Education-driven international migration is an increasingly notable phenomenon worldwide. As populous emerging economic powers--notably China and India but also new entrants like Brazil--develop economically, newly wealthy middle and upper classes have the income and the desire necessary to take advantage of programs of higher education. In many cases, domestic educational institutions are lacking, whether in capacity or in prestige, leaving many aspirant students to look for education abroad. Receiving countries like Canada, meanwhile, eagerly take advantage of international students as sources of additional income in this era of funding cutbacks, charging fees that are many times higher than those charged to Canadian citizens as described by Canadian magazine MacLean's back in 2010.
Lise de Montbrun was a teenager in Trinidad when Canadian university recruiters descended on her high school. Armed with pamphlets and descriptions of Canadian campus life, they wooed de Montbrun and others to come study up north. “I didn’t need much convincing,” said de Montbrun, now a 22-year-old architecture student at Toronto’s Ryerson University. It seems more young people around the world are thinking the same way.
Lucrative international students are flocking to Canada in record numbers–almost doubling in the last decade–as universities woo them to bolster their shrinking budgets. The number of international students in Canada has ballooned from 97,300 in 1999 to just over 178,000 in 2008. One-quarter of those students are in Ontario while the majority settle in large cities like Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.
Canada drew de Montbrun from the very beginning. Since Trinidad didn’t offer architecture programs, de Montbrun knew she would have to study abroad. Now, she said she’s earning a degree which is internationally valued, all the while being exposed to a different country and culture. But, she’s paying for it. Since most provinces deregulated tuition fees, post-secondary institutions can charge international students more than three times the fees Canadian students pay. In de Montbrun’s first year, she was paying $14,000 in tuition. Now, her annual bill is closer to $17,000.
“Every year, it increases,” she said. “The university can increase it at any rate they want.”
My alma mater, the University of Prince Edward Island, is generally more moderate; international students in the undergraduate programs merely pay twice what Canadian students pay, while students at the Atlantic Veterinary College pay more than four times what Canadian students pay (just over twelve thousand Canadian dollars for a Canadian student, just under fifty-five thousand Canadian dollars for an international student).
Kathryn McMullen and Angelo Elias' February 2011 report for Statistics Canada, "A Changing Portrait of International Students in Canadian Universities", describes international student migration in the Canadian context. The past decade has seen rapid growth in absolute numbers across Canada, with the early predominance of Ontario and Québec as destinations for international students fading as traditionally more peripheral provinces increase their shares, too, while the proportion of students entering higher graduate programs has fallen and science and business programs continue to attract the bulk of student attention.
In 1992, international students accounted for about 4% of all students enrolled in Canadian universities. That share fell very slightly in the mid-1990s before showing steady growth through to the mid-2000s. By 2008, the share of international students had doubled compared to 1992, reaching 8% of all university students in Canada. These changes are the result of an increase in the overall number of international students at Canadian universities from 36,822 in 1992 to 87,798 in 2008.
The gains in the shares of international students have not been even across provinces. Notably large increases are evident in New Brunswick, which saw the percentage of international students rise from among the lowest in 1992, at 3%, to one of the highest in 2008, at 11.4%. International students also accounted for a relatively large share of university students in 2008 in British Columbia, Nova Scotia and Manitoba, at 10.6% and 9.3% and 9.2%, respectively. Strong gains in the shares of percentages of international students are also evident over this period in Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia.
It should be noted that, in some provinces, even though the share of international students showed relatively large increases, their overall numbers remained comparatively small. For example, in New Brunswick, the number of international students rose from 747 in 1992 to 2,616 in 2008. Also, large increases in the number of international students can be masked by large increases in the total number of students. In British Columbia, for instance, the number of international students rose from 3,858 in 1992 to 16,662 in 2008, while over the same period, the total number of students rose from 66,171 to 156,741.
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This shift toward a greater proportion of international students enrolling in a first degree program is masked by the overall numbers of students at the undergraduate level. For example, in 1992, international students accounted for 3.1% of students enrolled at the bachelor's level, Canada-wide; by 2008, this percentage had risen to 6.6%. International students continue to account for a much larger – though declining – share of students at the doctorate level, at 24.9% of students in 1992 and 20.6% in 2008. Relatively little change is evident at the master's level, with the share of international students being 10.5% in 1992 and 12.8% in 2008.
International student populations are, for many institutions of higher education, not only sources of economic capital through their tuition rates but of cultural capital, too, as the selection of an institution by a sizable number of students from abroad can be prestigious. The United States has traditionally been the dominant destination for international student migrants, but post-September 11th visa restrictions and the impact of the post-2008 financial recession has led to a diversion of students, first to other English-speaking countries and then elsewhere. (Recent discussion in Ontario of scholarships directed towards international students reflected continuing controversy over the subject, while international student numbers in the United Kingdom are intimately connected to that country's immigration controversies.) Taiwan (vis-a-vis China, here), Australia (vis-a-vis India), Japan and Poland, and Germany have all expressed interest in acquiring international student populations. As the controversy in the United Kingdom indicates, international students are often welcome only as temporary migrants, foreign students seeking to extend their stay in their new countries of residence often being unwelcome. (There's some speculation that international students might provide the human capital necessary to encourage the elaboration of transnational economic ties, for instance between Brazil and Massachusetts in the wake of the new Brazilian international scholarship program.)
What of Canada and Chinese international students now? The murder of Lin Jin, coming a year after the murder of another Chinese student in Toronto a year ago, may have put many Chinese off Canada.
“I heard of the murder of friend’s relative in Canada before, now there is this other case ... can people go to this place?” wrote one Internet user from central Henan province, in reply to the Canadian Embassy statement. The author was one of many who raised questions over how safe Canada really is, a worry that could pose a particular threat to Canadian universities, which were already in damage-control mode in China in the wake of Ms. Liu’s murder.
“The impact of the case will be very bad on Canada,” Meng Xiaochao, the boyfriend who witnessed the attack on Ms. Liu, said in an interview. “Last year when Liu Qian’s case happened, many parents said they were no longer willing to send their children to Canada. Now here comes this other case.”
More than 50,000 Chinese students currently live and study in Canada. Like all foreign students, they pay higher tuition than their Canadian-born classmates, making them highly sought-after by cash-strapped universities. Another 242,000 Chinese came to Canada as tourists last year, a number the travel industry had been hoping would increase by as much as one-fifth this year.
Hamilton’s Mohawk College was concerned enough about the impact the case could have on its bottom line that it intervened in the debate on the Canadian Embassy page with a Chinese-language posting that pleaded “please believe [us], Canada is a country with good public security protection. Canadians are very friendly. This individual case is not big enough to influence the trust between people of China and Canada… [it’s a] country worth of the trust of foreign students and parents.”
For the sake of Canadian institutions of higher education, if nothing else, here's hoping that this is a just a brief phase.