Canada looks to India to ease skills shortage

Canada is turning to higher education partnerships as a form of ‘soft’ diplomacy and as part of a global economic strategy that includes attracting Indian students to fill a growing skills shortage.

“Canada is looking to take advantage of India’s demographic profile,” Marcia Lang, senior advisor to the president of the University of Alberta, told University World News on the sidelines of a higher education conference held in New Delhi from 5-6 November.

“Indian students are bright and very good and we want to encourage more students to not only study in Canada but to fill our skills shortage by working there.”

Lang noted that Canada has the second largest oil sands after Saudi Arabia, “but we don’t have enough people to work. We have partnered with IIT [Indian Institute of Technology] Bombay, IIT Roorkee and oil companies such as Indian Oil to not only train Indian middle-level managers but also to attract students,” Lang said.

Canada’s interest in higher education partnerships in India, and in drawing Indian students to Canada, was highlighted by Minister of International Trade Ed Fast at the higher education conference organised by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, FICCI.

Fast said that Canada was looking at investment in education as a form of soft diplomacy and a way to improve economic prosperity in both countries.

“India is a natural partner for Canada. Relationships from educational ties can produce successful business partnerships,” Fast said, pushing for a stronger Canadian role in India’s expanding higher education landscape.

“Investments and strategic partnerships in education will give jobs and prosperity in both countries,” said Fast, who was in India with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper for a six-day trade mission and negotiations on a comprehensive free trade agreement between India and Canada.

"Having seen the plans that India has dramatically laid out to expand footprints in education, I am astounded by the ambition, scope and audaciousness of that plan".

“But many of you have shared that you cannot do it alone. Canada is willing and able to be a trusted partner in achieving that plan,” Fast told the conference.

In 2011, eight Canadian universities came together to announce funding for a series of India-specific initiatives valued at over C$4 million (US$4 million), including the new Globalink Canada-India Graduate Fellowship, which will provide up to 51 scholarships.

There are one million Canadians of Indian origin and India contributes 23,000 students, the second largest national group, to Canadian higher education.

Over the past two years, Canadian universities have been proactive in attracting Indian students. The country issued 12,000 study permits in India in 2010 against 3,152 in 2008.

Foreign students in Canada can also work for up to two years after completing their studies, making the country attractive to foreign students at a time when the UK has discontinued a two-year post-study work visa and the United States has tightened visa norms following three incidents of alleged visa fraud at universities that enrolled large numbers of Indian students.

Canada’s efforts to woo Indian students can be seen as strategic. A government report released in August, International Education: A key driver of Canada’s future prosperity, urged Canadian universities to nearly double international student enrolment from 240,000 in 2011 to 450,000 by 2022.

The government-appointed panel led by Amit Chakma, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Western Ontario, also laid out a blueprint for how the federal government ought to support universities in their recruitment efforts.

The report was presented to Fast, rather than the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development, illustrating how foreign students are now considered a key part of Canada’s global economic strategy.