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Canada: study abroad figures drop, despite reported interest

The number of Canadian students studying abroad is remaining stubbornly low and even dropping, according to the latest government data released by the Canadian Bureau of International Education. This is despite the revelation in a large-scale survey by CBIE that almost nine out of ten students are interested in studying overseas.

Top-line statistics from the report on display at the CBIE conference in Ottawa this week. Photo: The PIE News.

“The fact that almost half did not receive any encouragement might suggest that education abroad is not considered a natural part of the education experience"

Extrapolating figures from a survey of 7,028 students, CBIE estimates just 2.3% of Canadian students studied abroad in 2014/15 – a figure in line with previous data from other associations, noted Karen McBride, the association’s president and CEO. France (14%) and the UK (9%) were the two most popular destinations, closely followed by the US and then Germany.

42% of students surveyed said no one had encouraged them to study abroad

Presenting the findings at the annual CBIE conference in Ottawa, McBride called the low participation rate “disconcerting”, given the efforts by institutions to increase study abroad and students’ apparent interest in going overseas.

The vast majority – 86% – of participants said they were ‘interested’ in studying abroad, and over half said they were ‘very interested’ (54%).

However, of these students who said they were interested in study abroad, only a quarter felt they were likely to do so.

The results of the survey, published in CBIE’s A World of Learning report, did reveal that international students already in Canada felt they were likely to study abroad – 37% compared with 22% of their domestic counterparts – as were students whose parents had studied abroad.

The report shows that awareness of study abroad opportunities is high, with 80% of respondents saying they know their institution offered the option to study abroad.

A lower proportion – just under two-thirds – said they felt their institution encouraged study abroad, however.

Offering insight into the gap between interest and participation in study abroad, when students were asked what their top sources of encouragement to study overseas were, 42% said no one had encouraged them to do so.

Among those who had been encouraged to study abroad, the largest percentage said it was by friends (35%) or parents (28%).

Just 15% of students said they had been encouraged to go abroad by a faculty member, and 5% by an international or academic advisor.

“The fact that almost half [of the participants] did not receive any encouragement from others might suggest that in Canada education abroad is not considered a natural part of the education experience,” the report says.

And according to the survey results, students don’t appear to be confident that fostering global acumen and cultural awareness is a priority at their institution.

“Students reported they gained far more from their learning experience than if they had stayed at home”

Less than half – 45% – agreed producing graduates who are globally knowledgeable and culturally aware is a priority at their institution, while almost a quarter – 23% – disagreed that this was the case.

Cost was cited as the biggest barrier to study abroad, with 70% of respondents saying study abroad “requires money I do not have”.

In fact, only 9% of those surveyed said they would be able to study abroad without receiving financial assistance.

Delaying their graduation date and concerns over academic credit were also reported as barriers to study abroad. Just 60% of students who had studied abroad received credit on their Canadian transcript for doing so.

Nevertheless, the impact of study abroad on Canadians is well demonstrated in the report. Two thirds said it influenced their academic path, and seven in 10 said it influenced their career path.

“Overall, students reported they gained far more from their learning experience than if they had stayed at home,” noted McBride.

The study is the first large-scale survey focused on outbound student mobility CBIE has carried out since 2009, incorporating answers from 7,028 post-secondary students at 35 colleges and universities across all 10 provinces, 1,433 of whom had studied abroad.

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