In 2008, there were almost 180,000 international students who stayed in the country for at least six months, generating over $6.5 billion in Canada. But students from abroad are more than just cash cows; recruiting the best and brightest also bolsters universities’ reputations and leads to top-notch research being conducted here rather than elsewhere.
But successfully recruiting students from abroad is a challenge. Canadian schools often fight an uphill battle against other countries trying to recruit the same people.
Canada’s main competition comes from the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia. All three have national education policies focused on international students. The Canadian Constitution designates education as a provincial jurisdiction and, as a result, there is no federal body that has the necessary resources to aggressively recruit from around the world.
“That’s the crux of the problem,” said Dan Seneker, manager of student recruitment at the University of Saskatchewan.
Seneker points to EducationUSA, a U.S. State Department program, that has offices in over 170 countries and is very effective at recruitment. A prospective student in almost any country can walk into an EducationUSA office and get information on how to study in the States.
“Canada, even though we have consulates and high commissions… not every consulate, embassy or high commission has [an officer] dedicated towards education,” said Seneker.
As a result, it is often up to individual universities to travel abroad and try to recruit new students to study in Canada. Indeed, U of S president Peter MacKinnon recently returned from a trip to China where he was promoting the university. But compare the resources of any individual university to those of the United Kingdom, for example, and it becomes clear why a federal program is needed.
Additionally, Canada suffers from a dearth of high-profile universities.
“We don’t have the cachet and the recognizable names that the Harvards and Princetons and Oxfords have. It really comes down to the Canadian Three: UBC, U of T and McGill,” said Seneker.
Those same three also place the highest in university rankings, with McGill among the top 20 schools in the world.
That doesn’t necessarily mean universities with less international renown are lightweights — Seneker points out that the U of S has the most Rhodes Scholars in Western Canada — but it can be hard getting that message out.
Governments across Canada have recognized this problem and are starting to work together. Provincial and territorial governments have launched a new marketing scheme called “Education in/au Canada.” (Yes, clearly designed by committee, but it’s a start.) This initiative is a step toward a clear Canadian brand that can attract students from such competitive markets as India and China by promoting “a unique cultural experience in safe, diverse, and beautiful surroundings.”
Rob Norris, Saskatchewan’s minister of advanced education, says the provincial government has been pushing for closer cooperation across Canada.
“We’re actively participating in ways to build up a national presence, a national brand, a national strategy — Saskatchewan is contributing to that.”
International students contributed $100 million to the Saskatchewan economy in 2008, but Norris says the benefits go beyond money.
“There’s the dollar figure, then you have the cultural and intellectual setting that’s enriched,” he said.
Norris says international students “internationalize a campus and help internationalize the community,” and points to the new international students’ centre in Lower Place Riel as evidence that universities, and the U of S in particular, can provide welcoming environments.
There are many reasons why Canada would make for a great place to attend school, but Dan Seneker from U of S recruitment says he and his colleagues across the country have an unofficial slogan: “Canadian education — Harvard education, Wal-Mart prices.”
photo: Raisa Pezderic/The Sheaf