Canada’s internationalistion strategy: Forging ahead, in part
Although few Canadians attended the AIEC conference in Melbourne two weeks ago, Canada was on people's minds during its discussions. Likewise in print: a recent report commissioned by the Australian newspaper that identifies challenges to and opportunities for the Australian HE sector through interviews with senior staff notes that 'Canada was considered a serious competitor by half of the respondents, with potential to be an almost even match to Australia should it move to a national education system…. “They have provincial education systems so they tend not to be as well organised in terms of promotion and would be relatively the same as Australia except they are cold.”’
In spite of the climate misconceptions (where most Canadians live is much warmer than London in summer), there is a perception among the main HE exporters that Canada has upped its game and is now a 'player' in HE internationalisation. Although the lack of a federal education ministry to coordinate efforts is noticed, there is, however, the Department of Foreign Affairs & International Trade (DFAIT), which has led the charge – since an 'Edu-Canada' initiative in 2006 and the 'Imagine Education au/in Canada' branding exercise in 2008 – in projecting Canada's higher education to the rest of the world. As reported in Borderless Report a year ago, there is also the Canadian Consortium for International Education Marketing (CCIEM), which brings together the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, Canadian Bureau for International Education (CBIE) and other national education associations, and whose purpose is to articulate a cohesive approach to international education marketing.
Canada is making inroads in international HE insofar as the number of students it attracts continues to rise annually and its global market share of 4.7% of all international students in 2009 was marginally higher than in 2000. There is certainly no complacency in Canada either. But the Canadian approach seems characterised by a single-minded focus on student numbers. Moving the country up the international student recruitment league table (from its current 6th place) occupies minds. A core objective of the CCIEM is to 'increase the share of students coming to Canada and position Canadian education providers in the international competitive market'.
‘International Education: A Key Driver of Canada’s Future Prosperity'
Last year DFAIT also brought together an advisory panel of Vice-Chancellors, business leaders and other stakeholders to articulate an international education strategy. Its sizeable report, 'International Education: A Key Driver of Canada’s Future Prosperity', was released in August. It has a number of pliable and open-ended recommendations (listed at the end of this article), such as making ‘internationalizing education in Canada a strategic component of Government of Canada official policies and plans’ and ‘increase marketing of Canada’s brand’. But its first two recommendations are rather more concrete targets: to double the number of international students in Canada and to increase the number of Canadians studying internationally to 50,000, both by 2022 (in 2010, there were about 117,000 international students in higher education in Canada). These targets provided the newspaper headlines; the Australian’s no-nonsense take was ‘Canada to grow education sales’.
Coming to Canada from all directions
This echoes a call, at the tail end of the last UK government, to double the value of UK HE exports by 2020. The target was quietly dropped by the current coalition government. But the UK was in Canada’s current position in 1999. In that year the government set a target to increase the number of international (non-EU) students studying in the UK by 75,000 by 2005. That target was exceeded by almost 50%. The DFAIT report notes that Edu-Canada’s recruitment goals were likewise exceeded between 2007 and 2011. It also mentions a subsequent recruitment target set by the UK government in 2006 (through ‘PMI2’): for an additional 100,000 international students by 2011. It does not mention that PMI2 involved an augmentation of the UK strategy: ‘internationalisation’ goals were broadened beyond revenue generation from student mobility to an emphasis on longer-term partnership-building and ‘enhancing the international student experience’, such that the reputation of UK higher education within the country and overseas was boosted and sustained.
The DFAIT report does in fact contain nods to a broader agenda than bums on seats: it recommends the development of bilateral agreements with priority countries for ‘graduate education and research, supported by appropriate levels of funding’. It emphasises that greater numbers of students and partnerships are not sufficient but the motivation remains that of enhancing the national position: ‘The investment is to ensure Canada attracts students of the best calibre and supports partnerships that contribute to Canada’s competitive knowledge advantage’.
And where is TNE?
The Canadian report provides brief summaries of the HE policy landscapes of the top HE exporting countries and inserts Malaysia as ‘a powerful example of an emerging provider nation that has made a clear statement of its goals in the international education market [and] is working to establish itself as an international education hub in its region’. What the Canadian report does not acknowledge is the centrality of transnational education (TNE) to the current expansion of HE internationalisation and, hence, the importance of TNE to the future prospects of the countries it mentions – and to Canada.
TNE generally encompasses any education delivered by an institution based in one country to students located in another. In its broadest sense, it covers a range of sins – from online and distance learning and its hybrid/supported variants (the largest chunk in terms of student numbers), articulation arrangements, twinning programmes that typically lead to double or joint degrees, franchising and validation arrangements, and international branch campuses.
A central phenomenon of HE internationalisation today is that the growth of TNE provision is outstripping that of international student mobility, which itself continues to expand (though in China, for example, the size of the 18-24 cohort should have peaked this year and is set to diminish).
In Australia in 2011, 108,000 of its 333,000 international students were TNE, ie, not in Australia. For at least seven of its universities the TNE numbers exceed the onshore international student numbers and for four others it is almost 50/50. In the UK, TNE numbers overall surpassed the number of incoming international students in 2008 or 2009. In 2011, while there were 428,000 international students in the UK (including EU students), the TNE number stood at 504,000, a 23% increase in one year – an explosion rather than expansion (1).
Canada, as far as we know, does not count TNE students separately – in fact, no country appears to at national (as opposed to institutional) level, apart from the UK and Australia. But the DFAIT report omits the UK TNE numbers in its annex on ‘competitor metrics’ (p83). The 428,000 number for onshore HE international students in the UK is provided, alongside a Canadian figure of 239,000. The latter figure includes all education and the comparison is therefore misleading. Looking at higher education students alone, the two figures would be 117,000 for Canada and 693,000 for the UK (excluding the 239,000 on the ACCA/Oxford Brookes programme - see note 1, below). Of course, this may omit TNE students on Canadian programmes abroad but there is no way of knowing.
Online and distance learning
And what of the role of online and distance learning (ODL) in Canada’s international strategy? With its dispersed population in the north, Canada is a frontrunner in ODL networks. These are organised at provincial levels, though there are national bodies such as the Canadian Network for Innovation in Education for promoting research and best practice in ODL and educational technologies, and the secretariat for the intergovernmental Commonwealth of Learning is based in Vancouver. There are six academic institutions in Canada with a strategic focus on distance education and online learning – in Alberta, Newfoundland, and two each in British Columbia and Quebec. Athabasca University has no on-campus programmes, launched the world’s first online MBA in 1993, and has more students from other parts of Canada than from its Alberta home.
Athabasca and other Canadian universities are also founding members of the new OER (Open Educational Resources) University; others are in New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, US, Catalonia, Wales, and Gujarat. OERu aims to add value to traditional delivery systems in higher education by providing formal academic credit for students who take OER courses. It is intended to begin full operations in 2013.
As argued in a recent Observatory paper, the issue of earning credit for open-access courses is at the heart of the current debate on MOOCs (massive open online courses). The University of Manitoba is credited with having offered the first MOOC in 2008, and two of the top Canadian research universities (Toronto and UBC) are thus far part of the growing Coursera consortium which is now receiving blanket media coverage.
It is perhaps surprising that the DFAIT report makes no mention of any of this. It contains a solid and interesting section on a ‘digital strategy’ for international education. One item considered is the extent of internet penetration in different world regions but the recommendation is to develop an e-communication system as a one-stop shop national portal for prospective international students. The report’s focus is thus for a digital strategy in the marketing of education rather than its provision or export digitally.
Dr Amit Chakma, President of University of Western Ontario and Chair of the report panel, was quoted by the Chronicle as saying ‘We feel the recommendations are doable, but it is up to the government to take the next step’. Recommendation 13, below, identifies a need for training opportunities for stakeholders to ‘gain understanding’ of the ‘programs and cultural support required by international students’ and proposes more training for embassy staff on Canada’s education offerings and study pathways. These would presumably be the same embassy staff who ran the modest (C$5m/year) but effective Canadian Studies programmes (‘Understanding Canada’) for teaching and research on Canada at universities worldwide for 40 years – until they were axed by the federal government in May this year.
A Canadian colleague of ours points out that the thrust of the DFAIT report is entirely and unforgivingly economic, with no mention of ethical, social or human values. True enough, but such is the approach taken when HE sectors are driven to demonstrate, once again, their value to their governments – which acknowledge these truths on behalf of taxpayers but also know soft targets for spending cuts when they see them. It is no different elsewhere.
Beyond the struggle for national competitive advantage, the broader issues in regard to HE internationalisation thankfully find voice in different forums – for example, the forthcoming annual conference of the CBIE in Montreal, the theme of which is ‘A Fine Balance: Harmonizing International Policy and Practice’. A keynote debate there will be on whether ‘enhanced harmonisation among international education stakeholders is ideal, achievable and vital to fulfilling shared international, national and regional goals’. Among speakers for the motion will be Dr Colin Dodds, President of Saint Mary’s University and a member of the DFAIT report panel; speaking against will be Eva Egron-Polak, Secretary-General of the International Association of Universities.
The world is right to pay attention to Canada’s growing presence in international higher education. It is a fast-moving field and national and institutional strategies need to keep pace. Canada, like other countries, is churning out the documentation. The economic and competitive focus of this most recent report is not surprising, given its provenance with the federal government. But given Canada’s strong position in online and distance education and the rapid expansion of TNE around the world, it is perhaps surprising that neither yet feature in the strategy.
1. It has to be pointed out, however, that these impressive UK TNE numbers are skewed: 239,000 are students around the world registered for a qualification with the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants and who have thereby opted in to a BSc in Applied Accounting with Oxford Brookes University, which they have 10 years to complete. Some therefore argue that the real number in FTE is only a fraction of the apparent total.
‘International Education: A Key Driver of Canada’s Future Prosperity'
1. Double the number of international students choosing Canada by 2022
2. Introduce an International Mobility Program for Canadian Students to serve 50,000 students per year by 2022
3. Make internationalizing education in Canada a strategic component of Government of Canada official policies and plans
4. Create a Council on International Education and Research (CIER) to provide policy advice to the ministers of International Trade, Finance, Citizenship and Immigration, and Industry
5. Maintain and enhance the quality of the education systems and ensure their sustainability
6. Focus Canada’s promotional efforts on a limited number of priority markets for targeted resource allocation
7. Increase marketing of Canada’s brand
8. Develop a sophisticated and comprehensive e-communication system that will serve as a national portal for international students interested in education in Canada
9. Brand Canada through scholarships for international undergraduate students
10. Regroup grants and scholarships available to international graduate students and post-doctoral fellows under one label/brand, with a focus on priority areas aligned with Canada’s innovation and prosperity agenda
11. Develop comprehensive and multifaceted bilateral agreements with priority countries that focus on all aspects of graduate education and research, supported by appropriate levels of funding
12. Improve education visa processing to provide consistent and timely processing of high-quality candidates
13. Expand and facilitate comprehensive training for embassy staff on Canada’s diverse education offerings and study pathways. Training opportunities should also be available for stakeholders to gain a deeper understanding of both the programs and cultural support required by international students
14. Support the expansion and promotion of the existing Canadian Experience Class program to contribute to Canada’s skilled immigrant and labour market needs