by Robert Vineberg, Research Fellow
On November 4, the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC) announced that a delegation of fifteen university presidents will undertake a seven day tour of India to promote Canada as a destination of choice for Indians who wish to pursue post-secondary education abroad. This is good news for a number of reasons. First, until now Canadian universities are, for the most part, unknown in India. According to the AUCC, only 3,000 Indian students chose to study in Canada in 2008. By comparison, in 2007, over 63,000 Indians chose to study in Australia.
Why the huge difference? Certain factors are beyond our control. Australia is closer to India and its climate is milder. But the major reason is that Canada has never gotten its act together to effectively promote Canadian universities as a desirable destination for Indians. To their disadvantage, too many Canadian universities have regarded their competition for foreign students to be other Canadian universities, leaving Canadian universities to promote themselves, individually, without the critical mass that comes through collective promotion. In reality, the competition for all Canadian universities is other countries, such as Australia. The Australian universities and the Australian government learned several years ago to promote the country of Australia as a desirable place to study, not a specific university, and the results have been fantastic for Australia. It also recruits many of its best immigrants from the ranks of its foreign students.
This is why the delegation of fifteen universities working together to promote education in Canada is good news. We need to beat the Australians at their own game by promoting the value of a Canadian degree from any Canadian university. The Canadian government recently caught up to the Australians by changing immigration regulations to allow foreign graduates in Canada to apply for immigration from inside Canada, as foreign graduates can do in Australia. Now is the time for Canadian universities to catch up to the Australians as well. By promoting a degree from Canada rather than a degree from Alberta or McGill or Manitoba, we will attract more of the best foreign students. Some may want to stay in Canada and many will return to careers in their home countries but, either way, Canada and the foreign students stand to benefit.
Let us hope that this delegation of university presidents to India will be the start of a new, coordinated, approach to promoting a Canadian post-secondary education to the world.