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Building on Success: Canada and International Education

As Brexit negotiations and impeachment trials create uncertainty for international students and applicants, Canada's political stability and diverse communities make it an emerging leader in international education. Canada’s International Education Strategy 2019-2024 outline’s the country’s plan to attract international students by investing CDN$148 million over five years to international education initiatives, alongside a CDN$8 million of annual funding.

Key Strategic Priorities:

1. A new emphasis on Canadian outbound mobility through encouraging Canadian students to gain new skills by studying/working abroad in key global markets, particularly Asia.

2. Diversifying source countries that international students come to Canada from, as well as their programs, levels, and location of study in Canada.

Yearly percentage increase in growth for leading global study destinations, based on the most recent two reporting years available. (Source: ICEF Monitor)


  • The Student Direct Stream program that allows for faster processing of study permit applications to incoming students from certain countries. This existing program will be expanded to more countries to ensure efficient immigration services and management of increased demand for study visas.

  • A targeted digital marketing strategy will attract students from more source countries to a larger range of programs and cities in Canada.

  • Additional scholarships of CDN $5 million over 5 years awarded to international students to diversify source countries.

  • The outbound student mobility pilot to encourage Canadian students to go abroad by providing financing opportunities, particularly to students who are looking to study in Latin America and Asia.

Diversifying Source Countries:

The bulk of Canada’s current international student population comes from India and China. Recruitment in these countries will be diversified regionally, as well as by program, level and, city of study.

Outside of China and India, CDN$24.1 million will be spent over 5 years on a new digital marketing initiative that will target prospective students from Ukraine, Turkey, France Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines, Morocco, Colombia, Brazil and, Mexico. Canadian students go abroad less than their counterparts of other similarly wealthy countries, with only 11% of Canadian students currently study abroad, according to Universities Canada. A financing program offering between CDN$5,000 and CDN$10,000 scholarships to 11,000 Canadian undergraduates will allow more students to study abroad.

The strategy makes it apparent that it is looking to replicate in Canadians the highly sought-after soft skills that international students have. Patricia A. Hajdu, Canada’s Minister of Employment, Workforce Development, and Labour remarked, “When Canadians have the opportunity to study and work abroad, they develop portable, transferable skills like adaptability, problem-solving, resilience and intercultural competencies.

Implications of the Strategy:

Canada enjoys a reputation of academic excellence and safety, two factors that are especially appealing to parents of international students. In the face of Brexit and a global trend of increasing visa restrictions on international study, Canada is an appealing choice for students looking for a politically stable and welcoming country.

Interestingly, the strategy does not include a new target for increased numbers of international students. This is different from the 2014 strategy that included a 450,000-student recruitment goal that Canada met and exceeded. The current strategy is more focused on diversifying recruitment, perhaps to avoid an over-dependence of the sector on students from a single source country. The new strategy is similar to Australia’s, a destination country coveted for similar reasons to Canada with the added advantage of being closer to Asian markets. However, Australia has faced concern over a potential over-reliance on international students and Canada’s new efforts at internationalization may be learning from this example.

Overall, Canada’s universities are welcoming of the strategy and its clear acknowledgement that international education directly affects Canadian prosperity. International education opportunities leading to inter-cultural competencies are sure to create new opportunities for Canadian and international students to succeed both at home and abroad.

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