Canada Aims to Woo International Students

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TORONTO -- The number of college and university students studying internationally has grown more than fourfold since 1975 -- and Canada wants a larger share of that market.

Approximately 3.7 million students sought post-secondary education outside their home countries in 2009, compared with 800,000 in 1975, according to Unesco and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. This year, the number of international students in Canada exceeded 100,000 for the first time -- triple the number who studied there in 2000.

Edward Fast, the Canadian minister of international trade and for the Pacific Gateway, released a report by a government panel in August that recommended that Canada double its number of international students by 2022. It called international education "the driver for economic prosperity and social progress."

"Last year, international students contributed more than 8 billion dollars to Canada's economy," Mr. Fast said by e-mail, referencing an amount equal to about $7.8 billion at current rates. "They supported 86,000 Canadian jobs."

"But the benefits transcend economics as well," he added. "They're helping us build a diverse, skilled and globally focused workforce."

"They're a vital link as we create the people-to-people ties that will grow our partnerships with countries around the world. As Canadians do more business abroad, we need these kinds of connections," he said.

Kelly Zhong, a native of Nanjing, China, is a fourth-year economics and statistics student at the University of Toronto who volunteers at its Center for International Education. She also did some off-campus work during the summer.

Her intention is to stay in Canada after graduation, first to earn a master's degree, and then to gain work experience. "By that time, I will have been here for five years, so I'll know more about the Canadian job market than the job market in China," she said.

"Studying abroad is a very good opportunity to experience different things, not only culturally, but different methods of learning," she said.

That is also true outside the classroom. "We learn practical skills like how to live on our own and how to cook -- real life skills," she said. "I could see myself change a lot and improve a lot."

There is stiff competition among major English-speaking countries for overseas talent who also generally pay full tuition -- particularly as universities face budget cuts.

"When international students think about where to go, our main competition is the U.S., the U.K. and Australia," said Paul Davidson, president of the Association of Colleges and Universities of Canada. "We must get Canada on the list of places people consider."

He added that about 8 percent of Canadian students were from overseas, which is about double the percentage in the United States.

"Canadian universities are recognizing what it takes to recruit internationally," Mr. Davidson said. "We need a strong national brand proposition, because when international students are choosing a university, they look at the country first, the kind of institution second and the kind of program third."

"Since we're a smaller country, they recognize we all have to work together," he said, referring to universities.

Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia lead the way in recruiting international students to Canada. The University of Toronto, in Ontario, is home to 11,500 international students -- the largest number in the country -- according to its Center for International Education.

"International students bring cultural and academic diversity to our university," said Miranda Cheng, director of the center. "We always want the best and brightest students, and international students bring such richness to our classrooms."

She credits policies that make it easier to recruit overseas. "The government of Canada really assists the post-secondary sector with its fairly progressive policies with regard to working off campus and post-graduation work," she said. "They are helping to put Canada on the map."

International students are allowed to seek part-time employment off campus after six months of full-time study, as a way to help them defray costs. They can also obtain foreign work credentials: After earning a four-year undergraduate degree, they can apply to work in Canada for up to three years.

Other nations are not as generous: In the United States, international students are eligible to work only on campus, and many struggle to stay in the country after graduation. Tough visa rules have led to a foreign student "brain drain," prompting both lawmakers and members of the technology industry to appeal for a change in immigration law.

In Britain, international students can work no more than 10 hours a week and need an endorsement from their school to work after graduation. Its government came under fire over what critics called an overzealous immigration crackdown after London Metropolitan University was stripped of its right to host non-E.U. students, leaving thousands in limbo last autumn. For a while, it seemed as though those who could not quickly secure school space would face deportation.

Overseas study is generally expensive. As with most British, Australian and state-funded U.S. universities, most Canadian institutions have one rate for domestic students and a much higher one for international students.

In Ontario and British Columbia, provincial governments give universities financial assistance for domestic students, but not for their international counterparts -- which is reflected in tuition.

A Canadian undergraduate business student at the University of Toronto would pay 14,259 Canadian dollars, while an overseas counterpart would pay 32,075 dollars -- or $13,900 and $31,200 -- per year.

This puts Canada in the same ballpark as other major English-speaking nations, at least in terms of cost. An international student at Harvard would pay $37,576. One at Cambridge in Britain would pay £20,790, or $31,399. And one at the University of Melbourne would pay 33,344 Australian dollars, or $34,791.

But the cost is not stopping international students, as an increasing number choose to cross borders to study.

"We don't live in a bordered world anymore, so students must be able to move easily across those borders," said Karen McKellin, the executive director of the international student initiative at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

At U.B.C., 14 percent of the student body -- or about 8,400 students -- comes from outside Canada. The largest numbers come from China, the United States and South Korea.

education

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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