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Canada: “long way to go” to promote study abroad

Canada’s International Experience Canada program should be promoted more to domestic Canadian students to encourage them to gain international study experiences, an expert has suggested.

The GSO was celebrated for its focus on non-traditional destinations and students. Photo: Pexels

In 2019, International Experience Canada director Clark Goodman reiterated that funding remained "one of the barriers for Canadians to study abroad"

The country’s minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, launching the 2023 International Experience Canada season on January 9, focused on its potential to help Canadian employers find workers needed to fill labour shortages.

The program – which had its capacity for inbound student extended in December by 20% – is now open to nearly 90,000 international youth hoping to work in Canada, minister Sean Fraser noted.

“Our government supports international youth to work and travel in Canada, effectively helping employers find the workers they need,” said the minister, adding that those already in the IEC pool will begin receiving invitations to apply for their work permit.

“By giving youth the opportunity to gain international travel and work experience, we are strengthening our economy and creating a win-win solution for everyone involved,” he continued.

But there are questions about the lack of attention on the other part of the International Experience Canada that offers opportunities to Canadian students.

Of the four ministers quoted in the government release, only the minister of Women and Gender Equality and Youth of Canada, Marci Ien, pointed to the initiative’s opportunity for Canadians.

“The IEC program not been promoted widely to Canadian youth”

“IEC helps young people not only develop new skills and explore different cultures, but also return home with an international perspective. IEC is a unique and exciting program, and we encourage all eligible youth to take advantage of it,” she said.

“Although I believe the IEC program is crucial for Canada in order to diversify our labour landscape as well as fill gaps and shortages, it has not been promoted widely to Canadian youth,” Kellie McMullin, manager of International Learning (Outbound) at NSCC International, Nova Scotia Community College, told The PIE.

“I would say there would be very few students at NSCC or maybe none that are aware the program exists. There have been other programs in the past such as the Youth Internship Program where universities and colleges have been able to take advantage of to get students into a global work setting.”

A key part of the country’s 2019-2024 international education strategy, the IEC initiative sought to promote outbound mobility.

The strategy outlined that the reciprocal program saw “many more foreign youth participate… than Canadians”. Four countries – France, Australia, the UK and New Zealand – “traditionally receive a total of 80% of Canadian participants”, the document continued.

It promised to promote IEC to raise awareness among Canadian youth, which would “increase both the popularity of IEC and the number of Canadian youth with valuable skill sets sought after by employers in today’s global markets”.

The Global Skills Opportunity program, initially referred to as the Outbound Student Mobility Pilot in the strategy, would “increase the pool of Canadians with intercultural competencies and knowledge of other societies”. But the strategy also said that the IEC would do the same.

In 2019, International Experience Canada director Clark Goodman reiterated that funding remained “one of the barriers for Canadians to study abroad”.

The PIE reached out to IRCC as well as Global Affairs Canada, both of whom had not responded at the time of publication. [The PIE has now received a response]

“The GSO is definitely helping our numbers to grow substantially”

“The GSO program has been a great start in trying to reach the outbound mobility goals set in Canada’s international education strategy, but I believe there is still a long way to go,” McMullin continued.

According to Universities Canada, only 11% of Canadian undergraduates undertook international mobility experiences over the course of their degree, according to 2017 data.

“Even after two years of the GSO program, the percentage of Canadian students studying abroad continues to be low,” McMullin noted.

“Students at NSCC have taken advantage of the GSO and it is definitely helping our numbers to grow substantially.”

An important aspect of the program is the effort to target under-represented groups, such as low-income, Indigenous and students with disabilities, which “is extremely important in shifting the overall perception of who these study abroad programs are targeting”, she added.

“These funding envelopes are definitely a good start in promoting study abroad to university and college students but there is still a long way to go, especially in the college sector,” McMullin concluded.

Update: January 23, 18:20 GMT, The PIE has now received a response from the government, see more here.

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