Canada gains in the global game

Overseas student applications contribute to record enrolment figures. John Gill reports

February 21, 2008

Canada is rapidly strengthening its position in the global education market, with overseas students contributing strongly to a fifth successive year of record university enrolment figures.

Enrolments to Canada's universities hit 1.05 million in 2005-06, the most recent year for which data is available, Statistics Canada reports. This is a 3 per cent increase on the year before.

A key factor is the number of students who have been recruited from overseas, who accounted for 15 per cent of the overall growth and 7.7 per cent of all students.

The total number of overseas student enrolments in 2005-06 was just over 80,000. About half were from Asia - and half of those were from China, up 7 per cent to a record 19,200.

There was also a rise in enrolments from India, South Korea and Japan.

Overseas students pay about double the tuition rates paid by Canadians. However, Tom Traves, chairman of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC) and president of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, said Canadian universities' pricing policies were still "very competitive" internationally.

An AUCC survey last year found that 69 per cent of institutions offer scholarships to draw undergraduates from overseas, and 62 per cent target postgraduate students this way.

Students from China may also be attracted by the country's large Chinese population.

Chinese is the third most widely spoken language in Canada after English and French, although this year India is expected to become the largest source of immigration to Canada.

Dr Traves told Times Higher Education: "In countries such as China and India, which historically have regarded Canada as an attractive emigration target, the appeal of studying here, perhaps with a view ultimately to moving permanently, is likely to be a feature of the educational choices students make.

"The presence in some of our bigger cities of substantial immigrant communities creates an attractive 'home away from home' for international students, granting them ready access to local communities, familiar food and customs and an array of social and psychological supports to assist their adaptation to a Canadian educational milieu."

The rise in home student enrolments has also been driven by a population bubble as the children of the baby-boomer generation - so-called echo-boomers - reach university age.

Some analysts believe the trend will continue for five years and will then be followed by a period of decline reflecting the drop in the university-age population.

Others believe that universities will make up the shortfall by attracting more students from under-represented groups and still more from overseas.

Dr Traves remained optimistic, adding: "There is no reason to assume that there is some great cliff out there that we're going to drop off any time soon."

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