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Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

Volume 9, Issue 22; June 16, 2010

Let’s Go Canada

Selling Saskatchewan. The Province propositions India.

Abroad Perspective

Singapore attracts and keeps top talent.

Over The Counter

“Dumbed Down” Degrees Down Under.

The Edge

SPP. Magic Carpet to Canada?

1) LET’S GO CANADA – Selling Saskatchewan. The Province propositions India.

Earlier this month, university, college, private enterprise and political representatives from Saskatchewan went in India to explore partnerships with various Indian institutions – focusing on sustainable development, climate change, nuclear energy research and promoting studies in Saskatchewan.

Rob Norris, Saskatchewan’s Minister of Advanced Education, Employment, and Labour, led the team.  The Indian visit toured university campuses, met with government representatives, and held a roundtable discussion with about 20 educational players at the Canadian High Commission in Delhi.

“It was striking how much untapped potential Saskatchewan has,” said Canadian University Application Centre Director Mel Broitman, who was invited to the education meeting in Delhi and the evening reception at the High Commission. “I had no idea that Saskatchewan is such an emerging economic powerhouse, and that the province leads all of Canada in most trade with India.”

Education linking future immigration ties was very much in Saskatchewan’s pitch. The provincial demographics paint a picture of a real shortage of skilled human capital to drive the economy forward. “They have a lot to offer, but they have a long way build the profile and required presence in India to have any real success,” said Broitman.

In an interview with the Indian publication Mint.com, Norris explained that Saskatchewan has a proposal to the Canadian federal government which outlines the significance of nuclear energy research in particular, and it looks forward to developing collaborate partnerships in this area with Indian institutions – particularly considering India’s huge uranium stocks.

“There is a greater opportunity of collaboration in this area in the form of a bilateral basis between Canada and India,” he explained. “Some of the discussions are underway.”
Currently Saskatchewan also hosts around 400 Indian students each year, spread among its various institutions with most in graduate studies, and according to the University of Saskatchewan’s Associate Vice President, Dr. David Hannah, this is another area that they hope will benefit from increased ties between Saskatchewan and Indian universities.
 “So far, Canada is not on the radar of Indian students as compared to the US, UK and Australia,” Hannah said. “In next few years, we hope to see a change in our favour.”

Source: “Canadian province scouting for educational ties with Indian institutes”. Livemint.com, June 8, 2010.
 
2) ABROAD PERSPECTIVE – Singapore attracts and keeps top talent.

An annual survey by JobsFactory has found that top Singaporean students prefer scholarships offered by local universities to those from overseas.

According to the survey, which was conducted amongst 3,000 ‘A level’ and International Baccalaureate (IB) graduates, the National University of Singapore  (NUS) scholarship is the most favoured, with two other NUS scholarships – the merit scholarship and the faculty scholarship – also ranking in the top five. In fact, only one of the top five choices is not from a local university.

According to JobsFactory Director, Lim Der Shing, there are two reasons behind this trend: One, being the fact that these scholarships do not usually come with a bond, thereby allowing scholars freedom in deciding their own career paths and employers after graduation, and two being that they can be used for most courses of study – providing a flexibility that students appreciate.

The ‘bond’ pathway, whereby scholarships have been tied to fixed employment terms in Singapore after graduation, has also been tremendously successful in attracting top foreign students to Singapore.  While most Asians who study abroad prefer the U.S, UK and the other typical target countries, Singapore’s scholarship schemes have made the tiny nation a real draw for top students from South Asia and China for the last decade. Now it appears the country will keep more of its top scholars at home and in classes along with the top international students it already gets.

With its economy picking up, Singaporean graduates are also finding other attractive advantages to staying at home: greater job opportunities and, it appears, increased salaries. Close to a third of graduates said they are expecting a gross starting monthly salary of between $2,501 and $3,000, with another third expecting between $3,001 and $3,500.

Source: “Top students prefer scholarships offered by local universities”. Channel NewsAsia, June 10, 2010.

3) OVER THE COUNTER – “Dumbed Down” Degrees Down Under

Based on evidence gathered in a secret Ombudsman-led investigation, Australia’s Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) is now being accused of allowing (and even encouraging) foreign students to cheat – all in an effort to keep their foreign tuition fees coming in.

The findings from the investigation, which will be included in a report tabled in State Parliament, allegedly include proof of the following:
• That a long-serving teacher handed out an exam paper to a Middle Eastern aerospace and aviation student several days before the actual exam took place – and that the student then allowed other Middle Eastern students to use the paper to cheat as well;
• That an international student graduated from RMIT, despite turning up drunk, missing lectures, failing exams, abusing staff and students, and sparking accusations of sexual assault;
• That at least one Middle Eastern student suspected of cheating spent months in a detention centre while intelligence agencies checked his background; and
• That some foreign students who failed exams were allegedly allowed to keep sitting the same exams until they passed.
One RMIT teacher, who asked not to be named, told the Australian-based Herald Sun that some of the staff were concerned over foreign students getting special treatment.

“RMIT is falling over backwards to make sure these fee-paying international students don’t fail,” he explained. “A big slice of RMIT’s income is generated by international students and they don’t want to jeopardise it.”
Currently, RMIT’s 26,000 international students bring in about 204 million Australian dollars a year for the university.

Source: “Degree at RMIT ‘dumbed down’ for foreign students”. Herald Sun, June 10, 2010.

4) “THE EDGE” – SPP. Magic carpet to Canada ?

Spending as much time in the India as I do, these days I hear the term “SPP” so often it seems like an old record skipping again and again and again.

Students tell me they could go to university, but they are off to colleges in Vancouver, Edmonton and Toronto instead. Why the diploma versus a degree ? “Because the agent told me the student visa is guaranteed with SPP”, they say.
“I don’t want to go to a University,” say many high school graduates with good grades. Why not ? “Because SPP is for colleges, and so I will go there.”
SPP which stands for the Student Partners Program, has replaced “P-R” as the most popular letter combination in the Indian state of Punjab. “PR”, or Permanent Resident status in Canada may be the goal for tens of thousands of Punjabis, and now, “SPP” is the gateway.

The Student Partners Program which is an arrangement between the Canadian visa office and selected Canadian community colleges, attempts to address the problems of high visa refusal rates by having colleges sign off on a list of accountability in terms of who they admit and invite to Canada.

It was not intended as proclamation of a guaranteed visa, but education agents found ubiquitously in Punjabi shopping malls and office complexes, spout SPP as if it’s a magic carpet ride to Canada.  Whether or not the sought after increase in student visa numbers from India will be realized, there is no doubt that SPP is driving a significant growth in study permit application numbers pertaining to college programs.

SPP is so prevalent that many students whose stated goals were for degree programs are ignoring universities altogether, and applying for the colleges’ diplomas, and there will also be real concerns as to whether many of the SPP candidates are prospective students at all.

“It’s been an onslaught of applications that we were not expecting nor able to cope with,” said a recruiter at a major college in Toronto. “The volume was overwhelming.”
”In doing a little road trip around the Punjab in March, I was surprised at the lack of interest students had in our program, and yet almost all of them were keen to apply,” said another college recruiter from western Canada.  “It will be instructive to see how many of the students applying under SPP for May actually convert to registrants and how many arrive only to request a refund.”

There is no doubt that Canadian community colleges have a lot to offer India and the world in terms of applied education. But with such a seemingly high proportion of students not truly interested in the programs and schools to which they apply, is this group of students intending to be working underground in Canada and out of school? The SPP is supposed to include checks and balances including college reporting of student arrivals, but will the system be executed well enough to dissuade students without bona fides in the future?

“It’s going to blow up in Canada’s face,” said one experienced recruiter for a Canadian university.  “What happens when these kids won’t be able to find work afterwards and have a bad impression of Canada.”

SPP was an answer to mounting pressure on the Visa office to address why student visa refusal rates were as high as 90% in Punjab.  The issue became politicized and MPs and MPPs ended up pressing for a ways to rectify the situation. But the situation is by no means easy to correct. There are large numbers of unscrupulous individuals and organizations (education agencies, immigration offices, and others), who see the Canadian study permit process as an easy mark for getting persons into Canada with no intention to study there. Without a strong process for screening education agencies and for punishing those who participate in misrepresentations, there is a great deal of room for abuse. Moreover, colleges (and universities for that matter), in the main perform little due diligence on agency partners, or the diligence is weak and the follow-up lacking rigour.

It is ultimately in the interest of the college sector, as well as in Canada’s higher education sphere more widely, that Canada’s reputation for quality over quantity, be maintained. It is important to understand that percentage acceptance rates relate principally to the calibre of the applicant pool. There may be instances where visa offices and officers are not applying immigration regulations consistently. But to criticize visa offices holus-bolus for high refusal rates is akin to criticizing hockey officiating for too many penalties in a game filled with infractions.

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