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Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

Opportunity Canada ? Not so fast

All of a sudden there’s been plenty of Canadian media coverage about bringing foreign students to Canada. What happened ? Did our sleepy little industry get a wake up call?

Not so long ago, Canadian stakeholders were dressing up international student recruitment under vague banners of “internationalization” or “campus enrichment”. No more. Now, the sense is, to talk dollars.

Even provincial premiers are making no bones about their appetite for the potential cash streams international students offer.

Opportunity Canada ?
Not so fast.

First of all, Canada has a long way to go to brand itself as a major study-abroad destination. You can’t just step out from two decades of spectating to playing, and then winning in the Big Leagues. Canada is so far behind it’s like starting the third period down a dozen goals. Canada’s goal, should be recognition as a significant competitor and maintaining its self-respect in an industry that is fraught with abusive practices by considerable numbers of education agencies, purported students, and institutions alike.

The recent student exodus from the southern hemisphere (Australia is no longer seen as inviting for foreign students) does not mean they can all just go north. Not unless Canada is looking for a work force of dishwashers and taxi drivers. The fact is that perhaps 10% of those on student visas to Australia are even admissible to a Canadian university. More can go to Canadian colleges, but Canada is not the same easy visa for pretending to be a student and actually looking for ten bucks an hour (and as many “hours” as possible).

The UK has its own problems with too many people posing as foreign students, and it has hung out a “Closed” sign out front in many places around the globe which had once been rich student recruiting grounds.

So has Canada been called up to the Big Leagues ?
Yes and No.
Yes, in that there are more folks looking at options beyond Australia and England.
No, in that Canadian universities are only minor league as recruiters, but major league in academics, so their interest is only in a small piece of the potential pie – that is very good students.

Based on the past, Canadian interest will wane, and the Aussies and Brits will take their licks, regroup, and soon be back at the front of the pack. History is not always a useful predictor of the future, and time will tell if Canadian institutions will play well, play clean, and command a reputation as a major player in the international student recruitment arena.

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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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