Coming Back Soon

After a long intermission, the activity on this blog will resume soon – within the next couple of weeks. The focus will remain on Canadian post-secondary education, with a focus on social sciences, humanities, university teaching, and online tutoring. In the meantime, you can follow posts on Twitter @parallel49ed
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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.”

Professional Education in Canada: State-of-the-art Programs Offset Premium Price Tags

In its September 17 issue, Maclean’s magazine included a set of statistics on Canada’s professional schools. Significant information was provided on tuition levels and access to programs ranging from engineering to environmental studies. An assessment of these figures reveals an environment in which students have a wide variety of options to choose from, but many of them require tough financial decisions. The monetary investment varies quite widely across the country and across professional areas. Below, a few key findings from three fields: MBA, law and medicine.

MBA: expensive programs, but lots of choices

Canada offers a wide variety of Master of Business Administration (MBA) programs. Maclean’s points out that “tuition and program length vary considerably – the differences are often determined by the type of program – as does the average GMAT score of incoming students. The traditional MBA – two years, full time – is no longer the only way to go, with many schools offering part-time studies.” Canada also offers a large range of Executive MBA (EMBA) programs, “targeted at people who already have a career but want to take it to the next level by earning an advanced degree […]. Tuition, often covered by employers, is generally high” – over $100,000 at some schools, but these programs are among the best in the world.

The vast majority of Canada’s MBA schools have a significant population of international students – at seven of 38 schools over 50% of the student population are international students. Two universities (Thompson Rivers and Vancouver Island – both in British Columbia) have well over 75% international students in their MBA programs. As with other specialties, tuition fees vary considerably from province to province and from school to school (Quebec programs charge significantly less – for provincial residents – than programs in the rest of Canada).

While the full cost of a MBA program at Université Laval is $4,563 ($10,163 for students who are not Quebec residents), the program tuition at Toronto’s Rotman School of Management is $88,446. Carleton’s Sprott School of Business charges $15,418 for its MBA program, while tuition at Ottawa’s Telfer School of Management is $22,702.

LAW: Quebec vs. Rest of Canada

In the province of Quebec, private law is based on the “civil law” tradition (and public law follows the “common law” tradition). This makes Quebec a hybrid legal system, as opposed to the rest of Canada where the common law is the standard. For this reason, most law schools in Quebec are teaching civil law (McGill, Université de Montréal, Université du Québec à Montréal, Université de Sherbrooke, Université Laval and the University of Ottawa). McGill, Ottawa and Montreal offer, however, dual common/civil degrees or the choice between the two legal specializations (the University of Windsor and York University do the same in Ontario).

Flag of Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

Flag of Quebec City, Quebec, Canada. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Given the traditionally lower fees in Quebec, the yearly tuition for civil law schools is just $2,493 ($6,183 for students who are not Quebec residents). The only exception is the University of Ottawa, where the tuition for a civil law program is $8,165 per year. For common law schools the tuition fees range widely, from $2,493 (McGill, for Quebec residents) to $27,420 at the University of Toronto – a ten-fold differential! The fees at the University of Ottawa’s common law school are $14,568 per year. These figures do not include “other compulsory fees.”

MEDICINE: significant financial investment and high competition

Some of the lowest tuition fees for medical school in Canada can be found – again, unsurprisingly – in Quebec (in some cases even if you are not a provincial resident). The highest, on the other hand, are at Ontario medical schools. The average tuition at four Quebec universities – Laval, McGill, Montreal and Sherbrooke – is $3,906 yearly, not including compulsory fees ($10,302 for students who are not Quebec residents). The average yearly tuition to attend a medical school in Ontario, based on figures from six universities – McMaster, Ottawa, Northern Ontario, Queen’s, Toronto and Western – is $20,955, not including compulsory fees.

Besides the high price tag, gaining admission to one of Canada’s medical schools is in itself a difficult process, given the soaring competition for the relatively few spots. This is a reflection of the value placed by students and the Canadian society on medical education and formal qualifications, and the high level of development reached by Canada’s medical schools. Maclean’s notes that “success rates for in-province applicants are generally higher than for out-of-province.” The international students’ success rate is the highest at the University of Calgary, AB (26%), Dalhousie University, NS (18%), and the University of British Columbia (12%).

Canada’s high tuition fees and record investment in education

In its latest Education at a Glance report (2012), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) lists Canada among the countries with high levels of tuition fees, but also well-developed student-support systems. The report’s country notes confirm that Canada is “a leader in higher education, with its high attainment rates and its ability to produce a skilled workforce with generally good labour-market outcomes.” The country spends about $21,000 per post-secondary student per year – the third-highest amount among OECD countries after Switzerland and the United States.

OECD research also suggests that Canada’s model (high tuition fee and student support) “can be an effective way for countries to increase access to higher education. However, during periods of economic crisis, high levels of tuition fees can put a considerable financial burden on students and their families and can discourage some of them from entering [post-secondary] education, even when relatively high levels of student support are available. This topic is highly debated in Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States.” The 2012 Quebec student protests were one of the latest and most visible efforts to engage the students and the larger society in a conversation on tuition levels in this country. As indicated in a recent blog post, the choice Quebec made will inform, if not define, the conversation on university issues in the province (and beyond) for years to come.

Education as a Driver of Regional Integration: Not in North America

“Education should be the foundation of a North American community,” US academic Robert Pastor argues in his book “The North American Idea” (2011). This is a proposition that he presents in several of his publications: acknowledging that North America is still a loosely structured construct, the educational sector would present the potential of bringing together citizens and institutions from Canada, the United States and Mexico.

Robert Pastor is modelling his plan on the role placed on education in a different regional context – the European Union (EU). In a previous book, “Toward a North American Community” (2001), he pointed out – without providing supporting evidence – that “the consensus among analysts is that the funds [for regional assistance in the EU] were most effectively employed in projects aimed at infrastructure and higher-level education.”

Cover of "Toward a North American Communi...

Cover via Amazon

North America could presumably learn from EU realities and replicate on this continent some of Europe’s policies and programs in the area of education. Pastor looks at education – along with other areas of international cooperation – and notices both a disappointing reality in terms of limited levels of student exchanges and the concrete potential for improving this situation. If the latter would happen, it might equally lead to spillover effects and closer regional integration in other sectors – from politics to energy to border issues.

In “The North American Idea,” the US academic notes that Canada ranks only fifth and Mexico seventh “in sending students to the United States – much fewer than from China, India, Taiwan, and South Korea. About one thousand Mexicans study in Canada, and Americans study much less at universities in their two neighbors than in Europe or Asia.” Proximity doesn’t equal curiosity, he concludes in a somewhat disappointed tone.

Critical voices call Robert Pastor the “father of the North American Union” (for observers unfamiliar with the discourse around regional integration, the label “North American Union” carries with it negative connotations, particularly in conservative political circles. Pastor himself prefers the term “community”). He was and largely remains one of the strongest proponents of closer ties, across a variety of sectors (including education), between Canada, the United States and Mexico.

This being the case, it is only natural for him to recommend that the three governments “promote exchanges, research, and studies on North America,” support three-way collaboration between post-secondary institutions, establish “language immersion” programs, streamline standards on credit transfers and professional credentials, and increase their efforts in promoting North American ideals.

These are all excellent ideas and Robert Pastor should be commended for his efforts in promoting a more deeply and broadly integrated higher education sector on this continent. His proposals however face tremendous challenges, mostly of a structural nature. I will just list here three of them and elaborate more in future blog posts:

(i) North America is *not* the European Union. Any student of European history and politics will tell you this. The underlying conditions that contributed to the creation of the EU do not exist in North America. The EU itself may be more of a fluke than a model for other regional entities. Trying to replicate EU approaches elsewhere is an unfeasible scheme. Moreover, European integration is largely stalled – European themselves question the value of some of the existing multi-level arrangements.

(ii) The differences between Canada, the United States and Mexico – looking at political and socio-economic indicators – are so large and so diverse that across-the-board integration between them is virtually impossible for the foreseeable future. The US remains the world’s sole superpower and Mexico suffers from very significant social, economic and law-enforcement crises – all of them strong reasons for Canada to be cautious in promoting further integration with its neighbours.  Simply put, there is no will at a federal level to spend political capital and resources to advance deeper regional cooperation. Furthermore, education is not the most exciting sector to focus on, for both politicians and the citizens.

(iii) Finally, all three countries are federal political systems and education is largely a sub-national (state/province) responsibility. Even if they wanted, in most cases the federal governments would not be able to influence significantly patterns of cooperation between private organizations and professional associations across the continent.

Robert Pastor is right when he points out that education should be the foundation of building a meaningful regional entity. Yet “should” is the key word here – it denotes a normative position more than a realistic suggestion. If North America were to follow the evolution of the European Union (an unlikely course of events), the place to start may need to be sought elsewhere.