By now, a lot of you will have read – either on our Blog or at the Globe and Mail – my rant about the new International Education Strategy, released last week by the Government of Canada. A number of people said they agreed with me, but wanted to know what I would have recommended in its place. I won’t do that (that’s the stuff I charge for, folks); instead, I want to contrast emerging international education strategies elsewhere, with our own.
Take Norway, which has just launched a new strategy designed to get more of their students to study abroad. It has recognized that the main barrier to achieving this is financial, and has come up with better financial packages to help students go abroad. In addition, because they have a desire to forge strategic relationships in particular parts of the globe, they are making deals to improve mobility to specific places: North America for graduate studies, Asia (mainly China) for undergraduate study.
The easy hit here is to note that the Norwegian outward-looking strategy is in stark contrast to the self-centred, mercantilist stuff that DFAIT released last week (“WE need skills! WE need foreign students! It’s all about US!”). The more important point, though, is that the Norwegians actually understand what “strategy” means. They diagnosed a problem (Norwegian students not worldly enough), identified a barrier to a solution (need more money to make students more mobile), and threw appropriate resources at it.
Now compare this to our strategy. Instead of diagnosing a problem, we picked a target out of the air – double the number of international students (Why double? Why not triple? No clue – that’s how “out of the air” the number is). We did not identify any barriers to the solution, other than the speed at which we can process visas. No thought about institutional capacity factors, or reasons why foreigners might not want to come to Canada. As for appropriate resources – $5 million for marketing, spread thinly over more than half the planet. That’s not concentrating resources on a problem, that’s just tossing money around. Norway 1, Canada 0.
Or take Sweden, where a number of CEOs have asked the government to re-think its policy of charging non-EU students full tuition, because it is reducing the number of young, Swedish-trained foreign graduates available to the Swedish tech industry. Again, a goal (not enough foreign grads), a barrier (fees), and a solution (lower fees). The Canadian strategy, on the other hand, assumes that huge cash payoffs from international student fees AND immense benefits from higher-quality immigration are both possible, and simply waves away any possible tension or trade-off between the two goals. Sweden 1, Canada 0.
No point moaning now, I suppose. We’re stuck with this abortion of a strategy at least until the next election. The important thing now is to diagnose how we produced a document this bad, and how to prevent it happening again. More on that tomorrow.