Inviting the world: Western president leads Canada’s global push

Canada’s first-class education system can no longer be a well-kept secret – it needs to be the focus of the nation’s brand in attracting top international students who will fuel innovation and bolster the economy, according to a new report commissioned by the federal government.

Supporting the government’s Global Commerce Strategy and tasked with developing a tactic to attract top international talent, the Advisory Panel on Canada’s International Education Strategy, led by Western President Amit Chakma, delivered the report last month to Ed Fast, Minister of International Trade and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway.

“Because of our economic strength – relatively speaking – because of a stable government at the federal level, and because of proactive initiatives taken by some of our provinces, notably British Columbia, we have the elements of what it takes to be successful,” Chakma said following the announcement.

“What is missing, what we need to do, is to coordinate many of these activities in a seamless fashion.”

Fourteen recommendations are outlined in the 122-page report, titled International Education, a Key Driver of Canada’s Future Prosperity, among them a call to double the number of international students (without displacing domestic students) in Canada by 2022, a jump from nearly 239,000 to 450,000 in 10 years.

The panel likewise recommended the creation of 50,000 opportunities a year for Canadian students to study abroad and partake in cultural exchanges and the establishment of 8,000 new scholarships, co-funded by the federal government, to support international students.

Sending domestic students to study abroad will benefit Canada, as they become ambassadors for our country and our academic institutions, establishing ties abroad that will nurture the economy, Chakma noted.

“In a world where talent is mobile, you cannot create barriers. If you do, you will fail,” he said.

Meanwhile, according to the report, international students spent more than $7.7 billion in Canada in 2010, up from $6.5 billion in 2008. The expenditure resulting from international students in 2010 was $8 billion, translating to more than 86,000 jobs and $455 million in government tax revenue.

Improving and accelerating education visa processing and targeting promotional efforts toward priority markets, mainly China, India, Brazil, the Middle East and North Africa, were also among the recommendations that could help Canada successfully attract top talent from around the world to study, conduct research and increase collaboration between domestic and international academic institutions.

To heed the recommendations outlined by the advisory panel, Canada will need to invest – and it already has, setting aside $10-million in the 2011 budget for the panel alone.

“I’m hoping this report will generate significant discussion and debate and part of that outcome, hopefully, will be to energize the academic community – broadly speaking – and encourage us to do more, knowing that the government is interested in supporting some of these initiatives,” Chakma said, explaining the government’s commission of the panel alone signifies interest and potential for future support.

The fate of the report is now in the hands of the government to decide on the next steps and which recommendations to follow.

“The government will consider our recommendations and will decide which of our recommendations they are able to implement. They’ll have to fit the broader strategies. Once the government provides a reaction to our report, other pieces will fall into place,” Chakma said.

On the home front, Western is well positioned to align itself with the priorities outlined in the report, Chakma added.

“(There’s) robust Western International activity, but that’s just the beginning. Our early successes are very encouraging. We have increased our (international) undergraduate enrollment significantly. But still, a lot more needs to be done,” he said.

“At Western, the most significant thing we need to do is to raise awareness among faculty and others so that we embrace internationalization in the whole sense, not just brining in more students, sending out more students – those kinds of measurable things. It’s embracing internationalization in our curriculum. We are doing it in many areas; we just need to do more of what we are doing.

“Western is in a good position to capitalize on this because of our current campaign and its focus on internationalization, student scholarships and these sorts of things.”