Bigger than wheat and lumber exports! That’s what a recently released report prepared for Global Affairs Canada states about the economic impact of international education in Canada. The report shows that international education is now worth $11.37 billion annually to the Canadian economy, surpassing other prominent Canadian exports such as wheat ($7.95 billion), lumber ($8.67 billion), and helicopters, airplanes, and spacecraft ($9.01 billion). Despite the significant export revenues for Canada, it is an economic sector which receives little attention or recognition.
Beyond the considerable economic gain that comes from international student spending, international education offers a number of further significant benefits. Canadian students benefit from enriched learning environments that come with international students in the classroom. Furthermore, international students who decide to stay in Canada are a source of highly skilled and qualified immigrants who have paid for their Canadian education and language training.
In Manitoba there are over 10,000 international students at all levels of education ̶ in public and independent K-12 programs, in English and French language training, and at post-secondary institutions. However, Manitoba is not attracting its proportionate share of international students. We host only 1.9% of the total number of international students in Canada ̶ far below our 3.6% proportion of the Canadian population. Furthermore, we are not matching the 8% annual growth in international education in Canada.
International students don’t magically appear in our province. They are recruited by our schools through sophisticated marketing efforts. International education operates in an intensely competitive global environment where government involvement is vital to a region’s recruitment success. If Manitoba wants to stop from falling further behind, it must make international education a provincial priority and put it at the top of the trade agenda.
Of course, declaring that an industry is a priority isn’t enough; strategic action is required. In Manitoba, the first critical step is to recognize the importance of international education and to start talking about it as the major export that it is. Australian governments have recognized and embraced international education as a major industry and at $20.3 billion (AUD), it is now their third largest export behind only iron ore and coal. While we continue to excessively obsess over resource development in Canada, Australia’s forward looking National Strategy for International Education 2025 recognizes international education as one of the “five super growth sectors contributing to Australia’s transition from a resources-based to a modern services economy.”
The second step is assuring our house is in order by setting policy to properly support international education. Given that education is a provincial jurisdiction in Canada, international education is an important provincial responsibility. Effective provincial policy is especially important given that we are competing with countries where education is a national responsibility with a cohesive national approach.
Finally, dedicating the appropriate resources is critical to success. Like tourism, international education is an export service that needs to be sold to the world. Education in Manitoba is a world class product, but it still needs to be marketed in order for potential students to know about it. But the good news is the investment need not be huge. Unlike other industries, growing international education doesn’t require massive capital expenditures. As well, having a vital international education industry in Manitoba is not some distant pipe dream. With a bit of coordinated effort we can further open our classroom doors to the world.
Manitoba Council for International Education, January 2017