Canada must aim to be the education destination of choice for top Asian students, report says

The federal and provincial governments, businesses and the education sector must work together to position Canada as the destination of choice for top Asian students, says the head of one of Canada’s leading universities.

“Unprecedented demand for higher education in Asia today offers a multitude of opportunities for Canada,” Stephen J. Toope, President and Vice-Chancellor of The University of British Columbia, writes in a paper published today.  The opportunities, he says, range from “institutional partnerships to facilitate research, to the recruitment of talented international students and researchers, to new markets for Canadian knowledge exports.”

Asia is already the world’s largest source of international students, and the number of Asians looking to study abroad is expected to increase significantly in coming years.

Canada’s universities have been increasingly successful in recruiting international students, whose numbers have more than doubled in the past decade to about 100,000. China is Canada’s top source country for international students, accounting for 19,100 full-time and 4,300 part-time students as of 2009. Other key Asian markets include India, South Korea and Japan. All told, international students contribute well over $6.5 billion annually to the Canadian economy through spending on tuition, accommodation and other expenses.

Nevertheless, competition for global talent is intensifying and Asian students, especially at the graduate level, are becoming more mobile. As a result, “targeted and sustained investments” are required “to put Canadian higher education on the map and attract top-notch international talent,” Prof. Toope says. He recommends the creation of a “high-profile, Canada-branded scholarship program” for undergraduate international students, as well as a significant expansion of the existing Vanier Canada scholarship program for graduate students.

As well, Canadian students should be encouraged to study, conduct research and gain work experience in Asia. Two-way international mobility is essential to prepare Canadians for the global workforce and to position Canada as a partner in international education.

In addition to his responsibilities at UBC, Prof. Toope is Chair of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC), a member of the Research Council of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) and a Director of the Public Policy Forum.

Prof. Toope’s paper, “Strengthening education and research connectivity between Canada and Asia: Innovative models for engagement,” is the seventh in a series of reports commissioned by the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE) to explore the impact on Canada of Asia’s rise. The views expressed in the paper are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the CCCE or its members.

The CCCE is the senior voice of Canada’s business community, representing 150 chief executives and leading entrepreneurs in all sectors and regions of the country. Its members lead companies that collectively administer $4.5 trillion in assets, employ more than 1.4 million men and women and are responsible for most of Canada’s private-sector exports, investment and training.

Later this year, the CCCE will host “Canada in the Pacific Century,” a conference bringing together more than 200 top CEOs, senior government officials, educators and other leaders from across Canadian society. The goal of the conference is to consider strategies that will ensure Canada’s success in a world in which economic power is shifting to Asia.

For more information about the conference and the publication series, visit