Eastern Canada, Main Destination for International Students

British Passport, Canada, Thailand

British Passport, Canada, Thailand (Photo credit: dcgreer)

Maclean’s Magazine’s newly released 2013 university rankings reveal a very interesting picture of international students in Canada. Data (collected in 2011, on first year populations) indicate that universities in Central and Eastern Canada attract a majority of international students. Some highlights are relevant:

Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada have the largest number of universities where international students make up more than 5% of the student populations (8 universities in Ontario, 7 in Quebec and 10 in Atlantic Canada).

The highest concentration of international students is in Ontario and Quebec, given the overall size of the student population at many of the two provinces’ universities. Both Ontario and Quebec have some of the largest post-secondary institutions in Canada – significantly larger than universities in Atlantic Canada.

McGill, Montreal, Laval, Concordia (in Quebec), Toronto and Waterloo (in Ontario) are some of the largest universities in Canada that have over 10% international student populations.

The University of Toronto has 16.3% international students, out of a total of 71,000 full-time and 8,000 part-time students. While having a smaller student population (30,000 full-time and 6,000 part-time students), McGill has the largest percentage of students from outside Canada (21.3%) among the country’s big universities. (McGill also holds the first place in Maclean’s 2013 national reputational ranking).

In British Columbia (BC) and the Prairies, three post-secondary institutions – Simon Fraser, the University of British Columbia and the University of Alberta – are also relatively large universities where students from outside Canada constitute over 10% of their student populations.

There are however five relatively large universities in the Prairies and Ontario that have disappointingly low percentages of students from outside Canada. Calgary and Manitoba (in the Prairies) have only 4% international students among their student populations. At Queen’s and Ryerson (in Ontario) international students make up 3% of each university’s 20,000+ full-time students (3,500 part-time students at Queen’s and 14,500 part-time students at Ryerson).

The University of Ottawa (Ontario), with its sizable student population of 33,000 full-time students and 7,500 part-time students, has an inconsequential 1.9% level of international students.

A recent blog post here highlights why post-secondary institutions and governments at all levels across Canada are monitoring closely these figures and proposing strategies to attract more international students. They see this as a win-win situation: universities and Canadian cities benefit from an influx of qualified and talented individuals – who also sustain and create jobs locally – while the students can later pursue their careers and life goals in this country.

A Win-Win Situation: Post-Secondary Education as one of Canada’s Key Immigration Mechanisms

I recently reviewed three policy documents – one from earlier this year, the other two from 2011 – looking for existing and potential linkages between immigration and post-secondary education in Canada. More specifically, to what extent can international students use their studies in Canada as a vehicle for becoming permanent residents and, later, citizens of this country.

I expected that there must be some evidence linking these phenomena – on the one hand, the desire to emigrate to Canada and identify best mechanisms to achieve this goal and, on the other hand, the existence of a variety of post-secondary programs that can be accessed by international students. What I did not anticipate was to discover how widespread is the idea of encouraging international students to study in Canada specifically for the purpose of making them citizens of this country.

International students

International students (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(i) British Columbia’s (BC) International Education Strategy (2012) indicates that the province’s “emerging labour market challenges [i.e., not enough people entering the labour market] make international education even more important, as we anticipate significant shortages of skilled workers in certain fields.” The BC strategy points out that the engine of the province’s jobs plan and the economy is people – out of an estimated 1 million job openings over the next decade, immigrants are expected to fill a third of these positions.

British Columbia makes it crystal clear that, in order to “gain the greatest possible benefits from international education, we must make it easier for international students to move into careers in BC and take advantage of residency options after graduation. These improvements must in turn be communicated to potential international students.” To create “smoother transitions” for international students who wish to remain in the province after graduation, the BC Government plans to work closely with private sector employers, business associations, settlement organizations and – very importantly – the federal Government to help these students gain work experience and meet the requirements for Canadian residency.

(ii) The second document reviewed is An International Education Marketing Action Plan for [Canada’s] Provinces and Territories (2011) that makes virtually the same point. Even more significantly, this document is written and signed by provincial and territorial Ministers of education and of immigration – a very important group to push such an action plan. They indicated that one of the key expected outcomes of an international education plan for Canada is “a greater number of international students choosing to remain in Canada as permanent residents after graduation.”

The provincial and territorial Ministers plan to work alongside the federal Government to “ensure that annual immigration-level plans allow room for students who wish to remain permanently in Canada” and to “expand opportunities for international students to work off-campus and after graduation.” This document refers as well, just like the BC strategy, to Canada’s demographic pressures and the need to fill job vacancies – this time at a national level – through immigration. The plan focuses on improvements to foreign-qualifications recognition, extending post-graduation work permits and simplifying the process of obtaining visas and residency papers.

(iii) Finally, the report International Education: A Key Driver of Canada’s Future Prosperity (2011), prepared by a national Advisory Panel on Canada’s [future] International Education Strategy, is equally direct: Canada’s “specific goal is to double the number of quality international students within 10 years, from 239,000 today [at all levels], with a focus on attracting top talent who will either decide to make Canada their home or return to their home countries as leaders of the future.” To assist with this approach, the Panel suggested, Canada will need to further increase the amount of graduate and post-doctoral scholarships supporting international students.

The provincial and territorial ministers’ action plan (referenced above) highlighted that more than 71% of all foreign students in Canada (2008 figures) were studying at the post-secondary level or training in the trades, and 45% of international students at the post-secondary level originated from Asia. The distribution of international students in Canada by country of origin reveals that most of them originate from China (23%, 2010 figures), the United States, France, India and Mexico.  Other countries of origin include: South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Saudi Arabia.

Overall, these policy documents point out to a strong desire on the part of Canadian private corporations, educational institutions and public authorities to address demographic challenges and labour market shortages through a determined effort to attract international students to Canada. This is definitely a win-win situation: Canada benefits from an influx of qualified and talented individuals, while the latter can pursue their careers and life goals in a very desirable corner of the earth.

Higher Education Sector Plays a Remarkably Strong Role in Canada’s R&D

A newly released report titled The State of Science and Technology in Canada, 2012, produced by the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA), provides “a thorough analysis of the scientific disciplines and technological applications where Canada excels in a global context,” but also a detailed assessment of the role played by the higher education sector in these areas.

An 18-member expert panel established by CCA focused, among others, on research conducted in the not-for-profit, government and higher education sectors. “There is much for Canadians to be proud of,” Panel Chair Dr. Eliot Phillipson said, in an overall outline of the findings: “Canada’s international reputation is strong, science and technology research is robust across the country, and globally we are considered to have world-leading research infrastructure and programs.”

One of the remarkable findings is that Canada’s higher education sector is contributing to research and development (R&D) at a higher level than in other OECD countries. An analysis of gross domestic expenditure on R&D as percentage of GDP indicates that Canada’s post-secondary education sector accounts for 38% of all research and development in the country. This is a much larger figure than the 18 per cent of total R&D in the average OECD country – but in line with Nordic European countries and Israel.

The report points out that although “the amount of R&D performed in the private sector is comparatively low in Canada, businesses fund a significant amount of R&D that is actually performed in the higher education sector [over 8% of all R&D performed in the higher education sector or approximately US $950 million in 2011]. […] This is above average for OECD countries, and is more than double the percentage […] financed by industry in the United Kingdom, Norway, Denmark, Japan, France, and Italy.”

In addition to universities, Canada’s colleges and polytechnics have engaged in recent years in a sustained effort to develop applied science and technology programs, in many cases in cooperation with industry. According to the Association of Canadian Community Colleges and Polytechnics Canada, “in 2009–2010 colleges participated in 158 different research networks in Canada […]. The nine polytechnics in Canada worked with 1,085 industry partners, and across the college system a total of 4,051 companies participated in applied research projects.”

This reveals a very solid position for the country’s higher education sector in the area of research and development, which presents concrete and diverse opportunities for Canadian and international students working in science and technology. Canada proves to be a particularly attractive destination for researchers and for individuals interested in pursuing graduate studies here, although other studies show that it needs to invest additional resources in attracting a larger number of them – given strong competition from other developed countries.

Other key findings within the report include:

“ The six research fields in which Canada excels are: clinical medicine, historical studies, information and communication technologies (ICT), physics and astronomy, psychology and cognitive sciences, and visual and performing arts.

“Canadian science and technology is healthy and growing in both output and impact. With less than 0.5 per cent of the world’s population, Canada produces 4.1 per cent of the world’s research papers and nearly 5 per cent of the world’s most frequently cited papers.

“In a survey of over 5,000 leading international scientists, Canada’s scientific research enterprise was ranked fourth highest in the world, after the United States, United Kingdom, and Germany.

“Canada is part of a network of international science and technology collaboration that includes the most scientifically advanced countries in the world. Canada is also attracting high-quality researchers from abroad, such that over the past decade there has been a net migration of researchers into the country.

“Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta are the powerhouses of Canadian science and technology, together accounting for 97 per cent of total Canadian output in terms of research papers. These provinces also have the best performance in patent-related measures and the highest per capita numbers of doctoral students, accounting for more than 90 per cent of doctoral graduates in Canada in 2009.”

Building Bridges between Secondary and Post-secondary Education in Ontario and Quebec

“The Enrichment Mini-Courses Program [EMCP] is a unique annual event in the world of Canadian education.” That’s how its organizers start describing this initiative, which allows secondary students from schools in Ontario and Quebec to attend post-secondary institutions for a week. Each May, about 125 mini-courses are offered to nearly 3,000 students from 21 school boards and private schools by instructors at two universities and one college in the Province on Ontario.

The University of Ottawa, Carleton University and La Cité collégiale host each year secondary students from Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec (grades 8-11 in ON and II-V in QC – 13-16 years of age) for 25-hour courses. The mini-courses are offered “in a variety of disciplines, such as information technology, psychology, engineering, journalism, music and law. They are highly interactive; they combine brief presentations, practical exercises, laboratory exercises, group discussions and field expeditions; and they provide an unforgettable learning experience!”

The Desmarais building at the University of Ot...

The Desmarais building at the University of Ottawa in Ottawa, Canada (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The University of Ottawa, for instance, is expecting approximately 1,800 students in 2013 and will offer approximately 92 courses (48 in English and 44 in French). Carleton offers courses in English, while La Cité collégiale offers courses in French. Staff and graduate students at these post-secondary institutions are invited each year to submit proposals for mini-courses and are reminded that course “titles and descriptions must be ‘appealing’ to students of the levels [they] wish to reach.”

The students selected need to demonstrate excellent academic performance, yet student “placement is based on a random computerized process that occurs once all the application forms are received. Consequently, the first come – first serve principle does not apply.” Only one course is assigned per student, which they will attend one week long. The course themes are very diverse and cover a wide range of interests.

2012 course titles included: “The F–‐word: Exploring Feminism in Society,” “The Philosopher’s Stone: What Harry Potter, Clark Kent, Buffy, and Captain Kirk Can Teach Us about Philosophy,” “Bippity-Boppity-What? Jumping Down the Rabbit Hole of Classic Disney Movies” (Carleton), “The Holocaust and Europe’s Jews,” “Do You Want Kant and Aristotle as Your Facebook Friends?,” “Relationships and Sexuality 101” (Ottawa), “Découvrir l’animation 3D!” and “L’art culinaire et la gestion hôtelière : un univers savoureux” (La Cité Collégiale).

The program represents an excellent bridge between the secondary and post-secondary worlds in Canada’s two largest provinces. It is equally an investment in post-secondary education and an open invitation to university/college studies from the three post-secondary organizations involved. The latter usually encourage their student guests to take campus tours and explore in more detail their academic offerings.

Establishing such linkages early in a student’s high-school life potentially raises his/her interest in attending university/college upon graduation and increases their likelihood of pursuing post-secondary studies. One of the unintended side effects of the program is that it also assists graduate students and other junior faculty members who act as EMCP instructors in gaining meaningful teaching experience.

EMCP is not a unique program in North America (see Stanford’s High School Summer College and others); other universities and colleges have similar initiatives. This program is however one of Canada’s proven successes – over 50,000 secondary students used it since its inception, in 1981 – and constitutes a model for establishing similar linkages in other parts of the country.

(More information on the Enrichment Mini-Courses Program can be found here.)

Canadian Graduate and Professional Students – A Happy Bunch (Except for the Ones That Aren’t)

The Canadian Association of Graduate Studies (CAGS) published highlights from the latest Canadian Graduate and Professional Student Survey (CGPSS), administered in 2010. The Association has also indicated that researchers are permitted access to an anonymized survey dataset, “for purposes of improving graduate student experience in Canada.” Access requests, made through an online form, will be reviewed by the CAGS National CGPSS Steering Committee. Some key findings are captured below:

Doctoral, Master’s Students Are Generally Satisfied with Their University Experience

Among 13,400 doctoral students surveyed, 50% rated the relationship of their graduate program content to their research or professional goals as “very good” and “excellent” (30% thought it was “good,” while the rest rated it as “fair” or “poor”).

More than 60% rated similarly the quality of the support and opportunities received in conducting independent research since starting their graduate program. However, only 40% of doctoral students rated the opportunities for student collaboration or teamwork as “very good” and “excellent.” (The lower satisfaction scores for student collaboration/ teamwork among doctoral students should not come as a surprise, given the typical length of a doctoral program and the largely independent nature of the work).

Among 13,500 master’s students (with thesis), more than half rated the relationship of their graduate program content to their research or professional goals as “very good” and “excellent.” 56% said the same thing about the quality of the support and opportunities received. 48% thought the opportunities for student collaboration or teamwork were “very good” and “excellent.”

English: Graduate Students' Union at the Unive...

English: Graduate Students’ Union at the University of Toronto (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Drill Down Though and You’ll Find Differences: Sciences & Health Sciences vs. Non-Health Professions & Humanities

Mean scores by disciplines indicate that doctoral students in Business/Management valued more than all others the “program content” and “research collaboration” (but somewhat less “student collaboration” and “independent research”). On all these categories, doctoral students in Sciences, as well as those in Health Sciences had higher levels of satisfaction than students in other programs (students in Health Sciences were slightly less satisfied with “program content”).

The worst scores on “program content,” “student collaboration,” “independent research” and “research collaboration” were registered from doctoral students in Non-Health Professions (and from students in the Humanities relating to collaboration opportunities).

Master’s students (with thesis) present a more mixed picture. Students in Sciences were the most satisfied among their peers with “independent research” and “research collaboration.” Students in Education were among the most satisfied with “program content” and “student collaboration.”

Master’s students in the Humanities, Social Sciences, and Non-Health Professions were more likely to indicate they were less satisfied with these aspects of the student experience.

CAGS points out that “[b]reakdown by gender and immigration status also has been considered. Differences appear quite small, however. Since representation by gender and immigration status is highly non-homogeneous across disciplines, and disciplines have a significant influence, general breakdown by gender and immigration status does not seem to be relevant. This breakdown should be studied at the discipline level.”

Doctoral Students: Do It All Again? Same Field, Different Place…

Among doctoral students, just 31% answered “definitely” to the question “If you were to start your graduate/professional career again, would you select this same university?” However, 54% would select the same field of study and 50% would select the same faculty supervisor.

CAGS notes that doctoral students in Business/Management give on average higher marks for “research training and career orientation.” On the other hand, doctoral students in the Humanities give on average higher marks for “quality of teaching” but lower marks for ‘“research training and career orientation.” Engineering students give low marks for “supportive dissertation advisor” and for “quality of teaching.” A summary of benchmark scores by disciplines, at the doctoral and master’s level (with thesis), can be found on the CAGS website.

Survey responses were obtained in 2010 from 38,618 students at 38 Canadian universities (19,199 from Ontario, 10,208 from Quebec, and 9,211 from other provinces). “The survey originated from joint US/Canadian efforts to survey graduate students, parallel to the similar study of undergraduates, the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE).”