Ontario officials welcome strategy on international students

By Adela Talbot
January 23, 2014

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More homework is needed to determine how a federal government push to double the number of international students by 2022 will affect Ontario’s postsecondary institutions, said Brad Duguid, provincial minister of Training, Colleges and Universities.

“We’ve just seen the proposal. We’re just analyzing it now, in terms of what the expectations and impacts would be for Ontario,” Duguid said of a new international education strategy meant to strengthen Canada’s global position in higher education, launched last week.

“On the outset, I’ve indicated, and continue to, that we welcome the federal government’s effort to market Ontario and Canada as a very good destination for international students. We have a lot to offer and it’s good for Ontario and international students; it’s good for our post secondary system,” Duguid continued.

The goal of Canada’s International Education Strategy: Harnessing Our Knowledge Advantage to Drive Innovation and Prosperity is to attract more international students and researchers, setting targets for each, while aiming to deepen the research links between Canadian and foreign educational institutions. Among the objectives of the strategy is also a desire to establish a pan-Canadian partnership with provinces and territories, as well as key education stakeholders.

Ongoing funding of $5 million, each year, will go toward supporting the strategy initiatives, as outlined in Canada’s Economic Action Plan 2013.

Among the goals of Canada’s International Education Strategy is a push to double the number of international students coming to Canada by 2022, without displacing Canadian students. By attracting more than 450,000 international students and researchers, Canada looks to gain at least 86,500 net new jobs, government officials say. The nation will see international student expenditures rise to more than $16 billion and an approximate $10 billion annual boost to the economy.

While Ontario is eager to back the federal government on the initiative, it’s not yet clear what accommodations or changes will be necessary, or where the money will come from, Duguid noted.

“We’re analyzing to see what are the impacts going to be for these new goals, and how will we, how do we adjust our institutions to be able to accommodate? Do we have the capacity to accommodate these students? My view is, we’re going to have to try to find a way because it is something that is ultimately good for our postsecondary system,” he said.

“We’re going to have to do some analysis to see what that looks like, and how best we could accommodate that and we don’t know yet what the real impacts will be. Until I actually have done some due diligence on it, I don’t want to speculate on what the costs will be. Obviously, I think we will look to the federal government to have federal and provincial infrastructure programs. But we’re going to have to do our homework first to see whether the current system we have in place and the environment we have in place can accommodate this influx of international students.”

Duguid added whatever the outcome, the initiative would benefit Canada’s economy and create strong linkages in the international economy.

Amit Chakma, Western president and chair of the Advisory Panel on Canada’s International Education Strategy, agreed.

“International education is a key driver of the Canadian economy. By supporting the vast majority of our recommendations and by setting clear targets for growth, this comprehensive strategy will strengthen Canada’s leadership position in this vital sector and deepen ties between Canadian and international postsecondary institutions, while sowing the seeds of economic growth and prosperity across Canada,” he said at the strategy’s launch last week.

The strategy will also provide $13 million over two years to the Globallink program of Mitacs, a national not-for-profit that fosters innovation through research and training. The program facilitates student mobility between Canada and Brazil, China, India, Mexico, Turkey and Vietnam.

“We were particularly pleased with the news that resources are being made available for Canadian students to gain important international experience through a much expanded Mitacs program,” said Julie McMullin, Western International’s vice-provost. “This program will provide Canadian undergraduate and graduate students with funding to conduct research at our international university partner institutions.”

She noted Western’s goal is to have roughly 15 per cent of the undergraduate student body be comprised of international students (by 2018) and about 22 per cent of the graduate student body. As it stands, 22 per cent of Western graduate students are international, and about 10 per cent of the incoming undergraduate class is comprised of international students, a number that’s gone up from 3 per cent over the last few years.

“Having international students in our classrooms allows us to learn from one another and gain cross-cultural competencies that will better prepare us for working and living in a global economy,” she added.


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