Monday, October 22, 2012

Canada’s Internationalistion Strategy: Forging Ahead, In Part

Applied Science Building at Simon Fraser Unive...
Applied Science Building at Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC, Canada (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by William Lawton, The Observatory: 

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’.

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.

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