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In my opinion

Enough international students

Why Canada needs to look to the U.S. to recruit.

BY JIM KUO | FEB 20 2013

The old saw is that Canada is rich in natural resources, and this is true. But the country’s greatest natural resource is a long, shared, undefended border with the sole global superpower. It is in Canadians’ interest to make sure that this resource is renewable. One way might be through university education.

As American college education becomes increasingly unaffordable for the middle class, Canadian institutions should do more to reach out to prospective American students and families.

The recent craze among Canadian postsecondary institutions to increase their intake of international students often puts the emphasis on emerging markets such as China and India. But despite best intentions, many recruitment efforts as well as the satellite campuses established by Canadian institutions often end with a lukewarm response. A good example is the recent announcement of the closure of the University of Waterloo Dubai campus.

The fact is that Canadian institutions have trouble recruiting outstanding international students, often competing against the powerhouse institutions south of our border. No amount of marketing can change this fact. However, our institutions can and should compete with the state schools and the private colleges which are often overpriced for what they offer.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper declared that the brain-drain had been plugged in 2011. The next logical step is to move forward and reverse the trend to draw more talented people to our cities and communities. Getting an education abroad is one of the most effective ways to understand other peoples and enrich one’s world view. Americans have distinct advantages over international students from other locations in adapting to our campuses because of the similar culture and the lack of language barrier.

American postsecondary and postgraduate education has met no serious challenges from other countries thus far. Yet, U.S. tuition fees are still growing in the midst of a high unemployment rate and fragile economic recovery. (For example, Michigan State University would cost $20,000 annually in tuition fees for in-state students, and twice that for out-of-state Americans. Private universities can cost three times as much.) But, international students pay $15,000 to $30,000 in tuition annually in Canada. This is the marketing opportunity for Canada.

Financial incentives alone make Canada a promising place for Americans to study. Any institutions that wish to increase Americans enrollment can draw on the experiences of McGill University, which has over 2,000 American students in a 30,000-member student body (in all, 20 percent are international students). McGill has one of the lowest international tuition fees in the U15 and runs aggressive recruitment campaigns. Canadian institutions should work together for more effective outreach and to minimize costs. Provincial and federal governments could do more by providing further incentives such as scholarships for the best American students to study here.

It’s time for Canada to stop playing catch up with United Kingdom and Australia in competing for the same pool of foreign students from Asia, Middle East, and Africa. Canada’s sole advantage to the U.K. and Australia is its proximity to the world’s third largest population and superpower. Canada, despite its many strong institutions and affordable tuition fees, is not proactive enough in reaching out to Americans. Providing strong education to the next generation of Americans would bring the two countries closer to build a stronger future.

Jim Kuo is a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto’s faculty of applied science and engineering, in the department of mechanical and industrial engineering.


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  1. L Neilson / February 20, 2013 at 14:16

    Good points of course, but there is absolutely nothing new at all about the ideas the author states. Canadian institutions do tell international students about the price differential, they do work together quite frequently (which is a unique challenge given the federal/provincial systems we have). Not quite sure why this is touted as being groundbreaking commentary…

  2. George Tillman / February 20, 2013 at 14:28

    Stephen Harper didn’t declare the brain drain is over – he was quoting the Chronicle of Higher Education. The citation in this piece is another example for his claiming undeserved credit….

    Otherwise, an unexceptional opinion: let’s cash in on growing inequality.

  3. Andrew Gow / February 20, 2013 at 15:08

    Americans don’t come to Canadian universities for two reasons: the first is fixable, the second is not. The first is that we admit far, far too late for beginning undergraduates–by the time we make offers, they have had to accept their best offer already. We _could_ fix that (at a cost). But the second cannot be fixed: Canadian universities, except maybe McGill and Toronto, do not show up on Americans’ radar. From their perspective, they might as well go to university in Azerbaijan (no offense to Baku U). Americans choose their ‘college’ as a function of prestige, network building and name recognition–factors that hardly operate in Canada, with our network of state-financed universities that — thank God — all cost about the same, pay about the same, and are just about as good each one as the other (some esoteric fields like Ugaritic morphology or quantum encryption excepted). Even if we really wanted American students, I do not think we ‘want’ what they would want us to be. My vote, in fact, is for Indian students: they also speak English, by the way, and share a lot more with us culturally than Americans do! Now you figure out if I mean people from the sub-continent or aboriginal Canadians… Both groups are eager to attend Canadian universities, but are kept out. Let Americans play their status games. The only status stories I want on my campus are status Indians. Andrew Gow, Professor of History, University of Alberta

  4. Zhang / February 20, 2013 at 16:03

    It is surprised to me after reading. The only advantage for American students to come to Canada is lower tuition, but nothing else. In fact, there are much more choices of universities in USA than in Canada. Note that the population of USA is about 0.3B, but China has population of 1.3B and India has population of 1B. Moreover, more Chinese families are able to support their kids to study in Canada. Consequently recruiting students from China middle east and India is better than from USA, more students and high quality.

    On the other hand, more students from eastern countries studying in western counties, such as Canada, will help the world harmonics thru understanding culture differences.

    Therefore I strongly disagree the points in the article.

  5. Fazley Siddiq / February 20, 2013 at 17:00

    Professor Gow makes some good points, but Canadian universities are not quite as unknown in the United States as he makes them out to be. Toronto, McGill and UBC are clearly in the top 30 in the reputation rankings. Other leading Canadian universities, including Queen’s, Alberta, McMaster and half a dozen others are sufficiently well known and should be able to attract American students if they try hard enough. Most scholars, diplomats and public servants that I meet in the United States have a good impression of Canadian universities, so the task of recruiting American students (as McGill has proved) is not an impossible one. It is fundamentally not an either-or situation vis-a-vis the recruitment of other international students. Forward looking Canadian universities would do well to focus on the recruitment of international students from all major world markets and that includes the United States in addition to China, South Asia and the Middle East. Fazley Siddiq, Professor, School of Public Administration, Dalhousie University and Fulbright Visiting Research Chair in Canada-U.S. Relations, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.