CANADA: Tool to predict international student trends

Predicting more accurately where international students will go to pursue higher education has been taken one step forward with the release last week of the Global International Student Flow Forecasting Model pilot project. The British Columbia Council for International Education, or BCCIE, released the model for use by the Canadian province where international education is a leading export.

The model was devised as a collaborative, multi-disciplinary effort by the international academic consulting firm Illuminate Consulting Group (ICG) to predict trends in international student flows.

The model's interconnecting matrixes consider gender, subject matter (study field) and degree level of prospective students within the context of the supply landscape at three postsecondary institutions in British Columbia: Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, Capilano University in Vancouver and Okanagan College in Kelowna.

Processing 1.9 million data points, the model is designed to help BCCIE, the province and institutions make strategic, long-term recruitment and policy decisions related to international education.

ICG managing director and long-time higher education researcher Daniel J Guhr says that the assembled data require careful interpretation in order to determine meaningful trends, such as "how many female Chinese undergraduates can be expected to apply to study engineering."

For Steven Robinson, director of international education at Okanagan College, the model takes the guesswork out of international recruitment.

"In the increasingly competitive and complex environment of international education, making key decisions on where and how to invest limited marketing resources based on hunches and past practices just does not cut it," he says.

"This forecasting model will help us make strategic marketing decisions based on sound data and analysis, and enable us to gain the best returns on our finite marketing budget."

Randall Martin, executive director of BCCIE, says using this model will improve the way future decisions are made, allowing higher education administrators to "anticipate emerging and growth student markets as well as to better reconcile provincial labour market needs and demands with the programmes we attract students into."

Guhr says it is important to note that any analytical and predictive modeling tool is inherently fallible. But he hopes that with the range and scope of statistical and forecasting methods employed, the model promises a degree of accuracy hitherto unknown.

The province of British Columbia enrolled approximately 94,000 international students in 2010, which contributed $1.8 billion to the provincial economy.