International students represent an economic benefit worth tens of billions of dollars to countries like the United States, Britain and Australia, who have been actively recruiting for decades. Although it hasn’t been an active player as long as these countries, Canada attracts more than 90,000 international students every year who contribute at least $6.5 billion to the domestic economy.
In a recent report, the World Education Services noted, “In an environment of budgetary cuts, changing demographics and increasing competition, international student recruitment is becoming integral to the financial health of universities and colleges worldwide. However, effective recruitment is an increasingly complex process which is dependent on an understanding of student mobility patterns, student decision-making processes, and variables which are out of the control of universities.” For example, while stringent immigration policies in the United Kingdom will divert some international students to destinations like Canada, new competitors such as China, Saudi Arabia, India and Brazil are entering the study abroad marketplace with an interest in importing as well as exporting students.
The number of students interested in international study is expected to grow. Currently, there are 3.3 million students in the world, and by 2025, the number is expected to reach 7.2 million. In spite of this growth, Canada will have soon have to compete harder to attract international students. The top sources for international students in Canada – India and China – are stepping up their efforts to improve domestic and international enrollment in their universities. In 2011, India increased higher education spending by 30 percent, while the Chinese government recently set a goal of enrolling 500,000 international students (double the number it currently hosts and more than the total students it currently sends abroad) in their higher education system by 2020.
Governments in Canada appear to be be responding proactively. Last month the province of British Columbia announced a new International Education Strategy to support the dual flow of student and staff and accompanied it with $5 million in scholarship and research funding for internships to assist students embarking on an international education experience. Later this summer as part of its Economic Action Plan, the federal government will release a report with recommendations that will aim to deepen educational links between Canada and international institutions and contribute to Canada’s long-term prosperity. An effective plan will recognize that competition is coming not only from leaders in international student recruitment, but also from nations emerging into the international student recruitment market.