Online Tutoring: Education Trend to Watch in 2015

One of the new trends in higher education that is likely to become mainstream in 2015 is online tutoring. The year that just ended saw the launch of several tutoring start-ups, across the world – including Canada. The interest in this type of online service will undoubtedly increase, given the disruptive nature of these new Web 2.0 businesses, their technologically savvy customers, along with the ease of access to and affordability of online tutoring.

There are several business models, and the market will decide in the end which ones are most viable. They range from a pay-per-minute service to monthly subscriptions, although most involve connecting live with an actual person via phone, video conference or other on-screen interface (interactive whiteboard).

Some of the larger – and more significant – differences in terms of the quality of service received by clients are due to the location of the tutoring firm or independent tutor. Several service providers have outsourced the work to Asia (e.g., India), given significantly lower labour costs and potentially higher profit margins. If you’re to choose, do your research and select the firm/tutor that makes most sense for you; remember though the old saying, usually you get what you pay for.

Online tutoring services to consider – particularly for American and Canadian students – include:

https://www.firsttutors.com/, Twitter: @firsttutors (EduNation LTD, Morecambe, Lancashire, UK)

https://helphub.me/, Twitter: @HelpHubHQ (HelpHub, Vancouver, BC)

https://instaedu.com/, Twitter: @InstaEDU (InstaEDU, Inc., San Francisco, CA)

http://www.nettutor.com/, Twitter: @nettutor (Link-Systems International, Inc., Tampa, FL)

http://www.tutor.com/, Twitter: @tutordotcomHE (Tutor.com, Inc., New York, NY)

http://www.tutoruniverse.com/, Twitter: @TutorUniverse (Tutor Universe, Inc., Iowa City, IA)

http://www.universitytutor.com/ (Johnson Educational Technologies LLC, Dover, DE)

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.

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.

Canada Ponders Tuition Cuts for International Students, Highlights Economic Benefits

Minister Fast meets with Chinese Minister of Commerce Chen Deming

Canada’s Minister of International Trade and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway, Ed Fast, released a report showing that international students contributed more than CDN $8 billion to the Canadian economy in 2010, up from $6.5 billion in 2008.“The Harper government is committed to continuing to attract the best and brightest students to Canada,” said Minister Fast. “This study reaffirms our government’s commitment to international education. That is one of the reasons we are committed to refreshing our government’s Global Commerce Strategy and to developing a comprehensive plan to entrench educational links between Canada and international institutions for Canada’s long-term prosperity.”

The report found there were 218,000 full-time international students in Canada in 2010, up from 178,000 in 2008 and more than double the number of students in 1999. It estimated that international students supported 86,000 jobs and contributed $445 million in tax revenue.

“I am delighted that Canada is a destination that is growing in attraction for international students,” said Minister Fast while visiting the University of British Columbia. “The presence of international students and researchers taking advantage of Canada’s world-class facilities creates jobs and economic growth and contributes to our people-to-people ties with other countries,” such as China, France, India, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and the United States.

“Outstanding international students and researchers not only enrich our campuses but make Canada more competitive by sharing knowledge and expertise both during their time at university and afterwards,” said Stephen Toope, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of British Columbia.

A commitment to refresh Canada’s Global Commerce Strategy was announced in Economic Action Plan 2012. A more powerful international education strategy will help strengthen Canada’s engagement with emerging economies and ensure greater collaboration between Canada and institutions while boosting this country’s economic prosperity.

International news agencies, such as AFP, highlighted one of the recommendations in the report: Canadian post-secondary institutions may want to stop charging foreign students higher tuition fees than Canadians pay.

“Canada’s educational expertise is a valuable export that can be measured in comparison to other goods and service exports,” the report noted. “International students can also become a valuable source of highly skilled labor to our economy at a time when the western world is facing potential labor shortages, especially among top talent.” The authors of the study pointed out that, “given the competition in the global international education market, educational policy makers may need to re-examine the practice of differential tuitions and fees.”

To learn more about these findings, visit Attracting the Best and Brightest Students to Canada on the website of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada. An analysis of China as Canada’s strategic educational partner can be found here.

The Benefits of an International Education Strategy for Canada

Canada is increasingly interested lately in attracting international students and in promoting the many advantages of a Canadian post-secondary education. A recent news story indicates that Canada’s federal government is developing a new international education strategy for the country.

The Globe and Mail argues that “international students represent an economic bonanza worth tens of billions of dollars to countries like the United States, Britain and Australia. They were the first countries to really take advantage of this market. Canada, although late to the party, has made up significant ground in a short period of time.” The author (Gary Mason) points out that Canada will face stiff competition in attracting international students not just from other Western countries, but also from new emerging economies such as China and India.

Some of the figures provided in Gary Mason’s piece are definitely worth pondering about: in 2011, India increased higher education spending by 30 per cent; China aims to enroll half a million students in post-secondary programs by 2020, twice the current number; Brazil will spend two billion dollars over the next four years to allow its students to attend exchange programs in other countries.

In a related development, no fewer than sixteen Canadian universities will send representatives to a professional event in Beijing, called PhD Workshop China (November 24-25, 2012). They will present their graduate programs and recruit top Chinese students to study in Canada. Nine other countries will send representatives as well (Australia, Denmark, Fiji, France, Germany, Singapore, The Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States). Canada will have the second largest institutional representation – after Germany, which will be present with 26 universities.

According to the organizers, the event “provides leading overseas graduate schools a focused opportunity to meet top graduates from the most important colleges and universities across China.” PhD Workshop China 2011 attracted 160 delegates from 85 universities across the globe, including Canada. Last year, about 1,300 pre-registered students from 29 provinces throughout China attended meetings and interviews with overseas delegates, professors and admission officers.

74 per cent of these students were Master’s level students, while 14 per cent were doctoral candidates. The top 10 areas of PhD study were:  Materials Science; Chemistry/ Chemical Engineering; Life Sciences; Accounting/ Banking/ Economics/ Finance; Biology/ Biotechnology; Computer Science and Technology; Geosciences/ Earth Science; Law and Legal Studies; Electronics and Automatic Control; and Linguistics/ Languages/ Interpretation.

Yet this is just one of the venues used by Canadian universities from coast to coast to attract international students, particularly from China. Equally, Chinese universities are engaging their Canadian counterparts, encouraging students here to enroll in exchange programs in China. Led by Peking University, one of the most prestigious Chinese higher education institutions, a group of top 14 universities from China came to Ottawa’s Carleton University, in May 2012, to provide first-hand information on Chinese institutions and their programs.

“Studying abroad undoubtedly broadens students’ life horizons, and contributes to one’s personal, intellectual, and career growth. The mobility of students has also become one of the most important impetuses for countries’ social and economic growth,” Carleton University noted. A federally-led international education strategy for Canada would bring all these disparate initiatives together and would advance Canadian interests in the area of education in a more effective and integrated fashion.