Canada set to step on the international accelerator

Provinces agree to work together to promote a 'national brand' abroad. Sarah Cunnane reports

December 23, 2010

Canadian higher education must "accelerate" its internationalisation efforts if it is to become a serious competitor in the overseas market, according to the president of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC).

"Canada is really in the early stages (of the process)," said Paul Davidson, who last month led a delegation of 15 Canadian university presidents to India.

"There is more that can be done, and we're talking with ministers to explain that now is a very good time for a joined-up effort between universities and the government of Canada to do more on internationalisation."

The trip to India made a "powerful statement" about Canada's interest in the area, he said, insisting that it was about more than simply wooing students. Of the 225,000 Indians studying abroad, only about 3,000 currently attend Canadian universities.

"Yes, we're trying to recruit students, but we're also serious about furthering relationships. This is not just about going over and having cups of tea. We want to engage seriously," Mr Davidson said.

Canada's provincial governments appear to agree. In a meeting of the Council of the Federation, an intergovernmental body made up of the premiers of the country's provinces and territories, it was agreed that the marketing of international education should become a priority for 2011.

This decision to work together marks a shift in attitude. Higher education is under provincial rather than federal jurisdiction, and hitherto there has been little coordination of policy among the provinces.

Mr Davidson said the move indicated a general recognition that a "national brand" was key to Canada's success in this area.

The consensus was making it possible for the AUCC to advocate international marketing in a way it had not been able to do before, he argued.

"A few years ago, we hadn't organised the federal government and the provinces to work together, but now that's happening and we can reinforce and build on each others' expertise," Mr Davidson said.

He also highlighted reforms of the student-visa system, instituted last year, as another defining moment for the international ambitions of Canadian universities.

"I wouldn't have been making an argument for international marketing a few years ago, because our visa process wasn't competitive compared with other countries. Now it is," he said.

Mr Davidson added that although the relationship between universities in Canada and China was already "mature", he hoped it could become even closer. Brazil was another key partner, along with India, he said.

International students currently bring in about C$6.5 billion (£4.1 billion) a year, Mr Davidson said, so attracting more faculty and students from overseas would be beneficial.

"The pedagogical benefits that international students bring are huge," he said.

"Canadians like to think of themselves as global traders and open to the world, but less than 3 per cent of students leave Canada during their course of study. International students and faculty help create an international mindset in the classroom."

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