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Country could do more to attract Indian students

The past decade has seen Canada’s intake of international students increase by 75%. Perhaps even more impressively, the number of students from India – one of the world’s largest sources of international students – has jumped 220% since 2008.

All of these ‘good news’ items appeared in A World of Learning: Canada’s performance and potential in international education 2012, released by the Canadian Bureau for International Education (CBIE) on 5 November, in conjunction with its 46th annual conference.

But according to one commentator, the good news should be tempered slightly.

Maria Mathai made the case in a CBIE conference session that despite impressive gains, Indian students remain underrepresented in Canada; while there are currently 23,000 Indian students, this number pales next to the 67,000 from China.

Mathai, director of Delhi-based MM Advisory Services, which consults on international recruitment strategies in India, and the former director of the Canada Education Centre India, argued that the economic advantage enjoyed by Canadian universities over American or British counterparts has decreased somewhat with the stronger Canadian dollar.

But Mathai pointed to other incentives that continue to draw students to Canada: a wide range of opportunities for research and employment (including the fact that international students are allowed to work in Canada for up to three years after completing their degrees); the relative ease in transitioning to permanent resident status; a high quality of living; and a social and political structure that is seen, from an Indian perspective, as free of corruption.

The global competition to attract students from India is intensifying, however, and Canada must strengthen its presence in India to ensure that its advantages are recognised, Mathai said.

The recent visit to India by Prime Minister Stephen Harper certainly helped raise the country’s profile, as did the launch in 2011 of a set of initiatives aimed at building links between Canadian and Indian universities.

But a longer term and stable presence is also needed to ensure that the Canadian profile remains prominent: an objective that could be best achieved through a government-sponsored bureau to aggressively promote Canadian post-secondary institutions, and through a more harmonised set of policies governing education for international students.

“After all,” Mathai noted, “Indian parents planning to invest their savings in their offspring’s overseas education and struggling to determine the best option require a reliable source of information. They need assurance that Canadian universities are well prepared to welcome Indian students.”

Mathai’s proposed solution points to the fact that Canada currently has no national harmonised policies and programmes for international education.

Higher education in Canada falls under provincial jurisdictions, but recently the federal government, which sees international education as a conduit to developing trade, is giving signals that it may create a national programme to achieve this goal.

A conference plenary session debating the notion that “enhanced harmonisation among international education stakeholders is ideal, achievable and vital to fulfilling shared international, national and regional goals and objectives”, saw participants (and audience respondents) expressing a desire for shared efforts and initiatives.

There were concerns, though, that a harmonised programme might also be a homogenised one, reducing diversity of opportunities.

But the idea is certainly circulating, and a harmonised national policy – or even further shared endeavours such as the 2011 bridge-building initiatives between Canadian and Indian universities – could help consolidate Canada as a leading destination for students coming from India.

The CBIE report, which surveyed 1,668 students at 18 universities and colleges across Canada, also noted that 91% of international students in Canada have reported being satisfied or very satisfied with their decision to study in Canada.
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