International students in Canada
More than half of the 572,000 international students in Canada originate from China and India. Source: Daniel H Tong/Unsplash

The Trudeau administration announced last week a five-year CA$150 million international education strategy that will, among other things, diversify the origin countries from which international students hail.

Citing an over reliance on recruitment from China and India across Canadian universities, the strategy seeks to change the foreign-student ratio by shifting recruitment efforts to countries like Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, Ukraine, France and Turkey, according to the Vancouver SunCurrently, more than half (54 percent) of the 572,415 international students in Canada derive from India and China.

While the government recognises the CA$21 billion contributions made by international students in 2019, the country plans to diversify the sector. In addition to countries of origin, the diversification will apply to other aspects too, such as their fields and levels of study, as well as study destinations.

The Minister of International Trade Diversification, James Carr, said international students stimulate innovation and develop cross-cultural competencies.

“If [students from abroad] choose to immigrate to Canada, they contribute to Canada’s economic success,” Carr said in a statement. “Those who choose to return to their countries become life-long ambassadors for Canada and for Canadian values.”

More than half of the 572,000 international students in Canada originate from China and India. Currently, most are concentrated in major cities such as Calgary, Toronto and Vancouver, but this is something the strategy intends to change by diverting foreign talent to locations that generally receive fewer immigrants than larger urban centres.

The strategy was announced in the midst of the Trudeau administration’s preparation for an election taking place in two months, following warnings that universities are too heavily dependent on the higher tuition fees paid by foreign students.

In British Columbia, for example, Chinese nationals make up about 40 percent of the 153,000 foreign students at all levels in the province. At the University of British Columbia, they pay CA$184 million in fees, making up 44 percent of the CA$414 million collected from the 17,200 international students at UBC. At Simon Fraser University, Chinese students make up 46 percent of the international student cohort, paying a total CA$126 million in the 2018/19 academic year, or 16 percent of the university’s annual revenue.

A survey recently concluded that all of Ontario’s 19 universities are becoming increasingly dependent on money from international students. Data from 2006 to 2017 reveal that the average international student paid around four times more in tuition than their Canadian peers.

Speaking to the Vancouver Sun, Salvatore Babones, a professor at the University of Sydney, Australia, said he isn’t surprised by the announcement.

“As in Australia, these marketing plans are part of a ‘diversification strategy’ intended to dilute the risk that an adverse event — for example, a suspension in the convertibility of the yuan or a major recession in India — that might suddenly result in a revenue shortfall at universities,” Babones said via email.

“When universities and governments think of international students as a revenue source, these kinds of perverse policies start to seem natural. The proper role of international students is to diversify and enrich campus culture, not to support universities with their tuition money.”

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