Over 30 Canadian university presidents visited Rio de Janeiro in late April 2012, in a “tour de force” meant to strengthen and further advance educational linkages between Canada and Brazil. The fact that the mission took place should come as no surprise – after all, Canada is keenly interested in attracting international students, and Brazil is one of the world’s largest economies, with a relatively low median age. What is worth noticing though is the scope of this initiative, involving Canadian academic institutions from coast to coast, and the fact that the Canadian delegation was led by Governor-General David Johnston, a former university president himself.
What triggered this unprecedented mission – besides Canada’s newly found interest in Latin America – was Brazil’s Science Without Borders program. The program’s objective is to spend $2 billion over the next several years to allow over 100,000 Brazilian students to study at foreign universities, on a temporary basis before returning home to complete their degrees. Canadian universities and government organizations will also contribute millions of dollars in scholarships and student-mobility programs to draw Brazilian students. “We see a huge appetite in Brazil for Canadian education. To my great delight, Canada is the most favoured nation for Brazilians,” the Governor-General said in an interview with The Canadian Press.
While Brazilian students may indeed think highly of Canada’s higher education, not many are currently coming to study here – at least when one compares the number of Brazilian post-secondary students studying in Canada (600-700) with those in the United States (reportedly about 9,000) or elsewhere. This is what this mission is trying to address: the agreements established by the Canadian delegation with their Brazilian counterparts are expected to attract a booming 20,000 additional students in Canada by 2016.
This is not one day too soon: David Johnston pointed out that “Canada has about half as many international students in our classrooms as the global standard.” While Brazilian students will bring additional revenue to Canadian universities in the short term, they will also establish – over time – highly valuable linkages between Canada and one of the world’s emerging economic powerhouses.
At a personal level, the experience of studying in Canada will offer the Brazilian exchange students memories that will last a lifetime. Some may even decide to call this country their new home.