Forgive the intrusion. But our neighbour to the South electing a quasi-fascist narcissist isn’t an every day occasion. There are some significant short-term consequences for Canadian higher education, and I thought I would just quickly enumerate them so that debate and preparation can begin.
First, the chances of a recession in the next couple of years just shot up quite a bit. Tearing up NAFTA also means tearing up the FTA: there will be a pause in business investment while everyone works out what on earth the new rules are going to be. Other forms of protectionist legislation, even if not aimed at us, has the potential to wreak serious havoc as well. Unlike previous recessions, interest rate cuts cannot be part of our policy arsenal as they are already near-zero. To some people’s minds, that calls for massive Keynesian borrowing-and-spending. But as we’ve already seen with the first round of Trudeau spending, it’s not at all clear that the intended multiplier effects work very well in a small open economy. Long story short: provincial governments were never likely to be flush enough to grants serious relief to universities and colleges any time soon, but yesterday’s vote made such prospects even more remote.
Second, the forecast demand for Canada as an international education destination just went Through. The. Roof. Already earlier this week, the annual i-barometer global survey of education agents named Canada the #1 “hot” destination for students. But now, with a President-elect who degrades women, despises Hispanic and Muslims and openly consorts with anti-semites, there’s going to be a huge diversion of interest away from the United States and (since the UK has already hung out a huge “Sod Off” sign on its window), this diversion is be headed towards exactly three places: New Zealand, Australia, and Canada. One recent study suggested fully 65% of international students would be less likely to study in the US if Trump were elected. Even if that over-states the case by a factor of two, we’re talking about a couple of hundred thousand internationally mobile students up for grabs. Not to mention the almost-certain increase in the number of Americans heading North.
That has a couple of implications. The main one is that Canadian universities are about to get more pricing power: No more being the discount end of North American higher education. But we have to up our game significantly. We have to have real presence – not just agents – in major export markets. And we have to up the student experience international students receive as well. There are significant opportunities here: but also some potential significant costs. There’s no time like now to have a really thorough debate about internationalization on our campuses.
Third, while I have been impressed by how by some prominent Americans (Jonathan Chait, Lin-Manuel Miranda) are coming out strongly this AM saying (correctly) “Screw moving to Canada, we need to stay and fight”, the fact of the matter is there are going to be a lot of faculty wanting to head north and a lot fewer of our own professors wanting to head south. Universities will have a much better set of potential hires in front of them for the next couple of years. This is great news: but we should try not to squander this opportunity the way we squandered the post-2008 rush north. We can and should use the opportunity to poach selectively; but perhaps not break the bank on salaries while doing so.
(Also: I’m pretty sure we’re not going to be hearing about brain drain and the loss of talent to the US for awhile, so it’s an opportunity as well to re-calibrate some of our arguments about education and the labour market).
So the net effect here for Canadian institutions over the medium-term: less government money, more opportunities in international education, and thicker academic labour markets. On balance, it’s probably more good news than bad, provided we act deliberately and rapidly while ensuring that these moves have wide buy-ins on our campuses.
But beyond the simple dollars and cents of it all, there are deeper issues. A monster has become President of the United States. Misery is going to fall upon the American people for the next two years if not four: on Blacks, immigrants, women, LGBTQs. We all know people down there, know what they must be feeling today, and our hearts ache for them. We need to show solidarity with them whenever we can. But we also need to be vigilant here in Canada. We are not immune to nativism and intolerance.
Last night around 11 PM Dalhousie President Richard Florizone tweeted “When voices of intolerance are loudest don’t be despondent – be emboldened, and even more committed to values of diversity & inclusion.” And that’s exactly right. We have to work – and work hard – at these things and for fairness, every day. In the end, that kind hard work is all that ever makes a difference.