China: Canada’s Strategic Educational Partner

(Re-posted from Parallel 49 Education)

  • China is by far the leading country of origin for international students in Canada. It has kept this position for over a decade – and the gap between China and the countries on the 2nd and 3rd place (South Korea and the United States, respectively) keeps growing.
  • In 2004, Chinese students represented close to a quarter (23%) of the total number of post-secondary (university) international students in Canada [Source: Statistics Canada]. In 2008, Chinese students accounted for 24% of foreign students in Canada, at all levels: secondary, post-secondary, and trades [Source: Citizenship and Immigration Canada].
  • International students generated more that CDN$5.5 Billion to the Canadian economy in 2008. “Nearly 40 percent of that revenue came from two countries – China [CDN$1.3 Billion] and South Korea [CDN$846 Million]. As of December 2008 there were 42,154 Chinese and $27,440 South Korean citizens in Canada undertaking a formal education” at all levels [Source: Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, and RKA Inc.].
  • While the proportion of Chinese students (at all levels) remained stable between 2004 and 2008, at about 24% of Canada’s entire international student population, the proportion of students from other Asian countries (e.g., South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Hong Kong) decreased. The only exception is India, a country that only accounts however for about 4% of international students in Canada – significantly below its demographic potential [Source: Citizenship and Immigration Canada].
  • A comparison of international education services with other top exports from Canada reveals that, as of 2008, education services ranked no. 1 in Canada’s exports to China, at CDN$1.3 Billion. It is followed by exports in goods such as acrylic alcohols ($869M), chemical wood pulp ($858M), rape/colza seeds ($782M), unwrought nickel ($704M), etc. Educational services “contribute substantially to Canada’s total export to countries such as the People’s Republic of China, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia” [Source: Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, and RKA Inc.].
  • The share of Asian students in Canada reached 53% of international students in 2008. Students from Europe accounted for 18% (downward trend from the late 1990s), while students from Africa accounted for 12% (downward trend as well). Most international students study in three Canadian provinces: Ontario (34%), Quebec (26%), and British Columbia (19%) [Source: Statistics Canada].
  • An analysis by China Daily indicates that, given the global economic and financial crisis, “more Chinese students are expected to head overseas because of the pressure to find work and the appreciation of the Chinese currency” [Source: Tan Yingzi, China Daily]. An assessment by University Affairs points out that “leading Canadian universities are now well-placed to fill gaps in the international market caused by the international fiscal crisis” [Source: Leon Trakman, University Affairs].
  • From K-12 to the post-graduate level, online and in a typical class-teacher setting, from the Pacific to the Atlantic coast, Canada presents a tremendous potential to attract thousands of students from all corners of the world. China is and will continue to be, for the foreseeable future, a strategic partner in the educational field. Canada needs to invest energy and resources in attracting similarly large numbers of international students from other Asian nations, and from around the globe.

Higher Education in North America: In the Regional Village, All Education is Local

(Re-posted from Parallel 49 Education)

I recently reviewed three books on North American affairs, two on Canada-US, the other one on Canada-Mexico relations:

  • “Doing the Continental: A New North American Relationship” (Toronto, ON: Dundurn Press, 2010) was written by David Dyment, an Ottawa-based academic, with a foreword by Bob Rae, currently interim leader of the Liberal Party of Canada.
  • “Big Picture Realities: Canada and Mexico at the Crossroads” (Waterloo, ON: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2008) is edited by Daniel Drache, a specialist in global trade governance and North American integration, who brought together for this book a set of leading experts on Canada and Mexico.
  • “Uncle Sam and Us: Globalization, Neoconservatism, and the Canadian State” (Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press, 2002) was written by Stephen Clarkson, one of Canada’s pre-eminent political scientists.

Part of this review was to assess these authors’ views on the concept of “North American education.” Perhaps not surprisingly – while there are many calls for an integrated approach to education amongst Canadian provinces and Mexican and US states – the reality is that such a system does not exist. Each sub-federal jurisdiction creates its own rules and regulations related to formal education, which are not always aligned with those in other provinces and states, even as part of the same country.

In the Introduction to “Big Picture Realities,” Daniel Drache argues that “leading, pace-setting institutions such as the labour market, education, and health systems are being required to change and adapt to the new power dynamics” in North America. He also makes a case that “these forceful expressions of national interest and domestic priorities have reappeared as the new authoritative agenda-setting priorities for all three signatories” of NAFTA (Canada, the United States, and Mexico). The articles in Drache’s book do not substantiate however the assertion that education is one of those leading, agenda-setting sectors for the North American nations, contributing to closer alignment of continental processes.

A 2007 Strategic Council poll indicates that education is not one of the most important concerns for Canadians (health care and the environment are) and provides further evidence that it is not a key area of international collaboration either. Similarly, education (post-secondary, at least) doesn’t seem to be high on the list of national priorities of the peoples of Mexico and the United States. Tri-lateral discussions, such as those at the North American leaders’ Cancun summit in 2006, referred to education in passing, touching on joint research and specific teaching initiatives, at a high level. Duncan Wood (“Big Picture Realities”) points out that education is one of those sectors that “would benefit from a less macro, and more area-specific, approach.” While acknowledging that harmonization of educational systems is an unrealistic proposition in the foreseeable future, he recommends concrete collaboration initiatives between Canadian provinces and US and Mexican states, universities and colleges, and professional organizations in this area.

Stephen Clarkson highlights the distinction, in the Canadian system, between education and research. While the former falls entirely within the provinces’ authority, responsibility for research is shared between the provinces and the federal government. Authorities at the federal level have “paid attention to promoting science and technology since the Dominion’s early days” but “[have] long had an ambivalent attitude to [the promotion of education].” Unlike the United States (with its US Department of Education) or Mexico (with its Secretariat of Public Education), Canada doesn’t have a federal department regulating educational policies and programs. This contributes to a situation in which establishing and consolidating education-related initiatives in North America is a very challenging endeavour.

In any case, David Dyment makes a strong and compelling case that “continentalism is a force of nature that we have to be wary of and tame for our national [Canadian] interests.” In other words, while many sectors (including education) may present the potential for closer collaboration and deeper integration between Canada and its North American neighbours, Canada should only pursue such as line of action when it serves its strategic objectives, not for integration’s sake. The author also points out that “by placing Mexico centrally in our relations with the US, we are not achieving the benefits of multilateralism.”

These positions are consistent with the evolutions of Canada-US and Canada-Mexico relations in recent decades, including interactions and initiatives in the area of education. While still distinct from their US counterparts, Canadian higher education structures, processes, and standards are similar with those south of the border. At the same time, differences are significant between Canada/US and post-secondary realities in Mexico. Overall, just like politics, all education is “local” in North America – understanding realities in this area means understanding national, regional, and community-level contexts.

Students and parents in search of a university for undergraduate or graduate studies should study carefully all the factors involved in a decision, as contexts vary widely from country to country and from city to city. They can also consider working with experienced educational consultants, who can guide them through the maze of considerations and decisions, particularly when they explore different options in different parts of the continent.