Manitoba’s $1.5-billion opportunity

As seen in the Winnipeg Free Press November 19, 2014

By: Gary Gervais

International education brings in more than $200 million annually to the Manitoba economy. It could be more. A lot more. By keeping pace with the federal government’s goal to double the number of international students by 2020, Manitoba could receive a billion-dollar-plus economic boost over the next five years.

In 2012 (the latest year for reported statistics), Manitoba received 7,243 of the 265,400 international students in Canada. This 2.7 per cent share is significantly below our 3.6 per cent share of the Canadian population. By locking in on targets set in the federal government’s international education strategy and reaching our proportionate share by 2020, the economic impact would increase from the current $230 million to $606 million annually. The cumulative difference between maintaining the status quo and keeping pace is $1.5 billion.

But for this to happen, we need to take collective action. Canada’s high-quality reputation for education and as a safe, desirable place to live and study make it a destination of choice for many international students. Manitoba benefits from this well-earned reputation, but at the same time it competes with other provinces for students who opt for Canada.

British Columbia and Ontario will always receive the lion’s share of students in the country, but there is no reason Manitoba shouldn’t be able to increase current numbers. Nova Scotia, for example, with only 2.8 per cent of the population, receives 3.6 per cent of international student enrolments. A stronger commitment needs to be made. Recognizing international education as an important industry in the province is an important step. And that means investment. We have a great product and great institutions; the only thing missing is the commitment to growth.

Educational institutions supporting international education and all levels of government need to act together. Winnipeg recently elected a new mayor on a progressive platform. The Australian cities of Brisbane and Adelaide have civic departments dedicated to aggressively promoting their cities as education destinations. Why can’t we do the same? Developing relationships with globally minded institutions across the private and public sectors should be a priority. Working hand in hand with the tourism industry to promote Manitoba as a destination of choice would be of immense benefit to both sectors.

The province has already taken a step forward with the introduction of the International Education Act, the first of its kind in the country, to ensure international students in Manitoba have a quality experience. And educational institutions have been working collaboratively to promote the province as a destination for international students through the Manitoba Council for International Education (MCIE) for 15 years. MCIE is the only member-led provincial organization in Canada with K-12, post-secondary and language institutions working together for the collective benefit of the province.

This week marks International Education Week in the world. The theme for Canada in 2014 is Celebrating Canada’s Engagement with the World.

Here in Manitoba, we want to take that engagement to the next level. Now is the perfect time to recognize the social, cultural and economic contributions of international education in Manitoba and commit to making the development of the industry a top priority.

Gary Gervais is president of the Manitoba Council for International Education (MCIE) and owner and president of Heartland International English School.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 19, 2014 A9

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