Douglas Todd: Generous Canada now No. 1 country for foreign students

Of note, along with some of the factors, some justified, some more questionable that made Canada relatively more attractive than other destinations. Focus on increasing international students predates current government. Interesting comment by Chris Friesen regarding preference given to international students with respect to permanent residency. :

Canada has become the most popular country in the world for international students, says a survey conducted in more than 50 countries.

Two in five international students rate Canada as their first choice for higher education, according to IDP Connect’s fall poll of 3,600 study-visa holders. That’s more than double the proportion that picked the next highest-ranked nations — Britain, the U.S. or Australia.

A majority of students who choose Canada as their top option said a key reason was being allowed to work while studying, says IDP, as well as the relative affordability of tuition fees, given most of the country’s universities and colleges are subsidized by taxpayers.

The Canadian Bureau for International Education adds that 60 per cent of foreign students in Canada, more than half of whom come from India or China, want to apply to become permanent residents — an option not available in most countries.

Given the competition in the West for foreign students, some specialists are skeptical about Ottawa’s increasingly eye-catching efforts to appeal to the estimated six million students in the world who are going abroad for their educations.

Higher education experts question why Canada appears to be the only nation that has given foreign students social-assistance payments during COVID. They also ask about Canada’s unusual decision to allow students almost unlimited opportunities to work while ostensibly studying.

Canada’s foreign-student numbers have almost doubled since the Liberals were elected in 2015. Their numbers are returning to the 600,000 a year range despite COVID border restrictions. During the pandemic, many offshore students studied remotely, but most are physically back on Canadian campuses.

Foreign students make up about 20 per cent post-secondary students in Canada, which along with Australia and Britain, has the highest ratios in the world. In the U.S., foreign nationals on study visas account for only seven per cent of students. In the European Union, they’re just six per cent.

Ottawa, which now considers foreign students prime candidates for immigration, has gone the opposite direction of other countries during COVID and allowed study visa holders to apply for taxpayer-funded programs such as the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has also given international students almost unlimited access to full-time jobs, including for at least three years after graduation. And the Liberal government has made it possible for them to keep their long-term work opportunities even if they have not been in the country. In addition, unlike elsewhere, many provinces, such as B.C., offer almost-free medical coverage.

British Columbia, which normally has about 22 per cent of all of Canada’s foreign students, has the strongest concentration, focused mostly in Metro Vancouver where their presence affects the rental and housing markets. B.C. has four times as many foreign students per capita as Alberta.

The Vancouver campus of the University of B.C., similar to previous years, has almost 17,000 international students this fall, accounting for about one third of all graduate students and one quarter of undergrads. More than one third are from China and one fifth from India. The rest hail from scores of countries, particularly the U.S., Korea and Iran.

Simon Fraser University has almost 7,000 foreign students, 26 per cent of undergrads and 34 per cent of grad students. About two in five are from China and one in five from India, with smaller cohorts from Korea, Iran and Hong Kong. The proportion of foreign students at Capilano University and Vancouver Island University is lower.

In addition to the Liberal government boasting foreign students bring more than $21 billion a year into the economy, Canadian higher education specialist Alex Usher says the country’s post-secondary institutions now rely on foreign students for 45 per cent of fee revenue. That’s up from 15 per cent in the 2000s. Usher cautions against such a heavy reliance on foreign students.

When COVID first hit, both Australia and the U.S. brought in far more rules about foreign students than Canada; directing many back to their homelands.

The two English-language nations wanted to protect the health of residents and, unlike Canada, were not prepared to provide social-assistance, health benefits and jobs to foreign nationals while the domestic population struggled. As a result about 10 per cent of post-secondary staff and faculty in the U.S. and Australia was laid off.

Canada began allowing study-visa holders into the country in October 2020, despite the border being then shut to almost everyone except essential workers. But Australia only decided this week to welcome back more than 200,000 foreign students. There had been fears that many Asian students would opt to study in person in Canada and the U.S. rather than pay for online courses from Australia.

University of Sydney Prof. Salvatore Babones, who has studied international student policy in Canada and around the world, said this week: “I’m surprised Canada has extended welfare (CERB) benefits to international students. It’s a strange decision, since most such students must demonstrate the ability to support themselves financially before being granted a study visa.”

The international education specialist finds it “sad” that Canada has lifted the normal 20-hour-a-week cap on how much each foreign student is permitted to work. “The cap serves an important purpose: It ensures that students are in the country to study, not on an exploitive fake study program in order to get a work permit.”

While Canada’s unusually magnanimous benefits for foreign students might sound humane, Babones said, they in effect turn study visas into work visas, “that require recipients to pay ‘protection money’ to educational institutions in exchange for permission to work.”

Vancouver’s Chris Friesen, who chairs the umbrella body overseeing settlement services for immigrants and refugees in Canada, has said the Canadian public is in the dark about how policy has been changed to give preference to international students.

Ottawa, he said, should set up a royal commission to look into issues such as whether Canadians agree that foreign students, who tend to come from the “cream of the crop” in their homelands, should go to the front of the line for permanent residence status.

Source: Douglas Todd: Generous Canada now No. 1 country for foreign students

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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