international students. In 2010, international students made up 10 percent of the campus population. Although this number has been steadily rising over the past 15 years, there remains a potential for even greater international student enrolment in the coming years. According to UNESCO data, the global number of international postsecondary education students increased by 77% between 2000 and 2009, from 2.1 to 3.7 million. This number is expected to continue to rise over the long term and members of the G20 will likely continue to attract the vast majority of international students. In Canada, the number of international university students has more than doubled over the same period.

The ongoing global transition to a knowledge-based economy, in addition to the ageing workforce that many G20 countries currently face, is intensifying competition to attract international students. Country borders are no longer a limiting factor for the most talented students and highly qualified researchers when searching for an institution of higher learning. As their mobility increases over time, so too does the importance of delivering high quality programs in a broad range of disciplines. Canadian universities are well placed to meet this demand, delivering globally recognised programming at the undergraduate, graduate, PhD and post-doctoral levels.

Although Canada’s global market share of international students has been relatively small in the past, we have been gaining ground in recent years in key countries including China and India. Students choose Canadian universities for a wide range of reasons, including the commitment to excellence that these institutions demonstrate in all aspects of the learning experience. The welcoming nature of Canadian communities, opportunities to transition to permanent immigration status, and relatively low tuition and living expenses are also considerable factors.

Building partnerships for success in the global education market

The gap between Canada and other major destinations for foreign students has in large part been due to the fact that governments of countries such as Australia and the United Kingdom have actively invested in education branding and marketing initiatives. Key Canadian organisations in the higher education sector have long recognised the need for targeted efforts to enhance Canada’s reputation as an education destination. With this goal in mind, the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC) came together last year with four other national associations to establish the Canadian Consortium for International Education Marketing (CCIEM).

The CCIEM acts as a mechanism to coordinate and deliver marketing activities in partnership with federal and provincial governments. Over the past year, the group has developed and begun to implement an action plan to build Canada’s education brand. Working in collaboration with government partners, the CCIEM has delivered online seminars on higher education opportunities in Canada for Canadian missions abroad, represented Canadian institutions at international education events and conducted research on education pathways for international students coming to Canada.

Government engagement in international education marketing

In recognition of the importance of attracting international students to Canada and promoting Canadian education abroad, Canadian federal, provincial and territorial governments are demonstrating a greater commitment to this issue. Over the past couple of years, the federal government has worked with the provinces and education associations to develop the ‘Imagine Education in/au Canada’ brand. The 2011 federal budget allocated C$10m ($10m) over two years to develop a new international education strategy to ‘reinforce Canada as a country of choice to study and conduct world-class research’. The budget also announced the creation of a high-level advisory panel to undertake consultations and make recommendations on the scope and nature of this strategy.

Provincial and territorial governments, which are responsible for education in Canada’s federal system, are likewise becoming more engaged in international education activities. In June 2011, the Council of Ministers of Education, in partnership with provincial and territorial ministers of immigration, released a report entitled ‘Bringing Education in Canada to the World, Bringing the World to Canada: An International Education Marketing Action Plan for Provinces and Territories’. The primary focus of the action plan is on efforts to recruit and retain international students. With the aim of moving towards a pan-Canadian international education marketing plan, it identifies a series of actions, areas for investment and opportunities for intergovernmental collaboration.

Overall, the action plan signals a positive step forward in terms of strategic cooperation between all provinces and territories. A strong commitment has been made towards a pan-Canadian approach, recognising that the choice of country is the prime consideration for most potential students (as opposed to institution or province). It also reflects a clear understanding of the intersections between education and immigration policy – an essential component of successful marketing given that many international students wish to work in their country of study following graduation.

The recommendations outline concrete options for expanding the presence of Canadian institutions in the global education market, including direct outreach to prospective students and their families, and targeted publicity efforts to highlight the diversity and quality of available programs. Significant data and market intelligence gaps are also identified, such as the need for timely information about developments in strategic markets and for pan-Canadian data on international student enrolment and graduation.

The action plan also identifies the need to further expand international mobility opportunities for Canadian students, an aspect of international education that is often underplayed. As the report notes, Canadians studying abroad often act as ambassadors for educational opportunities in Canada. Additionally, they demonstrate that Canada is committed to two-way flows of student mobility. That being said, plans to address common barriers faced by Canadians who wish to study abroad, such as funding, credit recognition and language skills, may be difficult to implement in the current economic environment. Given the budgetary constraints that governments are expected to face in the foreseeable future, there is an ongoing need to demonstrate the benefits that international education opportunities bring to all Canadians.

Internationalising Canadian university campuses

Although international student recruitment is a definite priority for Canadian universities, other forms of international collaboration and connectivity are also vital. These include developing international mobility opportunities for Canadian students and faculty, engaging in international research collaboration, bringing an international dimension to the curriculum, and participating in international development initiatives.

With more than 5,000 active partnerships with universities around the world, Canadian universities are already well-positioned in the international education community. AUCC is committed to further improving academic and research relations between institutions in Canada and their international counterparts. In our globally connected world, these types of partnerships help to create jobs, encourage economic growth and ensure that our labour force is ready to compete in the global marketplace.

In November 2010, AUCC led a delegation of 15 university presidents to India. This largest-ever delegation of Canadian university presidents succeeded in positioning Canada as a partner of choice for Indian students, faculty, researchers and institutions. A Canada-India Memorandum of Understanding on higher education cooperation was also signed by our respective Prime Ministers in June 2010, followed by a commitment to spend C$12m over the next five years to develop a Canada-India Research Centre of Excellence. As a member of the joint working group that will oversee implementation of the MoU, AUCC has drafted an action plan outlining concrete activities in research collaboration, student and faculty mobility, workshops and conferences and institutional capacity-building.

A second mission of Canadian university presidents is currently being organised to Brazil and will coincide with the Conference of the Americas on International Education in April 2012. Led by the Governor General of Canada, David Johnston, the visit of this delegation will focus on raising the collective profile of Canadian universities, building the brand of excellence in Canadian higher education, and establishing strategic university and research partnerships with this growing economic powerhouse.

Canadian universities: Committed to developing global citizens

In 2011, AUCC celebrates its 100th anniversary, an important milestone in the history of Canadian higher education and an opportune time to reflect on the evolving role of universities. Canadian universities are pleased to see a renewed interest in fostering international mobility and partnerships to strengthen the experience of their students, researchers and faculty members.

Canada offers an outstanding and internationally recognised education, and is now poised to take its place on the international stage with an unprecedented level of coordination among the diverse players that make up our education sector. The federal government recognises the importance of global talent and is investing in a unified and comprehensive international education strategy. Provincial and territorial governments have come together to launch a coordinated approach to promoting Canada as an ideal destination for international students. The full spectrum of education providers in Canada have come together to form the Canadian Consortium for International Education Marketing to represent the depth and breadth of education opportunities available in Canada. Through this ongoing collaboration between stakeholders across the sector, we will work with the advisory panel to enhance global connections for Canadian students and faculty.