Competing for Foreign Students

The Economist this week published an interesting article called Foreign University Students: Will they Still Come? While the focus of the article is Britain, the same conclusions that it reaches apply to Canada.

International students make up a significant portion of the student bodies of major Canadian campuses.  In 2009, roughly 13% of the students at the University of British Columbia were foreign nationals.  The average international undergraduate fee was $17,626, compared to $ 4,077 for Canadian students.

While these figures may seem high (and are often the subject of some bitterness towards the idea of non-Canadians buying their way into Canadian universities), it is important to note that the percentage of students who are international at the University of British Columbia pales in comparison to some of the world’s top universities.  In 2008, 23.3% of Harvard students were not American. The numbers were 25%, 29%, and 25% for Stanford, MIT, and Oxford respectively.

These figures are reflective of a fact which I’m not sure most Canadians are aware of: In the global market for foreign students, it seems that Canada under-performs compared to other developed, English-speaking nations. According to the OECD, the number of students who were not residents of the country in which they were studying was the following:

Country

# of Non-Resident Students
United States 595,874
United Kingdom 351,470
Australia

211,526

Canada 68,520
New Zealand 33,047

The Economist notes many of the benefits that international students provide to England. In 2007, roughly $4.8-billion was paid to British universities through tuition and other fees. An additional $4.68-billion was spent on accommodation, food, etc.  An additional, non-monetary benefit is that international students are often more hardworking, and better trained in maths and sciences, than their domestic counterparts.  An of course, many graduates of these universities will wind up staying and contributing to the economy.

The Economist notes the following regarding competition that Britain faces for international students:
In 1999, when Tony Blair, then prime minister, launched an initiative to attract more foreign students to Britain, only Australia and America were seen as real rivals. Today serious competitors include not only Canada but also—though complacent Anglophones deny it—non-English-speaking countries such as Germany, France and perhaps the Netherlands. Former consumers have turned providers too, including Singapore and Malaysia, which aim to become regional educational hubs, and increasingly China itself.
Another Old Commonwealth country, Canada, has also been recruiting, though mostly students who would otherwise have gone to America rather than Britain. Its foreign-student numbers doubled in a decade, many of them from China, America, France and India. It appeals as well to students who want an American education but fear that they would be unwelcome south of the border. One American university which has opened a campus in Vancouver reports that it is particularly popular with Iranian students.
Given the increasing competition for international students, and the benefits that such students provide, it should be obvious that Canada should do more to entice international students to study in Canada. The recent expansion of the Student Partnership Program, allowing foreign students to work off campus, and the introduction of the Post-Graduation Work Permit, are certainly steps in the right direction, and hopefully the government, which seems to understand the importance of international students, continues in this direction.

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