Unified approach proposed for Canada’s international education sector

Last 22–23 May, over 225 key stakeholders from Canada’s international education sector convened for a National Dialogue session. The event, organised by the Canadian Bureau for International Education (CBIE), set forth a series of actions and initiatives to address potential challenges and outline a path to advance the international education sector in Canada.

Unified government approach and multi-sectoral dialogue

Senior officials from federal and provincial ministries, leaders from educational institutions, business associations, community service providers, researchers, student associations and international students, are advocating for an integrated “whole-of-government” approach. This strategy aligns goals, targets and priorities across different levels of government to foster stable planning and policy-making.

Larissa Bezo, president and CEO of CBIE, pointed out the necessity of this comprehensive dialogue. She highlighted the importance of establishing an ongoing mechanism to sustain multi-stakeholder dialogue, securing the sector’s growth towards greater responsibility and sustainability.

Response to policy changes 

The dialogue was partly a response to recent caps on international student permits, which were implemented without sector consultation, causing major concerns. Stakeholders proposed the creation of a pan-Canadian framework for ethical international education practices. 

Addressing labour market needs

A prominent theme during the two-day event was addressing Canada’s labour needs. Stakeholders called for systematic processes to link international student enrolments to both short- and long-term labour market and demographic needs. Graham Barber, assistant director of international relations at Universities Canada, asserted the complexity of this task. 

“It’s important to meet those labour shortages,” Barber stated. “To look at our labour market short-term to long-term, that level of social engineering or planning is very difficult. It’s very complex and so to look at this in a simplistic way of one student into a construction program equals one house built in ten years – that’s not really the way this works.” Instead, Barber said the challenges must be looked at in a broader context, in a more holistic way and with critical thinking.

Data mobilisation and new narratives

The call to action also included a coordinated national effort to produce, mobilise and share comprehensive international education data to inform policy decisions. Additionally, stakeholders stressed the need to launch a new narrative showcasing the value international students bring to Canadian campuses, businesses and communities. Barber noted that recent policies have posed challenges on Canada’s reputation, urging a concerted effort to reassure prospective international students of Canada’s welcoming environment.

Renewed international education strategy

With the current international education strategy set to expire this year, stakeholders are advocating for a renewed strategy that reinforces the government’s support for international students. This renewed strategy should underscore Canada’s commitment to maintaining its position as a top destination for global talent.

Continuous dialogue and collaboration

Institutional leaders also described the event as “inspiring” and called for continuous dialogue to inform policy making. They noted the need for a national table that shall regularly convene, fostering collaboration among diverse stakeholders. This platform would address the sector’s needs, support innovative solutions and ensure that Canada remains globally engaged.

Canada’s call to action and commitment 

The National Dialogue on international education has set the stage for a comprehensive and unified approach to managing the sector in Canada. With clear calls to action and a commitment to ongoing dialogue and collaboration, stakeholders are poised to advance a more responsible and sustainable international education system. The next steps will be fundamental in translating these discussions into policies that uphold Canada’s reputation in the global landscape.

To know more about the opportunities available for international students and updates about education in Canada, check out our blog or reach out to our North American team at [email protected].

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