Eduvation Blog

The Challenge for Canada

Good morning!

ICYMI, yesterday I launched a week-long, 5-part series on internationalization in higher ed, with a look at the impacts of populism and pandemic on US college recruitment of foreign students, and some suggested strategies that might be of interest to institutions in other countries too.

I suppose it’s fortunate timing that I planned today’s issue to focus on international ed in Canada – just as the proverbial muck hit the fan in Ottawa, and Ryerson announced a new satellite campus in Cairo…



Oh Canada!

International students have become increasingly crucial to CdnPSE for sustainable finances and viable enrolment. We can see what happens without international revenues by looking at Laurentian U…


Essential to CdnPSE

Enrolment at Canadian colleges and universities rose for the 4th straight year in 2018-19 to 2.1M, reports StatsCan, but “driven solely” by a +16.2% increase in international student enrolment. Domestic enrolments declined -0.5%. During the decade 2008-18, CdnPSE enrolments in formal programs rose +10.9%, while international enrolments tripled from 101,304 to 318,153, driving 57.2% of the total growth. International students, 16.2% of CdnPSE enrolments in 2018, paid 40% of all tuition fees and contributed ~$4B to institutional revenue. 28% were from China, 23% from India, and 7% from France. Business, management, and public administration have consistently been the top fields of study for international students over the decade, although the number enrolled in the humanities also doubled. International students are also a crucial immigration pathway to Canada: almost a third of those graduating with a bachelor’s degree, and half of those with a master’s, became permanent residents within a decade of their first study permit.  StatsCan


Safe, Stable, and Welcoming

Surveys of international students in May and Sept 2020 have found that Canada remained one of the most popular study destinations in the world, considered both “safe and stable” and “open and welcoming” (a combination not all competitor countries possess). In May, New Zealand and Australia were among Canada’s key competitors. By last Fall, Canada’s position had improved but the UK was now a key competitor, thanks to policy changes there.  CICnews


Pandemic Impact

Of course, how Canada has handled the pandemic leaves something to be desired…


No National Coordination

Unlike New Zealand, Canada’s pandemic response has remained largely at the provincial level, aside from border restrictions and student visa processing. While some think PM Trudeau should declare a national emergency and impose some consistent restrictions across the country, the feds have focused primarily on emergency financial support for individuals and businesses – in the event the provincial premiers decide to impose a lockdown. “During a pandemic, Ottawa is constitutionally supreme if it chooses to be,” argues uOttawa’s Amir Attaran.  The Tyee


Canada was Attractive in May

Navitas surveyed ~400 agents in 63 countries back in May 2020, and found that New Zealand, Australia and Canada were all well respected for the way they handed the COVID19 pandemic, and demonstrated they were safe and welcoming for international students. Although Canada came in third on those metrics, we came in first for the growing amount of interest in us as a study destination, which they estimated at 21% share of the market post-COVID19 – a gain of 55,000 students, if international student mobility remains at 2019 levels. (The CESB may explain some of our advantage.) The agents estimated the US would lose up to 160,000 students. Obviously, if global student mobility declines even -20%, Canada stands to lose -50,000 students, even with increased market share.  Navitas


Impact on Canada

Universities Canada reports that, although international enrolment rose +45% from 2015-19, in 2020 it fell -2.1% thanks to pandemic border closures – reducing the $4B in tuition and ancillary revenues as well. (International undergrad tuition is 9.7x domestic fees at uToronto, and 8.2x at McGill.) UBC is projecting a $225M deficit this year. And while IRCC changes to PGWP eligibility helped preserve enrolments last fall, “the huge gains in foreign students of the previous 5 years are likely over” – particularly as the Biden administration improves the appeal of study in the US.  Reuters


What’s more, the pandemic pain has not been evenly distributed. As I’ve observed before, community colleges and polytechnics throughout North America are experiencing much greater enrolment declines than are universities during this pandemic. And top-ranked institutions seem to be growing their applications and enrolments at the expense of less prestigious, smaller, or more remote competitors.


Northern Challenges

CdnPSE saw 92,000 fewer international students on university campuses last year, a 28% decline overall – but institutions in the far north saw an average 34% decline. Yukon U saw a 40% decline in 2020, from 215 to just 130 students. Aurora College (NWT) saw minimal impact because they enroll so few international students.  CBC


CdnPSE at Risk?

Some of the most telling (and controversial) graphs in HESA’s annual State of CdnPSE report last Fall mapped institutional margins (% operating surplus without considering donations) vs dependence on international students (% international enrolment). HESA emphasized that Ontario colleges in particular were highly dependent upon international enrolment and had grown it rapidly in recent years, leaving some institutions (like Canadore, Cambrian and Seneca) potentially exposed by the pandemic disruption. Thanks to healthy margins, though, they could likely weather several semesters by drawing on reserves. Of greater concern were the 10 Canadian universities already operating at a loss pre-COVID19 (at least, without considering income from donations and endowment returns), and particularly those also highly dependent on foreign tuition. Usher singled out Concordia, uSte Anne, St Thomas U, MSVU and uWindsor as potentially most at risk from border closures (although Concordia and STU responded to set the record straight).  HESA



Government Generosity

Canada’s management of the pandemic hasn’t really been world-class. (I mentioned last week that Australia’s Lowy Institute ranked us #61 out of 98 nations.) Where we have been making a positive impression on international students, though, has been in federal emergency supports and visa flexibility…


PGWP Flexibility

Last August, IRCC announced that international students would be allowed to complete up to 50% of their approved CdnPSE programs online from their home countries, and still be eligible for the Post-Graduate Work Permit (PGWP). On Feb 12, IRCC expanded that flexibility to allow 100% of such programs to be completed online from abroad, provided they were in progress by March 2020. Last month, IRCC announced that ~52,000 international grads with an expiring or expired PGWP could apply for an 18-month extension. (By comparison, the UK still requires foreign students to complete at least one term F2F to be eligible to work there.)


“Their status may be temporary, but the contributions of international students are lasting. This new policy means that young students from abroad who have studied here can stay and find work, while ensuring that Canada meets the urgent needs of our economy for today and tomorrow. Our message to international students and graduates is simple: we don’t just want you to study here, we want you to stay here.” — Marco Mendicino, Canadian Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship



Of course, like Australia and New Zealand, if we try to prevent the global spread of COVID19 variants by tightening our borders, it will cause frustration for international students and CdnPSE trying to recruit them…


New Border Restrictions

On Jan 29, in response to the global spread of more virulent variants of COVID19, Canada announced new restrictions on incoming “non-essential” travellers. (Truck drivers and airline cabin crews are welcome to hit the town, no tests or quarantines necessary. Sheesh.) Incoming travellers are required to take a COVID19 swab test, and wait out 3 days for the results in a government-approved hotel, at their own expense. If the test is positive, they then proceed to a government facility for the remainder of their 2-week quarantine; if the test is clean, they spend that quarantine at their own home. But for many international students, the prospect of paying $2,000 for 3 nights in hotel seems “exorbitant.” UBC’s director of international student development, Michelle Suderman, says they are trying to negotiate an arrangement with government to allow students to self-isolate at their institutions, which would be “healthier, safer… much more welcoming… as well as being substantially less expensive.”  The Ubyssey



Sino-Canadian Relations

Yesterday, Canada’s parliament took a strong stand against China which is almost certain to have repercussions. (That’s not to say that I think it was wrong – I watch John Oliver after all – but it’s going to make things more difficult for CdnPSE’s international recruitment to recover.) After all, Canada’s Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor have been detained in China since Dec 2018 in retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Meng Wanzhou. And now…


Parliament Declares Uighur Genocide

Yesterday Canada’s House of Commons unanimously voted to declare China’s treatment of 1 million Uighurs in western Xinjiang a genocide, and to call on the International Olympic Committee to move the 2022 Winter Olympics from Beijing. (Notably, PM Justin Trudeau and his Cabinet abstained from the vote.) Foreign affairs minister Marc Garneau urged a credible investigation in response to the allegations: “We remain deeply disturbed by horrific reports of human rights violations in Xinjiang, including the use of arbitrary detention, political re-education, forced labor, torture and forced sterilization.” According to the Associated Press, “China’s envoy to Canada told Canadian parliamentarians over the weekend to butt out of China’s internal affairs.”  AP


“We remain deeply disturbed by horrific reports of human rights violations in Xinjiang, including the use of arbitrary detention, political re-education, forced labor, torture and forced sterilization.”Marc Garneau, Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister



Remember what happened last April, when Australia had the temerity to suggest an investigation into the origins of the COVID19 pandemic might be a good thing?


China Threatened Boycott of Australia

Last April, a dozen Australian universities had already announced losses of $3 billion as COVID19 halted Chinese enrolments. Then, Australia’s support for an independent inquiry into the origins of the Coronavirus sparked threats of retaliation from the Chinese ambassador to Australia. (Apparently, “veiled threats about student flows are part of the sabre rattling during political disputes.”) THE


CdnPSE has seen before what can happen when our politicians speak truth to foreign power…


Saudi Students Recalled in 2018

Back in Aug 2018, Canada urged the Saudi kingdom to release imprisoned civil rights activists, particularly Raif Badawi (whose wife, a Canadian citizen, lived in Quebec) and his sister Samar. The Saudi government was outraged by “blatant interference” in its domestic affairs, and immediately expelled Canada’s ambassador, suspended all Saudi Arabian Airlines flights into Toronto, and recalled all Saudi citizens from Canada with 4 weeks’ notice – including 15,000 Saudis enrolled in CdnPSE at the time. (Alex Usher calculated that it cost CdnPSE ~$140M in revenues – and warned that it was “best not to think about” China’s president Xi Jinping doing the same, since Chinese students were worth “well over a billion dollars” to CdnPSE every year.)  Globe & Mail


Well, now we HAVE to think about it…



The Way Forward

Even without yesterday’s declaration, CdnPSE was going to face heightened competition from the US, Australia and UK (more about them later this week). Sad to say, much of our success in the past 7 years has not been because of our own superb marketing efforts, academic or research excellence…


Canada Loses its Edge

In many ways, CdnPSE’s “meteoric rise” in international recruitment since 2014 has been because its major competitors (the US, UK, and Australia) were stumbling or deliberately imposing anti-immigrant policies. All 3 countries have far more universities in the World University Rankings top 300. Joe Biden’s administration will radically shift perceptions of the US as welcoming to foreign students. The UK’s refocusing from EU to global enrolment will lead to more competitive policies. And Australia will re-enter the competition later this year, “stronger and more determined to grow.” Trade tensions with China, and India’s serious economic recession, will affect 75% of CdnPSE’s international students. “With the UK on the move, Australia hungry to get back in the game and the US possibly resurgent if Biden wins in November, Canada may only have a six-month window to differentiate its offer.” Louise Nicol, director of the Asia Careers Group, urges CdnPSE to focus on employability.  University World News


“With the UK on the move, Australia hungry to get back in the game and the US possibly resurgent… Canada may only have a 6-month window to differentiate its offer.”Louise Nicol, Director, Asia Careers Group



Next Year in Canada

Moody’s warns that pandemic impacts on international enrolments may well continue into the 2021-22 academic year. “We’re not assuming the vaccine is going to be in place for the fall. Even if in Canada the vaccines are available, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be available for the international students.”  Reuters


“We’re not assuming the vaccine is going to be in place for the fall. Even if in Canada the vaccines are available, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be available for the international students.”Michael Yake, Moody’s



Faced with the pandemic, many institutions have accelerated their efforts to pursue transnational education (TNE), delivering higher education abroad through partnerships, microcampuses or even satellite campuses. Yesterday, we saw the latest such announcement from CdnPSE…


Ryerson, UPEI Satellites in Cairo

Ryerson U will launch a satellite campus in Cairo, Egypt starting Sept 2021, in partnership with Universities of Canada in Egypt – an international branch campus also hosting UPEI programs in entrepreneurship, computer science and mathematics. Ryerson’s expanded programming will begin with media production, sport media and fashion, civil engineering, electrical engineering, and mechanical engineering – and the Faculties of Communication & Design and of Engineering & Architectural Science intend to expand their degree programming in future. At least 50% of the faculty and staff are anticipated to be Canadian citizens, and faculty members will have housing options and transportation services arranged for them.  Ryerson Today


Many analysts are urging higher ed to explore virtual TNE options during the pandemic and beyond…


Going Global Online – TNE

RBC Human Capital argues that the pivot to online learning this year provides a significant opportunity for Canadian universities to reach a global market online – although investing to grow, when they’re being asked to cut, will be difficult. “As Canada pursues a knowledge-driven economic recovery, the digital export of PSE could attract talent, create high-value jobs and help colleges and universities reimagine themselves in a pandemic-disrupted world.” 13M students are currently earning online credits from a foreign institution or open platform – roughly double the 6M studying on-campus in 2019 – and the market will continue to grow. Assuming a “broadly inclusive” economic recovery, the global middle class could surge from 4B to 5.7B by 2030, with almost half the growth in India alone. They even suggest a collective online “Canada U” pathway program, which could allow students abroad to earn MOOC-like credits and undertake remote work experiences, before enrolling in Canada or elsewhere for their upper undergraduate years.  RBC


(This sounds a lot like the Global Freshman Academy program launched by Arizona State U and EdX back in 2015 – which fizzled because, ultimately, freshmen and sophomores need the on-campus experience even more than juniors and seniors do. And it holds little promise for applied programs that demand hands-on labs. But clearly online TNE has gained traction in the Ontario government, whose Virtual Learning Strategy emphasizes “expanding access for Ontario’s institutions to the global marketplace for virtual learning.”)




Believe it or not, I’m not having much luck finding notable (or even just excellent) higher ed videos relevant to this week’s theme of internationalization. Let me know if you’ve spotted something cool! Meanwhile…


digiTalks Speaker Series

SAIT is reinforcing the September opening of its new School for Advanced Digital Technology with a “thought-provoking speaker series with technology in mind and SAIT experts leading the way.” The 47-sec promo spot is one of the slickest I’ve seen for campus lectures, with dynamic music and tight video edits, and just enough sound bites to tease us. “We’ve had 10 years of change in the last 10 months.” “How can we introduce that human experience on the screen?” Nice work!  (Now I want a promo like that next time I speak at SAIT!)  YouTube



As always, thanks for reading!

Be safe and stay well,


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