Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Where do Canada’s foreign students go? Not Saskatchewan or PEI

Students at the Australian National University. Recent changes to the visa system are aimed at attracting more foreign students to Australia.

How countries compete for foreign students

The road to success in attracting international students is paved with political potholes. Australia and the U.K. are learning that the hard way after seeing the number of international students drop in response to tighter work restrictions, higher fees and in Australia's case, incidents of violence against foreign students. Now, Australia is re-liberalizing visa requirements: Foreign students who graduate from one of the country's universities will be able to work in any field for up to four years rather than just in areas where there are labour shortages.

As other countries play politics with foreign students, Canada should be able to compete for a higher share of this market. Graduating foreign students and their partners can apply for work permits for up to three years here and they can also apply to settle permanently through the Canada Experience Class. Yet last year was the first that more than 100,000 international students entered Canada while Australia granted over 250,000 visas. The federal budget awarded over $10-million for two years to the goal of attracting higher numbers. Perhaps some of that money can go to highlighting the attractions of universities outside Ontario and B.C., currently the destination for the vast majority of foreign students. In 2012, only 274 student visas were granted for PEI and even more surprising 1,617 for Saskatchewan.

Story continues below advertisement

The road to a better education is paved with numbers

Last week, I wrote about the shortage of information on student graduation, employment and salary outcomes on university department sites. As many pointed out, the information is available through Stats Canada, university associations and if you're interested in a college program, through colleges. And some of these numbers are useful, although far from perfect – salaries, for instance, are still missing; national comparisons almost impossible to make quickly.

The beauty of individual departmental numbers is that they try and account for the impact of the institution. The concept is no different from that behind testing the reading and math skills of students in public school. Many schools have improved their test scores in spite of having students who don't benefit from expensive after-school tutoring or high levels of parental education. If a department or entire institution sees its students consistently underperform those at other schools, it should raise an alarm.

For the college-bound, for example, Colleges Ontario offers graduation and satisfaction ratings by institution. The numbers range from just under 70 per cent to 83. Graduation rates similarly go from a low of 62 per cent to a high of about 71. Knowing that such differences exist does not tell us what some institutions are doing right, but it puts students on notice that they should probe the low performers closely before applying. We need more numbers like these and national comparisons.

Here are two sites for college and university numbers.

Story continues below advertisement

More evidence for the skills gap

In spite of the grim job numbers on Friday, another study released last week highlighted areas of strength. Those are in industries that lost no jobs during the last downturn and experienced high demand for workers in the recovery. Professional, scientific and technical services grew by 8 per cent since 2010 after hardly shrinking in the recession; education, information and culture also expanded throughout the recession. The majority of the jobs in demand required at least college training and a significant number were in engineering and science fields.

The study is here.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct Licensing Options
As of December 20, 2017, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this resolved by the end of January 2018. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to