Profiling International Students in Canada within the Global Context

By Sue Le-Ba, Research and Policy Analyst, WES Canada [1]


According to the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), there were 2.7 million international students worldwide in 2004 compared to 1.75 million just five years earlier – a 41% increase since 1999 (OECD, Education at a Glance, 2006). The international student market is a strong industry with an estimated value of US $300 billion a year (World Bank Estimate, 2004, as cited in The Economist, “The Brains Business,” 2005). A handful of countries enroll a majority of those students. The United States receives the lion’s share (in absolute terms) with 22% of the total of all foreign students, followed by the United Kingdom (12%), Germany (10%), France (9%) and Australia (6%) (Education at a Glance, OECD Indicator C3, 2007: p. 304). Canada ranks eighth as a study destination, taking in about 3% of the world’s foreign students. While Canada’s overall international enrollment numbers have been steadily increasing for the past twenty years, its share of the global student market is small when compared to English-language competitors such as the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia. In order for Canada to remain an attractive destination for the world’s mobile student population, it must step up its recruiting and retention efforts.


International students are a substantial source of revenue for the Canadian economy in general and universities in particular. It is estimated that international students contribute over C$4 billion (US$4.2 billion) annually to the Canadian economy, in addition to tuition fees (Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, 2004, as cited in Industry Canada, March 2005). In 2006, there were a total of 156,955 international students enrolled at all levels, of which more than 83,000 were enrolled in higher education (CIC, Facts & Figures for 2006; AUCC, Trends in Higher Education-Vol.1: Enrollment, 2007). According to the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC), t here were 70,000 full-time foreign tertiary-level students of which 48,000 were at the undergraduate level and 22,000 at the graduate level (one-third in doctoral programs). In addition, there were 13,000 part-time visa students (AUCC, Trends in Higher Education-Vol.1: Enrollment, 2007). Foreign students represent about 7% of full-time undergraduate students and about 20% of full-time students at the graduate level in Canada. In the United States, by contrast, international students represent just 2% of overall full-time undergraduate enrollments, despite the large absolute number of foreign students – testimony to the high percentage of college-age students enrolled in further studies in the United States.

Table 1. 2006 Profile of all International Students in Canada

Level of Education Province of Study (top 5) Gender
Secondary or less: 31,825 (20.3%) 1. Ontario: 58,308 (37.2%) Males:
85,745 (54.6%)
Trade: 18,239 (11.6%) 2. British Columbia: 44,799 (28.5%)
University: 83,760 (53.4%) 3. Quebec: 24,582 (15.7%) Females:
71,203 (45.4%)
Other postsecondary: 17,121 (10.9%) 4. Alberta: 11,748 (7.5%)
Other: 6,003 (3.8%) 5. Nova Scotia: 4,967 (3.2%)

Source: Citizenship and Immigration Canada, 2006

The bulk of international students in Canada come for a university education (53.4%), followed by high school or less (20.3%) and trade (11.6%) (See Table 1). From 2003 to 2005, Canada saw a slight drop in the number of students from South Korea and China, a trend that has reversed in 2006-07 according to preliminary data from Citizenship and Immigration Canada. The number of students from Japan, on the other hand, has been slowly shrinking for the past five years both in flow of new students and total stock (See Tables 1 & 2). Mirroring general immigration settlement patterns in Canada, international students tend to study in large cosmopolitan areas in Ontario (37.2%), British Columbia (28.5%), and Quebec (15.7%).

Table 2. Flow of International Students to Canada by Top 5 Source Countries

2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006
S. Korea 13,194 13,597 12,799 12,231 12,509 17,304
China 8,895 9,594 8,663 6,495 6,789 8,525
France 4,025 3,337 3,270 3,434 3,557 4,242
Japan 6,425 5,830 5,255 5,038 4,799 4,051
U.S. 4,688 3,993 3,759 3,858 3,800 3,382
Total 68,394 63,808 57,583 54,654 56,674 61,703

Source: Citizenship and Immigration Canada, 2006
Note: Flow refers to the number of new international students coming to Canada in a given year.

Canada’s share of the global student market has been steadily increasing over the past twenty years despite recent dips in foreign student enrollment from 2002-2004. This drop in enrollment has been attributed in part to the introduction of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) in 2002, which removed the study permit requirement for students studying in Canada for six months or less – thus reducing the number of foreign students recorded who would have previously needed a study permit to enter Canada (the Observatory on Borderless Higher Education, 2007, p.15). Since 2001, Asian students, particularly those from China and South Korea, have been the driving force behind international enrollment increases at Canadian universities and schools. The top five source countries are China, South Korea, the United States, Japan and France (See Table 3). The number of new international students coming to Canada for this period seems to have peaked in 2001 at 68,394 and has slowly started to turn around again starting in 2005 after a couple of years of steady decline (See Table 2); while the total number of international students (stock) studying in Canada has continued to increase (See Table 3). Despite this growth, Canada’s share of the global student market remains small. Because education policy is a matter of provincial, rather than federal, jurisdiction, the lack of a national marketing strategy makes it more challenging to promote Canadian education overseas and recruit more international students. National marketing strategies for competitors such as Australia and the United Kingdom have proven highly successful in recent years.

Table 3. Stock of International Students in Canada by Top 5 Source Countries

2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006
China 16,194 23,829 29,804 32,487 33,508 36,041
S.Korea 18,853 21,850 23,259 24,325 24,968 27,411
U.S. 11,632 11,363 11,024 11,232 11,500 11,455
Japan 10,084 9,246 8,589 8,397 8,441 7,944
France 6,015 5,507 5,660 5,762 6,010 7,242
Total 119,206 128,296 135,580 141,598 146,571 156,955

Source: Citizenship and Immigration Canada, 2006
Note: Stock refers to the total number of international students in Canada in a given year.

Looking at the flow or total number of new international students coming to Canada for this period, students from South Korea continue to lead the pack, followed by China, France, Japan and the United States (See Table 2). When looking at the stock or total number of international students in Canada for the same period, students from China rather than South Korea dominate the list. This can largely be attributed to the fact that students from China stay for longer periods than those from South Korea (many Korean students come to Canada to study English as a second language – programs that tend to be shorter in length). As for the consistent showing of students from France enrolled in Canadian institutions, the French language and low domestic tuition fees that these students pay in Quebec, where the majority study, are a big draw; while the relatively strong presence of American students is indicative of the geographic, linguistic and cultural proximity.

Economic Benefits

The World Bank calculates global spending on international higher education at US$300 billion a year, about 1% of global economic output (The Economist, “The Brains Business,” 2005). The net contribution of foreign students to national economies is US$13.3 billion (C$17.3 billion) in the United States (IIE, “Open Doors, 2004-2005”), A$7.5 billion (US$6.9 billion/C$7.2 billion) in Australia (Australia Government, Department of Education, Science and Research, 2005), £8.5 billion (US$17.5 billion/C$20.3 billion) in the United Kingdom (Lenton, “Global Value,” British Council, 2007) and NZ$2.2 billion (US$1.7 billion/C$1.9 billion) in New Zealand (Ministry of Education, MOE, “International Enrolments in New Zealand 2000-2006,” 2007). In Canada, t he Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade estimates that international students contribute over C$4 billion (US$4.2 billion) annually to the national economy, in addition to revenue received for international student tuition fees (Industry Canada, 2005). The average full-time international student in Canada spends at least C$25,000 a year on top of tuition fees. For international high school and university students, the tuition range is C$10,000 to C$15,000 a year (Holroyd, 2006).

Table 4. 2006 Total Enrollments & Economic Benefits of Foreign Students in Anglophone Destinations

Canada United States United Kingdom Australia New Zealand
Total Higher Education Enrollment 83,760 564,766 330,080 164,237 42,652
Revenue (2004)* C$4 billion US $13.3 billion (C$17.3 billion) £8.5 billion (C$20.3 billion) A$7.5 billion (C$7.2 billion) NZ$2.2 billion (C$1.9 billion)

Source: CIC Facts & Figures, 2006 (Canada) and Industry Canada, 2005; Open Doors 2006 (U.S.); UK Council for International Student Affairs, High Education Statistics for 2005/2006 and Lenton, “Global Value,” British Council, 2007; AEI Research Snapshot No. 23, & No. 25, April & July 2007 (Australia), Australia Government, Department of Education, Science & Training, 2005 and Australia Trade Commission, “Education & Training Capability Overview”, 2007; Ministry of Education, International Division (2007). “International Enrolments in New Zealand 2000-2006

* = 2004 exchange rates: 1.3019 (US$./C$); 2.3845 (UK£/C$); (0.9582 (A$/C$); 0.8636 (NZ$/C$) [Bank of Canada, Exchange Rates]

In the 2005/2006 academic year, international students paid an average of C$12,587 in tuition, close to three times more than domestic students in Canada who paid an average of C$4,172 (Canadian Federation of Students, “Tuition Fees for International Students, 2006; U.S. Commercial Service, Canadian Education Industry, 2007). Nonetheless, Canada remains a very affordable destination for tertiary-level international students. In 2005, the Education Policy Institute ranked Canadian colleges as the 11 th most affordable in the world behind the Nordic countries, but ahead of Australia (12th), the United States (13th), Britain (14th) and New Zealand (15th) (Data compiled by the Education Policy Institute, 2005, as cited in Dennis, 2007). The Nordic countries and other European nations such as the Netherlands, with a history of intensive government subsidies were the most affordable study destinations. Given the substantial revenue generated by international students to the Canadian economy, it makes sense for Canada to step up its efforts to compete for and retain international students.

Need for Economic Incentives

The high cost of studying in Canada, however, may very well be driving away foreign students interested in pursuing graduate studies. According to many Canadian universities, one of the biggest challenges in attracting more international students to their graduate programs is the cost. While it varies across the country, in most provinces the government does not provide funding for international students, while they do for their domestic peers. For example, in Ontario, each domestic master’s student generates about C$12,700 a year in government funding, in addition to top-up fees of approximately C$5,000 (for a total of C$17,700. Universities charge international students a higher fee (approximately C$13,000), but it does not make up the difference.

At the doctoral level, the difference in income generated by government funding widens, as domestic students generate funding of about C$27,000 while international students receive little or no funding support. Sometimes, the schools can get part of the money back if the student becomes a landed immigrant before they graduate. Some universities charge international students as much as C$35,000 per year for graduate programs, while others – desperate to attract international students and researchers – have either introduced tuition freezes or reduced tuition fees for graduate programs (Canadian Federation of Students, 2006). The government of Canada has recently introduced Graduate Students’ Exchange Program (GSEP) and the Post-Doctoral Fellowship to International Scholars for Research in Canada to ease the high cost of graduate tuition fees for international students in Canada (DFAIT, Government of Canada International Scholarship Programs, 2007).

So, while the government is encouraging universities to increase international graduate enrollments, it does not provide the financial support, and many schools are reluctant to increase their tuition for international students. If the government is serious about encouraging international students to stay on as immigrants, and sees this as an immigration stream, they will have to look at new incentives for universities to attract foreign graduate students.

Canada’s Current Programs & Policies

Simplified Study Permits

Although Canada does not have a national marketing strategy to recruit students overseas, it does offer some innovative programs and policies designed to attract international students and workers. Under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA, 2002) it is stipulated that facilitating the entry of students to Canada is a key national objective, and some progress has been made in reducing red tape and enhancing work opportunities for international students. The 2002 Act allows two classes of students to study in Canada without having to acquire study permits: students registered on courses or programs of six months or less, and students under the age of 16 with a parent who is authorized to work or study. In 2005, Canadian Immigration and Citizenship (CIC) made adjustments that allow postsecondary international students to transfer between programs of study and institutions without applying for a change to the conditions of their study permit (The Monitor, “Foreign Student Overview 1996-2005,” Statistics Canada, 2006). In addition, secondary-level international students can now obtain longer high-school study permits.

Extended Work Permit

In 2005, CIC introduced an initiative to allow more international students to gain Canadian work experience. Under the Post-Graduation Work Program, students studying outside of Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver are eligible to work for an additional year (for a total of up to two years), after graduating from a participating Canadian institution, a bid to encourage more foreign students to work outside of the three greater metropolitan areas. Students in these three cities can still obtain a one-year work permit after graduation.

In 2006, CIC launched the Off-Campus Work Permit Program nationally to allow full-time foreign students to work part time (up to 20 hours a week) off-campus during their academic session and full time during their scheduled breaks, to offset tuition costs and gain experience in the Canadian labor market. All ten provinces and the Yukon Territory are signatories to participate in this program. CIC has also granted spouses and common-law partners of full-time foreign students permission to apply for a work permit (CIC, Press Release: “Off-Campus Work Permit Program Launched,” April 27, 2006). These extensions and enhancements of the international student work permit are a welcome change as they can facilitate the integration of these students should they consider immigrating to Canada permanently.

No Direct Path to Permanent Residency

An immigration system that draws skilled immigrants from existing international students in Canada is worth looking into (McHale, 2006). Foreign students offer a rich recruitment pool for skilled immigrants and a Canadian policy that offers student visas plus a clear path to permanent residency could help Canada secure a greater share of the world’s best academic talent. Currently, CIC gives credit to international students or partners/spouses of international students when applying for immigration status. Similar to the New Zealand model, applicants who have studied or who have a spouse who has studied for two years in Canada can obtain extra points (five) under the current immigration system.

However, unlike the Australian model, where eligible foreign graduates of its universities and colleges can apply directly for immigrant visas while they are still in the country, in Canada it is much more difficult for international students to change their status to landed immigrants (permanent residents) after they have arrived in the country (McHale, 2006; Hawthorne, 2005). International students can apply to become a landed immigrant in Canada through a) the regular Citizenship/Permanent stream at the closest Canadian Consulate only after living and studying in Canada for at least three years; b) the Highly Skilled Professional Entry stream after accumulating enough points for work, language and other relevant skills; or c) the Provincial/Territorial Nominee Program (PNP), which allows a limited number of international students to be nominated as skilled workers in priority job sectors/categories.

Under the current system of immigration, even graduates with doctorates from Canadian universities often do not qualify for permanent residency until they have acquired a number of years of work experience.

While the need for skilled immigrant labor is increasing in Canada due to worker shortages, many internationally educated individuals are not finding jobs that match their skills and qualifications. Foreign-educated immigrants earned C$2.4 billion less annually than native-born Canadians with comparable skills, because they work in occupations below their skill levels (Calculations based on Canada census labor force data by Reitz, 2005). They also experience higher jobless rates, regardless of the education level obtained outside of Canada (Zietsma, Statistics Canada, 2007). The poor economic performance of immigrants is further compounded by race and ethnicity in Canada. Teelucksingh and Galabuzi’s analysis (2005) of the Canadian census data found that visible minority immigrants were worst off in the labor market, with many overrepresented in low paying sectors of the economy.

According to the Conference Board of Canada, the underemployment of immigrants costs the Canadian economy between C$3.5 and C$5 billion a year (The Public Policy Forum, 2004: p.55). Reitz (2005) estimates that at least two-thirds of these unutilized foreign-acquired skills – worth C$1.6 billion – are transferable to the Canadian context. The most commonly cited problems are lack of Canadian work experience and recognition of foreign credentials. This is confirmed in Alboim et al’s 2005 study, “The Discounting of Immigrants’ Skills in Canada: Evidence and Policy Recommendations” (IRRP), which highlights how foreign credentials are devalued in the Canadian labor market, leaving many immigrants with considerably lower earnings and fewer job prospects. Given the current climate of poor economic integration for individuals with foreign credentials in Canada, it makes sense to look at recruiting foreign students in the Canadian higher education system as a potential pool of skilled immigrants.

Global Competition

A Word of Caution about Definitions:

The use of international student statistics for comparative analysis can be problematic since c ountries count and classify international students differently and as a result international comparisons are often inconsistent. Many of the E.U. countries, for example, include permanent residents or other long-time residents when reporting international students, whereas other countries such as Canada, the United Kingdom and the United states do not (AUCC, 2007: p. 17; ACE Issue Brief, 2006: p.3).

To address this issue, international bodies such as UNESCO and the OECD have defined international students in the following ways: “Internationally mobile students” leave their country or territory of origin and move to another country or territory with the objective of studying. They can be defined by their citizenship, permanent residence, and prior education (UNESCO –UIS, 2006: p.33; OECD, 2006: p.3).

National Definitions of International Students Canada: International students are neither Canadian citizens nor permanent residents of Canada.

United States: International students are neither U.S. citizens, immigrants, nor refugees, thus excluding permanent residents.

Australia: International students are defined on the basis of a combination of variables that can distinguish them from domestic students (residence permit, country of birth, permanent home residence, year of arrival in Australia). Foreign students enrolled in distance education and offshore programs are sometimes included.

United Kingdom: International students are defined by permanent address outside of the UK.

New Zealand: An “international student” is a student studying in New Zealand on a student permit or temporary resident visa from the New Zealand Immigration Service, and is not a New Zealand citizen .

Trends & Analysis

Bearing in mind the numerous caveats surrounding the comparison of statistics in international student flows, it is nonetheless important to get a sense of where Canada stands in the global student market. As stated in the introduction, Canada enrolls just 3% of the world’s mobile students, yet ranks strongly when tertiary enrollments are considered as a percentage of overall higher-education enrollments: fifth (9%) behind Australia (17%), United Kingdom (14%), Switzerland (13%) and Austria (11.0%) (Education at a Glance, table C3.1, OECD 2006). The United States ranked just 12 th at 3.4%.

Not surprisingly, China has the largest number of overseas students and scholars, 700,200, studying and teaching in 108 countries and regions across the globe (Ministry of Education the People’s Republic of China, 2006, as cited in Yang, 2007: p.2). Among all five selected English-speaking destination countries, China ranks as the first or second source country for foreign students (See Table 5). South Korea, India, and Japan are also very important markets, with just three of the top three source-country slots among the five Anglophone destinations not featuring one of the four Asian nations (Greece, France and Malaysia being the third largest markets for the UK, Canada and Australia respectively). With all five of Australia and New Zealand’s top source countries being Asian, it is clear that geographic proximity plays a factor in the choice of destination (across all sectors; the USA is New Zealand’s fourth largest higher education source country – see Table 5). This is further emphasized by data showing that American and Canadian students constitute the fifth largest markets for Canadian and American universities respectively.

Table 5. Comparison of Top 5 Higher Education Source Countries in Anglophone Destinations in 2006

Canada** United States United Kingdom Australia New Zealand*
1. China
2. S. Korea
3. United States
S. Korea
S. Korea
4. Japan
Hong Kong
United States
5. France
United States

Source: Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC), Facts and Figures, 2006; Institute of International Education (IIE), Atlas of Student Mobility, United States, 2006; UK Council for International Student Affairs, Statistics for Higher Education 2005-2006; Australian Government, Australian Education International (AEI),Total International Student Enrolments in Higher Education in 2006; Ministry of Education (MOE), International Division (2007). “International Enrolments in New Zealand 2000-2006

* Numbers include universities, other public tertiary institutions and private training establishments (SDR providers), but excludes English-language students.

** Includes all levels of education (numbers not available for higher education exclusively).

Note: The numbers in Tables 5 & 6 reflect total foreign higher education student enrollments (stock) in each country (with the exception of Canada, where these figures are not available). However, the numbers are not completely comparable since foreign student numbers are defined and collected differently in each country. For example, Australia includes foreign student enrollments from off-shore campuses, while New Zealand does not count students from Australia among its foreign students.

United States

The United States remains the biggest competitor in the global student market despite a recent slowdown in overseas enrollments. According to the OECD, approximately 22% of the more than 2.7 million foreign students who studied in OECD countries chose to do so in the U.S. (Education at a Glance 2007, OECD Indicator C3: p. 299, p.304). However, the attacks of September 11, 2001 have seemingly contributed to a significant drop in that percentage when one considers that in 1970 the US had a market share of 36.7% (Dennis, 2007). By 1995, the statistic was 30%, and in 2004 it was 25%. The drop in total foreign student enrollments in 2003/2004 was the first in 30 years, while the decline in foreign graduate enrollments in 2004/2005 was the first in 9 years (Batalova, 2006).

Stricter security measures imposed after the attacks of 9/11 and longer visa processing times are a couple of the oft-quoted contributing factors for the drop in enrollments. The U.S. Department of State issued 27% fewer F-1 visas in 2003 than it did before the terrorist attacks of 9/11 (Dennis, 2007; Bluementhal, 2004). The Institute of International Education (IIE) found in their Fall 2006 International Student Enrollment Survey that 20% (185) of the responding institutions experienced declines in international student enrollments, and cited visa application processes and concerns over delays/denials as the major reason for the decline.

Other factors have also been cited as contributing to the US’ declining share of international students. Unlike an increasing number of countries, the U.S. does not have a unified national overseas recruitment strategy. When international students and their spouses arrive in the U.S. they are not allowed to work off-campus; only students on F-1 visas may be permitted to work off-campus while they study, and only if they can prove financial hardship (Batalova, 2006). There are also annual caps placed on permanent and temporary employment-based visas. The Optional Practical Training program (OPT) is limited to 12 months regardless of the type or location of work or the level of the degree obtained.

There is no direct path to permanent residency for foreign students in the U.S.; however, there has been some positive changes including the Visa Reform Act, passed in 2004, which allows for an additional 20,000 H-1B visas each year for foreign students who complete graduate programs at U.S. universities (Batalova, 2006). The 2006 Securing Knowledge, Innovation, and Leadership (SKIL) Bill (S.2691), if passed, would extend the OPT period to two years along with other changes that would make it easier for international students to become permanent U.S. residents through employer sponsorships. While the United States remains the number one destination for international students, a continued drop in enrollment numbers may force U.S. policy-makers and academic institutions to play a more active role in both stemming the decline and attracting a larger share of the global student market.

United Kingdom

The British government spends a considerable amount of money promoting its institutions of education overseas and it seems to be paying off. There were over 330,000 international students enrolled at British institutions of higher education in 2006, most paying much higher tuition fees than home students – often three times the amount for the same program (up to £12,000 a year) – although figures vary between institutions (HESA, 2007; Christie, 2007). The 2006 figures, which marked a 3.7% increase in enrollments from the previous year, reflect the continued draw of Britain’s universities for international students (See Table 6). This is not surprising given the strong investment the British Government puts into recruiting international students abroad.

The British Council, which is the primary advocate for British education and culture abroad, has 250 offices in 110 countries, of which 30 have a primary focus on student recruitment. Part of the Council’s annual C$900 million budget (one-third of which is a direct grant from government) is for international education and an additional C$13 million over three years has been earmarked specifically for educational marketing, promotion and branding in Britain (Holroyd, 2006). A recent report by the British Council estimated the total value of international students to the UK economy between 2003 and 2004 to be approximately £8.5billion (C$20.3 billion) (Lenton, 2007).

Like Canada, the British government has in recent years made a number of changes to policies and programs regarding international students in a bid to make the country a more desirable destination for study and employment. The International Graduate Scheme (IGS), introduced this year (May 2007) allows international students to live and work in the UK for one year after completing their program without requiring a work permit. In Scotland, the Fresh Talent Initiative was introduced in 2005 to allow graduates of Scottish universities to work for up to two years after graduation (Christie, 2007). So far, more than 5,000 people have taken up the opportunity and it has been widely recognized as a success story for Scottish universities wishing to attract foreign students. The British Overseas Industrial Placement scheme (Bond), a British Council initiative that places overseas nationals in British companies to gain valuable work experiences, is another example. Despite the high costs of studying and living in the United Kingdom, strong marketing strategies and brand recognition, coupled with the extended work schemes and job placement opportunities, continue to make the UK an attractive destination for international students.

Table 6. Higher Education International Student Enrollments in Anglophone Destination Countries, 2002-2006

Canada United States United Kingdom Australia New Zealand
2002 60,931 582,996 242,755 110,524 41,461
2003 67,563 586,323 275,270 129,530 47,121
2004 74,725 572,509 300,055 144,626 50,450
2005 78,950 565,039 318,400 155,533 47,369
2006 83,760 564,766 330,080 164,237 42,652

Source: Citizenship Immigration Canada (CIC), Facts & Figures, 2007; Institute for International Education, Open Doors 2006; “International Student and Total U.S. Enrolment”; Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), National Statistics 2005-2006; the Observatory on Borderless Higher Education, 2007: Appendix B; Australian Government, Research, Total International Student Numbers 2007; New Zealand’s MOE, “International Enrolments in NZ 2000-2006”, 2007.

Australia & New Zealand

Through the 1990s the number of international students in Australia and New Zealand tripled. Despite a slow down in foreign enrollment growth, Australia continues to register year-on-year increases in the number of foreign students studying there. In 2005, the number of foreign students enrolled at Australian universities increased year-on-year by 8.3%, and slightly lower at 5.2% in 2006 (Australian Education International, Research Snapshot 2006 and 2007).

In New Zealand, total enrollments of international students rose 153% between 2000 and 2002, from 50,026 to 126,919 (MOE, “International Enrolments in New Zealand 2000-2006”, 2007). The rapid growth in enrollments from overseas students was attributable to New Zealand’s relatively open immigration system and the lower value of the New Zealand dollar at the time. Since 2002, enrollments have seen a steady decline. In 2006, there were 26% fewer students (93,421) than the peak in 2002, but the figure is still approximately 18% above the total recorded for 2001 (79,030) (MOE “International Enrolments in New Zealand 2000-2006”, 2007: pp. 4-6).

Australia and New Zealand have aggressive national marketing strategies. The Australian government will have invested A$114 million between 2004 and 2009 to market Australian post-secondary institutions internationally, while the New Zealand Ministry of Education is contributing NZ$70 million to international education during the same period (Holroyd, 2006). Australian Education International (AEI), primarily funded through the national government, has 10 overseas offices and conducts extensive research into international trends in education for Australian institutions. IDP Education Australia, a non-profit university-run organization, has an additional 68 offices in 38 countries (Holroyd, 2006).

Australia also has attractive programs and policies to attract new international students and retain them after they have completed their studies. Foreign students and their spouses or family members can work while completing their studies at an Australian institution for up to 20 hours per week. Spouses of foreign students can also study in Australia for a period of up to 3 months, after which they are required to obtain their own student visa (Australian Government, Higher Education Sector: Temporary Visa (Subclass 573) – Assessment Level 3. Foreign students can also apply for an 18-month work visa immediately after graduating from an Australian institution, and apply for immigration visas while they are in Australia (Batalova, 2006; Hawthorne, 2005; Yang, 2007).

In 2005, the New Zealand government extended permissible work hours for students to 20 hours per week, up from 15 hours. And similar to the Canadian system, foreign students are also awarded points toward an immigration visa for graduating from a New Zealand institution. As noted above, however, the number of international student enrollments has been decreasing since it peaked in 2002 (See Table 6). Many factors have been cited as contributing to the decline. Included among these factors are heightened global competition, limited capacity with only 8 publicly funded institutions, limited brand visibility in the international student market and the rising value of the NZ dollar (NZ’s MOE, “International Enrolments in New Zealand 2000-2006, 2007).

Among Chinese students – who have accounted for nearly all growth in overseas enrollments in New Zealand — the reputation of the English-language sector was greatly damaged after the high-profile closure of two leading schools in 2003, a situation that caused the Chinese government to issue a warning to students. The Chinese government has also issued warnings that New Zealand might be a dangerous destination after the murder of an English-language student – dubbed the suitcase killing – in Auckland last year, and incidents in 2002 and 2003. Compared with March 2003, there were 84% (23,179) fewer Chinese students at English-language schools than in March 2007.

Table 7. Comparing Programs & Policies of English-Speaking Destinations

Canada United States United Kingdom Australia New Zealand
National Marketing Strategy No No Yes Yes Yes
Student Visas Not required if less than 6 months Yes Yes Yes Not required if less than 3 months
(Tuition fee, living expenses, travel, etc)
Moderate High High Moderate High
Work Permits 20 hrs/week off-campus work permit1 & 2-year post graduation Work Permits Limited work hours for F-1 visa students in financial need12-months Optional practical training (OPT) 20 hrs/week work permit during study12 months-post graduation work scheme, no work permit 20 hrs/week permit during study18 months post graduation work permit 20 hrs/week work permit during study2-year post
graduation work permit
Direct Path to Immigration No Immigration points for graduating No No Yes No Immigration points for graduating


There are over 2.7 million international students worldwide contributing to a US$300 billion higher education industry (OECD, Education at a Glance, 2007; The Economist, “The Brain Business”, 2005). The United States receives the most foreign students (in absolute terms) with 22%, followed by the United Kingdom (12%), Germany (10%), France (9%) and Australia (6%) (OECD, Education at a Glance 2007, Chart C3.2, p.304). Canada’s share of the global student market has been steadily increasing over the past twenty years despite recent dips in foreign student enrollment from 2002 to 2004, but this increase is relatively small compared to other English-speaking destination countries. The Canadian government in recent years implemented positive changes to its foreign student policies and programs by simplifying the student visa requirements and allowing international students more opportunities to gain Canadian work experience during and after their studies. Canada will have to step up its effort even more in the face of increased global competition and because of the domestic challenges to integrating internationally educated immigrants. A Canadian strategy that actively recruits overseas students and provides a clear path to permanent residency could help Canada attract and secure a greater share of the world’s best student talents and skilled immigrants.


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