By Kam Rathee
TORONTO: With Canada not being the favourite destination for Indian students going for higher education abroad, Ottawa needs to take some immediate steps to tap this lucrative market for its educational institutions.
Speaking as Vice-Chairman of the Canada-India Education Council, I would mention the five points that need to be considered for promoting Canada as a destination for Indian students.
On top of the list is the need to improve “Brand Canada” in India. Among the top four or five countries that attract most of Indian students, Canada has always been the weakest brand after the US, the UK and Australia.
Now since in the case of the UK, there are problems related to immigration and fees issues and in the case of Australia Indian students have security issues, I think Canada has a golden opportunity to market itself as an educational destination in India. Though the numbers of Indian students coming to Canada has increased over the last two to three years, it still has a long way to go.
Secondly, fees for foreign students are very high in this country. In fact, Canada charges three times more fees from foreign students than local students for imparting the same education and handing out the same diplomas and degrees. In 2010, there were 218,000 foreign students in Canada of which 17,530 came from India – 4,640 as university students and 10,560 as post-secondary students. Most of them come from Indian middle class families and find it difficult to meet their expenses. A reduction in fees to two times that charged from local students will induce more Indian students to come to Canada. In fact, educational institutions can make more money if they increase their intake.
Thirdly, Canada’s federal government needs to play a more active role. In Canada, education is a provincial matter with no significant federal role in it. But foreign students pumped more than $ 8 billion into the Canadian economy in 2010 and supported 86,000 jobs. Despite this, for some strange reasons, education is still not seen as an economic activity – an export commodity and a business enterprise for which foreign students pay three times more than local students. The federal government needs to get involved with the provinces and treat education as a business, with relevant support given to this sector from tax and other perspectives in mind. Education, being a trade, should be subject to free trade agreements, particularly the one that is being negotiated with India.
Fourthly, Canada needs to make education employment and profession oriented so that the fruits of it are clear to those seeking to come here. Canada is turning into a service economy and losing its place as a major manufacturing player. Foreign students coming to Canada are forced to leave as they cannot use their education for a career or employment here. Though this is changing on account of the two-year post graduation work visas being available, it is still tough to secure employment for foreign students notwithstanding the fact that they have obtained a Canadian degree or diploma. There needs to be a program under which the institution enrolling students from India should have an obligation to assist them in getting meaningful employment on completion of their education.
Lastly, the federal government, in conjunction with provincial governments, should assist Canadian educational institutions in lobbying the Government of India to open the education sector. Since education is now trade and business, Canadian trade offices in India (as they do for other lines of business) can assist in this regard. In fact, the two levels of government need to work with specialized associations and institutions to make inroads into India, including improving its brand in India and luring more Indian students to come to Canada.
(Vice-chairman of the Canada-India Education Council, Kam Rathee is a Special Adviser at Blakes, working with the firm’s India Practice Group)