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Cost draws US students to Canada, but funding access a challenge

The relative affordability of a Canadian degree is a major attraction for US students, but access to loans and scholarships can be a challenge, a new report has revealed. The study also showed that students often encounter difficulties with the immigration system and logistical tasks such as opening a bank account, although they tend to rate their study experience favourably overall.

Photo: Universities Canada.

"We hope this report will launch an ongoing conversation so we can continue to identify ways to strengthen US-Canadian academic ties"

In a series of focus groups carried out by Universities Canada and backed by the US Embassy in Ottawa with undergraduate and postgraduate US students in four major cities, an “overwhelming majority” of participants said cost was their primary reason for choosing to study there.

“Grants, scholarships and other funding are very difficult for American students at Canadian universities to access”

This was particularly true of the undergraduate participants, with some going as far as calling the cost of a US education “prohibitive”.

Students also said Canada’s geographical proximity and cultural similarities made it an attractive option, while others said having Canadian citizenship or family in Canada was the deciding factor.

Participants studying in Toronto, Halifax and Vancouver were more likely to say that cultural and linguistic similarities influenced their decision to study there, than those in Montreal.

The comparative ease of the application process for Canadian universities was another incentive for a number of students, particularly those applying to postgraduate courses, who said that they were happy not to have to to sit the Graduate Record Examination that is required in the US.

A number of students also mentioned the perceived safety of Canada as a study destination as an advantage over the US – particularly those in Halifax and Montreal – but few cited the quality of Canadian education, which the report notes is probably down to a general lack of awareness of what universities offer.

Nevertheless, quality was often cited as the deciding factor when it came to choosing an institution within Canada, along with a unique programme offering.

When students were asked about their experience of studying in Canada, the responses were generally positive, according to the study.

The “vast majority” of students rated the quality of their course highly, and said they are confident that their education is preparing them well for their desired career, it notes. Some even suggested that Canadian universities are more academically rigorous than their American counterparts.

Nearly 10,000 American students study at Canadian universities every year

Nearly 10,000 American students study at Canadian universities every year

However, students described facing a number of challenges while studying in Canada, with the most pronounced being access to funding.

“Grants, scholarships and other funding are very difficult for American students at Canadian universities to access, especially in the case of graduate students, since they are not eligible for granting council funding,” the report notes.

Because of this, students recommended that the US and Canadian governments implement more joint scholarships, giving the US-Canada Fulbright programme as an example of best practice.

Students also reported having “mixed” experiences with the immigration system, with some finding the process “incredibly frustrating”. Several said they had encountered vague or conflicting information from different government agencies or inconsistency in how policies were applied at the border.

Streamlining the immigration process and assigning Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada representatives to individual universities could help to “troubleshoot” difficulties in this area, they suggested.

“What we found somewhat surprising was that some of the students would have liked to receive more support on their Canadian campuses”

And students also said they had been confused by logistical issues, including how to obtain a cell phone plan or health insurance.

“What we found somewhat surprising in terms of students’ adjustment to their new environments was that some of the students would have liked to receive more support on their Canadian campuses,” commented Kay Mayfield, minister counsellor for public affairs at the US Embassy in Canada.

Matching incoming students with older mentors could help students to adjust to these challenges, while equipping American students to give presentations at high schools could also help to raise awareness of what to expect when studying in Canada, contributors noted.

Governments also have a significant role to play in boosting Canada’s profile as a study destination and in improving students’ experience, the report says, noting that it could benefit from a stronger presence at international events and focusing on the quality of education in order to attract more graduate students.

The embassy plans to meet with Universities Canada to discuss how the US Mission to Canada can support the recommendations.

“Overall, we hope this report will launch an ongoing conversation among Canadian universities, Universities Canada, and the US Mission to Canada so we can continue to identify ways to strengthen US-Canadian academic ties,” Mayfield said.

This report was commissioned by the US Embassy in Canada in support of 100,000 Strong in the Americas initiative. Students from 24 US states took part in the eight focus groups used in the report, in Toronto, Halifax, Montreal and Vancouver.

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