Canada-Asia Relations: Strengthening Education Linkages

English: Member nations of the Asia-Pacific Ec...

Observers of Asia-Pacific have frequently noted in recent years the rise of the region in world affairs. Asia-Pacific “has become a key driver of global politics,” US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pointed out in 2011, highlighting the region’s demographic weight, economic and political significance, contribution to climate change, and emerging military power. [1] Asia has the world’s third largest economy (China), a majority of the top ten largest cities, and a growing consumer base.

Trade and investment levels between Canada and Asia have increased significantly in recent years, particularly between Canada’s Western provinces and China. As Prime Minister Stephen Harper noted during his 2012 trip to Beijing, China is now Canada’s second largest trading partner. Moreover, as Paul Evans noted, “Canada and China are not just linked by trade in finished goods but by global supply chains and manufacturing […] China is not only engaged in the international system, but also altering it in fundamental ways.” [2] These linkages are expected to continue and become even more substantial in the next few decades, a development that requires the consolidation and refining of strategies towards the Asia-Pacific region.

It is estimated that “[o]ver the next two decades, Asia will undergo massive urbanization,” opening significant economic opportunities for its international partners. [3] Maureen Appel Molot points out that countries such as China and India “are not just producers, their populations are also consumers and potential customers: as income levels rise, so will the consumption of a range of raw material, agricultural and consumer goods” [4], as well as services, including international education.

This will create economic opportunities for developed Western countries and will increase international competition in the area of education, as citizens of key Asian nations (China, India, Japan and others) will increasingly seek to study abroad and participate in various education programs beyond their home countries’ borders. Recent data indicate that a vast majority of Chinese university students have considered studying abroad (as many as 80 per cent!) [5] and – in 2008 alone – “some 180,000 postsecondary students left China to study at a college or university in another country” [6].

It is necessary for Canada to identify all key mechanisms through which it can compete with other nations in the education sector, and to pursue its interests vigorously. Applied to a regional context such as Asia-Pacific, this means that Canada has to be strategic in engaging with governments, education institutions, and other non-governmental entities, and to actively and forcefully promote the benefits of higher education in Canada.

Yuen Pau Woo sees in this context an opportunity to advance human capital cooperation [7], while Dominic Barton considers Canada’s education system a potentially major export industry [8]. Likewise, Rana Sarkar considers education a “gateway” to Canada’s growing economic relations with Asia [9]. The education sector – mentioned more frequently in the academic literature and media articles in recent years – is an excellent candidate for closer ties between Canada and Asian countries.

This is due to its largely non-controversial nature and the mutual benefits of allowing young people from the Asia-Pacific region to study in Canada and of increasing the proportion of tuition-paying international students in Canadian academic institutions. As of 2008-2009, more than half of international students in Canada (about 88,000) came from Asia.

Investing in a more coordinated and targeted strategy to attract Asian students and increasing their numbers in Canadian colleges and universities makes a lot of sense, and not just from an economic point of view. These students will end up strengthening Canadian ties to their countries of origin and some will decide to stay here and become proud citizens of this country.

After all, Canada is a successfully multicultural society, with a high quality of life and a first-rate education system that is competitively priced internationally. It now needs to raise its profile as a preferred destination for international education, and to better explain to potential applicants why it is, in many respects, a better choice than the United States, the UK, Australia or New Zealand. (More on the Canadian advantage in future posts).


[1] Hillary Clinton, “America’s Pacific Century,” Foreign Policy, Nov. 2011.

[2] Paul Evans, “Responding to Global China: Getting the Balance Right,” Canadian Foreign Policy Journal, vol. 14, issue 2 (2008).

[3] Wendy Dobson, “Canada, China, and Rising Asia: A Strategic Proposal,” sponsored by the Canadian Council of Chief Executives and the Canada China Business Council, Oct. 2011.

[4] Maureen Appel Molot, “Canada and the BRIC States,” Canadian Foreign Policy Journal, vol. 13, issue 2 (2006).

[5] Tan Yingzi, “Overseas universities woo Chinese students,” China Daily, May 21, 2009.

[6] Philip Fine, Foreign students satisfied with programs in Canada,” University Affairs, Dec. 7, 2009.

[7] Yuen Pau Woo, “A Leap-Frog Strategy for Relations with Asia,” in Canada 2020: Rising to Meet the Asia Challenge, Nov. 2011,

[8] Dominic Barton, “Rising to Meet the Asia Challenge and Opportunity,” in Canada 2020, ibid.

[9] Rana Sarkar, “The Big Challenge: Adjusting to the Asia Century,” in Canada 2020, ibid.


One thought on “Canada-Asia Relations: Strengthening Education Linkages

  1. Pingback: Higher Education Sector Plays a Remarkably Strong Role in Canada’s R&D | Parallel 49 Education

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