“From the stakeholder perspective there is an abundance of goods news in this strategy,” John Shalagan, CEO of JTS International Higher Education Consultancy told The PIE News.
“Success is now up to us”
The best-loved aspect of the strategy is a $95 million pilot program to send 11,000 Canadians abroad over five years, which the sectors had been lobbying for a number of years.
“[But] the government has placed the onus directly on [stakeholders] to deliver what they wanted especially in the area of student mobility,” Shalagan added.
“That won’t be an easy task given the parameters of the student mobility program.
“It’s now up to Universities Canada and CiCan to figure out how to increase Canada’s dismal study abroad numbers,” he said.
Universities Canada and CICan both released enthusiastic statements on the new strategy, with CICan stating it was “especially proud” of being entrusted with the shared administration of the program.
The pilot and its focus on destinations beyond the traditional UK, US, Australia or France was praised by HESA CEO Alex Usher, but he pointed to the scale of the goal of sending 11,000 students abroad.
“I wonder if they’re going to be able to find enough students to make it work. I hope they do,” he said.
Memorial University Newfoundland’s director of the internationalisation office Sonja Knutson agreed that the goal is ambitious. “But who can complain?” she said.
“As universities, we have been asking and advocating for this for five years now. Success is now up to us.”
Another aspect of the strategy that was praised was the focus on diversifying the inbound stream of students – now depending for over 50% on India and China.
Some concrete actions, such as IRCC’s being tasked to improve visa processing systems and expand the SDS to other countries, coupled with funding for a digital advertising campaign are all positive steps towards the goal, some stakeholders commented.
BCCIE executive director Randall Martin said he hoped the SDS will be expanded to other regions beyond South Asia.
“If they are using SDS to go after diversity, they might want to look at different geographies. I think we could do very well in Latin America, for example,” he said.
However, diversity wasn’t the only aspect to lack a target. Although increasing inbound student mobility was still a focus of the strategy, it had no numeric target, unlike the predecessor strategy.
“If they are using SDS to go after diversity, they might want to look at different geographies”
Knutson at Memorial added that when the previous strategy was released, some stakeholders were disappointed about its lack of measures for outbound mobility and sceptical towards its focus on an ambitious numeric target for inbound students.
“We could not have foreseen how Brexit/Trump would bump us forward a few years ahead of targets,” she recalled.
Languages Canada also welcomed the strategy and its priorities; LC’s executive director Gonzalo Peralta told The PIE he hoped the association will be able to contribute in the crucial areas of cross-cultural communication and integration of foreign students in Canada and Canadian students abroad.
However, he complained that the “low-hanging fruit” of access to work for international language students had not been considered, and he pointed out that some details of the synergy between industry segments and stakeholders are not clear.
“It isn’t clear how the bodies responsible for education [provincial education ministries] are involved. It also isn’t clear who will be able to participate – there are some decisions already made as to non-governmental bodies, the question is how will the government ensure all segments of IE are engaged,” he explained.
With education devolved to the provinces, a federal strategy on international education highlights the need to address collaboration – but the “disjointedness” hasn’t been addressed, Peralta added.
“Languages Canada spoke to this issue when we responded to the questionnaire used during the consultation process.
“It is unfortunate that, for such an important investment, there was such little opportunity to hear pertinent voices and ensure exchange of all segments impacted,” he added.
Languages, in addition to K-12 mobility and work-integrated learning, were highlighted by Martin at BCCIE as aspects that he hoped would be incorporated in a more solid fashion, and the sector discussions surrounding it over the next few months. Another element to implement should be outcome evaluation, he added.
“I will hope that we will work very hard to engineer and assess learning outcomes from these international exchanges,” he said.
In October Canadians will vote in the federal elections, and Shalagan at JTS told The PIE that a change of hands as a result of the election may be a threat to the strategy.
“There will be a possibility that the strategy will continue… under a Conservative government”
“There will be a possibility that the strategy will continue to exist under a Conservative government, but if it does, I expect that funding for many of the components in the strategy will at best see significant reductions,” he said.
However, other stakeholders are more optimistic: “I don’t think that the conservatives would lobby against this or take the money away from the sector after a lot of work has gone into [the strategy],” Martin added.