Speaking in Toronto, Jean-Philippe Tachdjian, executive director, international director at Global Affairs Canada, said the government body will scrutinise the strategy over the next year and use data collected from institutions to inform future decision-making.
“One of the questions we’re going to look at is: what is the impact of this on the students? Does this impact on their success?” Tachdjian told attendees during the plenary panel debate.
“We’ll be working with the provincial governments to try and get the information from the institutions. It’s going to be a burden on the institutions as well. But we need to get an understanding of how this impacts the students.”
One in three international students typically relies on work to finance their studies, said Larissa Bezo, president and CEO of CBIE, citing a recent survey.
“The opportunity for students is tremendous,” Bezo said about the new policy, which was announced on October 7. “I think what’s important is to encourage our students to take a holistic approach.”
Paul Davidson, president of Universities Canada, also welcomed the new rules despite concerns over whether international students should be seen as a solution to labour shortages.
“We want them to have the value proposition, the experience, that Canadian students have,” Davidson said. “Canadian students also take low-paying jobs. Canadian students also fill labour gaps in a short-term way. I’m sure we all have stories of the past jobs we did in our undergraduate years, and those are important too.”
The integral role that part-time work plays in the lives of international students in Canada was made clear later during the two-day conference during a roundtable session with international students.
When students in the room were asked to raise their hands, if they worked part-time, all of the student volunteers attending indicated that they did.
One, Saurabhi, told The PIE that the typical 8 hour shift that she worked meant she hadn’t been able to work up until 20 hours anyway – 16 hours was more practical. She thought the uncapping would be useful to work an extra shift per week.
As reports circulate of students arriving in the country and needing to find a job immediately, Tachdjian was asked whether Canada’s Guaranteed Investment Certificate – proof of CAN$10,000 required as part of the fast-track Student Direct Stream visa category – was working well and he acknowledged uncertainty.
“Obviously, we understand that there’s certain students who come here with an expectation to work because they need to use this way to fund their studies. We get that. That said, the main purpose of a study permit is to study,” Tachdjian said.
Davidson also noted that higher education leaders had a responsibility to work with commercial leaders to ensure good outcomes in terms of employability and sourcing meaningful work.
“I’m delighted that the Canadian Chamber of Commerce [this weekend] at its national meeting is talking about the value of international students and the role that Chambers of Commerce can play in welcoming [them],” he said.
Reflecting on the past few years, panellists agreed that Canada had fared well during the pandemic when it came to international student recruitment and support.
“Canada did an exceptional job of caring for international students and that contributes directly to building our brand”
“Canada did an exceptional job of caring for international students and that contributes directly to building our brand,” Davidson said. “It was very unusual in the first part of the pandemic in enabling online registration [and] enabling eligibility for postgraduate work permits through online curriculum.”
But the stakeholders warned that ongoing visa delays are hampering the sector’s growth – earlier this year, some students were left waiting for over four months for their applications to be processed.
“Our number one challenges are long processing times and a fairly opaque system,” said Alain Roy, vice president of international partnerships at Colleges and Institutes Canada. “Institutions… are under a lot of stress in terms of planning and not knowing who’s coming in the door.”
Panellists also observed that Canada is too reliant on one or two student source countries and that institutions need further government support to diversify, particularly when it comes to promoting the country’s international brand.
“The UK spends more in Dehli than Canada spends around the world. We are in a global competition for talent,” said Davidson, who noted that Universities Canada was focusing on certain markets identified in the international education strategy including Colombia, Morocco and Senegal, but that this work had been impacted by visa processing capacities.
Tachdjian acknowledged the need to do more to boost Canada globally, including investing more in paid advertising (as per the strategy), but pointed out that embassies and consulates around the world already promote the country on less formal channels, such as via social media.
He told the audience that one of his key priorities, four weeks into his new role, was to “catch up” on the International Education Strategy, as progress has been delayed by the pandemic.
GAC plans to relaunch the National Education Marketing roundtable, which previously brought together stakeholders from the sector, and launch consultations in 2023 for the next iteration of Canada’s International Education Strategy, given that the existing policy document was for 2019-2024.