Even in British Columbia, which is “the most articulated [province] in the country”, said Ian Humphreys, provost and vice-president academic and students at Langara College in Vancouver, “what we find is mobility is not as great as we would like it to be.”
Tina Bax, founder and president of ELT and pathway provider CultureWorks, emphasised that international students are looking for “more mobility and more modularity” from their Canadian education experience.
“We feel it’s absolutely mission critical to create those pathways”
And helping students gain access to work experience, and improving admissions processing times, can all help to make Canadian institutions – and Canada itself as a study destination – more competitive, urged other panellists.
“We need to have better relationships with one another,” said Bax, in order to create clear pathways from English language training to postsecondary study and across other sectors.
Students want to have greater freedom in designing their own curricula, she added, advocating for institutions to offer more online and blended courses, as well as more for-credit courses that can be taken separately and count towards a later qualification.
“[International students] want a very bespoke approach to programme design that we don’t typically offer,” she explained.
Humphreys agreed that it is “absolutely mission critical” to build these pipelines and improve the infrastructure surrounding them. At Langara College, the majority of international students enrol for two years before transferring to a research-intensive institution.
Students are often confused by the logistics of moving between institutions, he explained, while sometimes they are unable to enrol in their preferred programme once they do transfer.
Once students have graduated, it’s also crucial to help students build a path to employment, added Randall Martin, executive director of BCCIE.
“How many international students are flipping burgers as their post-graduation work? How are we helping them, how are we building a pipeline?” he challenged.
A government report uncovered earlier this year by the Globe and Mail found the majority of international graduates on Canada’s Post-Graduation Work Permit Program between 2008 and 2014 were in low-skilled work.
“We are raising a generation that thinks how good a website is is a good indicator of how good a university is”
One way to help international students gain the experience they need to get a foot in the door is through the co-op model, said Gary Slater, associate vice-president, student and international affairs at the University of Ottawa, who noted the university sees huge demand for the internship programmes it offers.
Although all of these points are important to implement, Canadian institutions must first prioritise improving their application and admissions processes or risk losing out to competitor destinations, argued Daniel Guhr, managing director of Illuminate Consulting Group.
“We are raising a generation that thinks how good a website is is a good indicator of how good a university is,” he warned, saying that students may be put off by a website that’s difficult to navigate.
And taking too long to process applications also risks deterring international students, he added.
Canadian universities’ average processing time is far longer than in some competitor countries (such as Australia, where it stands at two weeks) and makes admissions the “black hole in Canadian international education”, he said.