Surge of international students at Canadian universities, B-schools

Canadian universities are increasingly popular with international students. Particularly, interests from American students are rising to record levels, as more of them appreciate Canada as a tolerant, stable and freer nation of more diversity in a world beset by political uncertainty, and division within countries.

According to the Globe and Mail (May 14), unprecedented numbers of international students are coming to Canadian universities this fall, with some institutions seeing jumps of 25% or more in admission of students from abroad.

Applications from international students were up by double digits this year, with record levels of interest from American students. Many observers had suggested that the election of Donald Trump was a reason.

At the University of Alberta, for example, the percentage of international students who have accepted admission offers has increased 27% from last year. The school has also seen an increase of some 82% in applications from graduate students from abroad.

David Turpin, the university president, says the rising tide of isolationism and exclusion in Europe and in the United States has had people look to Canada. “We will have these incredible students who will be educated in Canada, and in many, many cases go back home and build linkages that are crucial for our future development,” he said. (Globe and Mail, May 14)

Numbers are similar across the country. The University of Toronto, Canada’s top-ranking higher-education institution, has doubled the percentage of American students accept an offer, after it has been recruiting students in the U.S. this past year.  At Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, acceptances by international students are up 40%. Even smaller institutions, such as Brock University in St. Catharines, are expecting more than 30% more international students to arrive in the fall term.

This trend is same in Canadian business schools. The University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management reports a 34% spike in applications from international students, as of March this year, compared with a year ago – although applications from abroad was strong as well last year, up 20% over 2015. (Globe and Mail, March 20)

In contrast, a new survey released in mid-March of 250 U.S. universities and colleges found 39% of respondents reporting a decline in international applications (for all programs, not just business). The survey by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers also found 35% recording an increase and 26% seeing no change in demand.

One of the major reasons international students choose Canada as their study destination is Canada’s immigration policies friendly to foreign students. Unlike anti-immigrant policies in the U.S. and Britain that impose study and post-graduation restrictions on foreign students, it is relatively easy to secure a work permit after graduation.  Furthermore, with a three-year work permit, graduates can have time to apply for permanent residency in Canada, as many of them actually do.

Uganda-born Helen Kobusinge, who graduated this spring from Smith School of Business at Queen’s University, now works as a senior accountant for KPMG in Kingston. She says she chose Canada partly for its immigration policies that offer a post-graduation work permit of up to three years for eligible candidates. “This opportunity I found was much better in Canada than other countries,” she said. (Globe and Mail, June 8)

According to new data released recently by the U.S.-based Graduate Management Admission Council, Canada rose to a top-five list of international study destination between 2009 and 2016. Canada moved into second place last year (from fifth in 2009) as a destination for prospective MBA students from Africa – although the U.S. and Britain typically are preferred choices. Over the same period, Canada climbed into third spot (from fifth in 2009) for students from Central and South Asia, and stood fifth last year as a preferred location for prospective students from the U.S. and the Middle East.

Many Canadian schools are taking measures to follow up on growing admissions of international students. David Dunne, director of MBA programs at the University of Victoria’s Gustavson School of Business, says that it is not easy for these students to come and slot into Canadian culture and that schools have the onus to create a supportive environment for foreign students. “At Gustavson, with two-thirds of the MBA class from overseas, the entire cohort participates in a three-week orientation that includes time outdoors, including the woods, to learn about sustainability,” he says, adding that students also meet local First Nation leaders during the orientation.

Some business school officials, however, caution that foreign students’ rising interests in Canadian schools would not last long, unless there are some assurances that studying at Canadian universities, especially business schools, will lead to good job opportunities – not just such university supports for international students, before and after their arrival, including scholarships.

Interests in Canadian universities are increasing fast not just from students but from researchers and scholars who are giving closer look at the research environment and infrastructure in Canada. This is partly due to deteriorating political situations and the research environment in the U.S. and Europe, as in the case of international students looking to Canada, but equally as a result of Canadian universities and local governments’ stepped-up efforts.

Some prominent Canadian universities are in the midst of ambitious internationalization drives, including recruiting globally recognized researchers and professors. At the University of British Columbia, for example, money from an increase in international student fees is targeted toward the creation of the President’s Excellence Chairs Program. Six research areas will see a substantial boost in research heft, with each chair receiving as much as $10 million to $15 million to set up research labs or teams. (Globe and Mail, May 14)

Those positions are in addition to the university responding to inquiries from professors from abroad. “There has been very significant interest from scholars from around the world in moving to UBC,” said Santa Ono, UBC’s president. Faculty members wishing to relocate to Canada have been approaching his university, he says.

The University of Toronto’s computer science department has recruited about 20 new professors over the past two years. Ravin Balakrishnan, the chair of computer science, observes: “Some number of people over the years have always expressed that Canada may be a middle ground between the United States and Europe. We have a lot of the positives of the tech-savvy and energy of the U.S., but some of the safety net of European countries. May be that has been enhanced due to world events.” (Globe and Mail, May14) Research-funding packages and the opportunity to work with other professors at the beginning of their careers have been more important draws in attracting new hires, Dr. Balakrishnan adds.


By Yoshikazu Ishizuka, senior consultant, TOCS

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