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Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

The missing link. Canadian disconnect on marketing the maple leaf.

As a Canadian living in Thailand, it’s great being anonymous. People know little, nor care, about Canada. Great for the quiet life I seek here. Not so good for Canada.

An August release of an Asia Pacific Foundation report says by ignoring relations with Southeast Asia, Canada’s growing irrelevance has shrunk its impact to the point of being shut out of key trading alliances. “Canada no longer appears on radar screens,” says the report which identifies Southeast Asia as a market base of 620 million people and a combined annual GDP of $1.5 trillion USD.

Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney fired a similar warning shot last week when he cautioned on the lack of global diversification of Canadian interests. Canada still does the vast majority of its business with the U.S., and America’s economic woes are far from a secret. “It will take a substantial reorientation for all Canadian business,” said Carney of the effort needed to reach out to new markets around the world. “Everybody, from government to small business, has to think through what its potential implications are.”

So what’s this have to do with education ?
A lot – especially international education.

It’s a fact of life in Asia, that the education of the children is the number one economic concern of families (unlike Canada, you can’t rely on subsidized inexpensive public education). People in Asia know as much about the quality and value of Canadian education, secondary and post-secondary, as they do about the Edmonton Oilers. Not much.

The lack of promotion is a glaring Canadian shortcoming. Not for Southeast Asians to know about the Oilers – few care these days even in Edmonton ! But for Canada to be so off the radar screens of the most dynamic new markets in a global marketplace so competitive, so volatile and so fragile ? Canada’s irrelevance does makes sense though when you see the stats showing the small slice of the pie of international students which Canada gets from this region.

In the burgeoning markets of Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines, Canada barely registers as an option for families, who have money, opportunity, the desire, and they will send their sons and daughters to study abroad – to the US, to the UK, to Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, France, Germany, Spain. An absurdly tiny number from Southeast Asia choose Canada. Australia is closer, but should it have fifty times the number of Malaysians studying there than Canada ? North America is all about the same distance from Southeast Asia. But why almost twenty thousand Thais and Indonesians study in America, and just a few hundred in Canada ? Canada is truly a minnow in this vast Pacific region.

The connection between people across the globe through education is perhaps the most potent pathway to building links to present and future trade – economic, cultural and social. For all its media and military might, America’s greatest global asset is how many people around the world its universities educate. The UK has history, but it also spends hundreds of millions annually to spread British influence. Many other nations have promoted and parlayed education ties to long term economic growth – Australia is the best example in the last two decades.

When it comes to learning this lesson, Canada is still in kindergarten.

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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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