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Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

Canada’s Aussie coast line

Two announcements last week, impacting on international students made about eight thousand miles apart – have a very intense intersection.

In Canberra, the Australian government announced changes to expedite student visas, and once in Australia, students who then graduate would be eligible for a four-year work permit. For a country reeling from a collapse in international student numbers – some of it was self-inflicted by alleged racially motivated assaults at home and volumes of bad press abroad – that’s called upping the ante !

Meanwhile in Kamloops, British Columbia, the Premier of the Province announced plans to increase international student enrolments in her province by 50 percent in the next four years – that’s 50,000 more visa students. Premier Christy Clark is looking for money and it’s very easy to say let’s bring in more foreigners paying spiked tuition fees.

Australia wants to go right back after that huge global pool of mediocre students where it has lost huge market share. There are domestic institutions Down Under closing due to shrinking foreign enrolments. Some are suspect private providers, but plenty of Australia’s public universities who rely on revenues from foreign fees, are struggling.

Only a few Australian institutions are the academic equals found in a great many Canadian universities, so for the pioneers of the commercialism of international student recruiting, this is all about economic survival and they will do what Aussies have done for two decades – admit pretty much anyone who applies and pays.

Meanwhile back in Canada, where many Canadians refer to British Columbia as “the Australia” of Canadian international education – the timing of the two announcements spoke volumes to the plans for each for a foreign student cash grab.

Where Premier Clark thinks these 50,000 more students are going to come from is probably not thought out. Global competition for visa-fee paying students is at an all-time high. Quality students have many options, and fact is, BC gets a miniscule piece of the global pie for quality students. Of course, the big juicy slices are not of academic quality – but slanted towards working abroad. That market has always been more about driving taxis than delving into text books.

BC’s announcement makes it very clear. It’s the numbers that matter. That’s been Australia’s strategy before, during, and now after its calamitous slide in the last two years. When it comes to international student recruiting, BC is a lot more south Pacific than west coast.

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About Mel

Mel has consulted universities, colleges, governmental and non-governmental organizations in the field of international education since 1997. He is co-founder of Higher-Edge, the parent of Overseas, Overwhelmed, and a director of the Canadian University Application Centre. He is a former award-winning CBC reporter and holds a Masters degree from Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism.

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