Over the last few decades, international students consistently preferred to study in English-speaking countries like the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Australia and New Zealand. According to ApplyBoard CEO Martin Basiri, a former international student himself, this trend is because these countries, particularly the U.S. and Canada, have top educational institutions with a wide selection of programs to choose from. Further, the opportunity to gain work experience after studies is an attractive addition in these countries. But in recent years, Canada has experienced an increase in international student interest while the United States, along with other competing countries, have faced the opposite trend. Why?
While the overall number of international students in the U.S. remains much higher than most other countries, the growth has reached a plateau due to recent student visa limitations. Typically, international students occupied nearly one in five seats in American graduate schools. But in recent years, the total international enrollment, both undergraduate and graduate, fell by nearly 4 percent from 840,160 in 2016 to 808,640 in 2017. It is also reported that almost 75 per cent of admissions directors agree that the policies implemented by the Trump Administration have made it more difficult for the U.S. to recruit international student interest. As for other countries, recent safety issues in Australia and tougher immigration policies in the U.K. could help to explain their situation. As for Canada, it has chosen to ramp up its offer to international students, quietly and quickly. Between 2015 and 2017 alone, the number of international students in Canada increased by over 40 per cent. In 2017, international students contributed almost $19 billion to Canada’s economy through tuition, accommodation and discretionary spending – positioning education as the fourth largest export sector in the Canadian economy. Recently the country reached its 2022 goal of hosting 450,000 foreign students early, by enrolling more than 494,000 students.
What exactly is Canada doing to increase international student interest?
Most international students are already aware of Canada’s reputation for openness, safety, and a welcoming environment. But Canada has recently stepped up its open-door policy, offering postgraduate work permits and permanent residency opportunities. These new Canadian initiatives are incredibly important because word of mouth holds so much weight in an international student’s decision.
A recent study conducted by ICEF concluded that the primary reasons students provided for choice of country to study were: the availability of study visas (70 percent), finances (35 percent) and the global economic and political situation (25 percent). While North America as a whole is the place to be, due to these three concerns, not as many international students are pursuing an education in the U.S. and instead are choosing Canada. There are other reasons as well. Study visas are significantly easier to obtain in Canada and tuition and the cost of living is lower there in comparison to competing countries thanks to the current value of the Canadian dollar.
Forty percent of all the economic-class immigrants accepted by the Canadian federal government for landing are now international students who have graduated from Canadian colleges and want to stay in the country. This, along with the more cost-friendly student environment, are the other reasons why international students select Canada as their primary study destination. Starting a family and pursuing good work in Canada are also considerations.
Upon graduation, international students in Canada automatically qualify for a work permit of up to three years. Canada even encourages international students to apply for permanent residency, something that is difficult for U.S.- based international students to do through the H1B visa program. That said, however, there are some shortcomings in the Canadian program as well. There have been instances of fraud, some Canadian high schools with international students have been caught inflating their student marks to help them gain entry into university, and students and the Canadian studies program have also been exploited.
Nonetheless, generally speaking, Canadian employers have great interest in hiring international graduates because they have acquired the relevant skills needed to boost the local economy in Canada and they speak various international languages. As baby boomers retire from the workforce, Canada looks to newcomers like international students to help cover projected worker shortages in local economies by 2025.
As they say, the proof is in the pudding. As a result of international student spending, approximately 170,000 jobs were created in the Canadian economy in 2017. That is a significant economic stimulus. So Canada will continue to compete against other countries for new students. However, with the lucrative benefits like these brought by international students to host countries, Canadian international student recruitment is likely to face stiffer competition in the years ahead. As for the United States, there are lessons to be learned from Canada here.
By Forbes Editors’ Picks, www.forbes.com
November 16th, 2018