The polar bear is awakening – hunting for students from around the world

In June of 2011 the Government of Canada decided to allocate $10 million dollars of funding to establish an International Education strategy; the aim of which is to reinforce Canada as a country of choice to study and conduct world-class research. Canada is the 3rd most popular country in terms of migration destinations, following the US and the UK – but is only the 8th most popular international student destination. Clearly Canada’s government would like to boost the latter number.

For that reason the Minister of International Trade & the Minister of Finance selected an advisory panel of eminent Canadians from both the academic and private sector to develop recommendations for a revised International Education Strategy. The objective? To prepare recommendations on how international education can contribute to Canada’s continued growth and prosperity in both the near and longer term. The recommendations will be developed in a three-phase process consisting of consultation, engagement and collaboration.

The first phase of consulting ended on November 28th 2011. In it, constituent groups from the Higher Education field were invited to highlight the efforts they are currently undertaking to promote international education, to identify priority markets and to outline the support they need to be more successful at – among other things – recruiting students from international regions.

The second phase of engagement – taking place now – consists of a series of roundtables across Canada, in which stakeholders from both the academic and private sector will be asked what they can contribute to the strategy.

The process ends with a collaborative effort at the end of next month (January 2012) in Toronto, where partners and stakeholders will join the Advisory Panel to discuss the ideas that came out of the consultations and roundtables. From these discussions the final recommendations will emerge, which will be presented to the Ministers in March, including the allocation for funds from all parties for the fiscal year/budget of 2012-2013.

Now all of this might seem incredibly slow and tedious, but from a Higher Education and general political perspective it is flying and thrilling! In 2011 the Ministers of International Trade & Finance (certainly not the least influential and powerful of ministries!) detects the need for Canada to boost their performance in the international education field. And rather unusually, the Minister puts his money where his mouth is and allocates $10 million dollars just to prepare a strategy which will unfold and be financed from 2012 on.

That is remarkable. To me, it shows both Canada’s appetite for growth AND the luxurious position they are in:

•They are not in a crisis mode as many of Higher Education sectors in the key competitor countries are and they can actually take time to prepare and get ready;
•They are in the comfortable position of having their universities offer excellent English spoken education at affordable prices;
•And they know they can offer students and PhD’s a secure future by offering them to stay after graduation, given Canada’s increasing need for an educated and skilled workforce.

A stunning combination of factors which offers a competitive advantage that other countries better take notice of. Something that might be a new concept to many, when it comes to Canada’s role internationally.

And that made me think of the polar bear… nice and cuddly from a distance, when they are minding their own business or snoozing in the sun. But something to be very aware of once they are hungry and go on a hunt. Canada might just be that polar bear… perhaps a little complacent and slow, but in reality ready to start hunting.

June 15th 2012 is when the final verdict on the strategy and funding is out. We will keep you posted on the polar bear’s adventures.

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