Imagine if countries were able to select, professionally train, and gradually integrate potential immigrants into society for a number of years, before evaluating their performance and choosing whether or not to grant them permanent residency, and later citizen status. This is a description of the result of implementing a tertiary-level education system that is not only open to international students, but caters to them.
When it comes to seeking a tertiary-level education, students are making the choice to look beyond the borders of their home country at a rapidly increasing rate. There are currently 4.5 million international students worldwide, more than double the amount in 2000, and more than triple in 1990. Currently 53% of these students are from Asian countries, and 35% of them choose the United States, UK, or Australia as their destination country. There are plenty of reasons as to why young adults choose to study abroad, ranging from course material more suited to their interests and beliefs, to a more secure and safe campus environment than what they would have experienced at home.
Earning a degree internationally is an attractive option to many students, and as the demand for tertiary education grows, the demand for foreign education opportunities does as well. What has been particularly interesting to observe is the significant divergence between the responses of developed countries in regards to hosting these students.
Australia is currently the leader in providing education to foreigners. With a quarter of students completing tertiary degrees in the country coming from outside its borders, education has become their second biggest export industry. This can be largely attributed to the fact that they are one of few countries who currently view international students as positive assets to their economy. In order to maintain a steady stream of students entering the country, they have an intentionally relaxed and inexpensive student visa process, and they do not put up any significant barriers to students aspiring to work during their time at school and after.
The United States has remained complacent on the issue, and is more focused on its national security when looking at prospective international students than anything else. While they have the highest number of international students in absolute terms due to their well-established tertiary education system, only 5% of the total student population is from abroad. The first challenge international students must face is an intensive, strict, and complicated student visa process. They must then find a way to pay the sky-high tuition fees typical of American universities. Harvard College, for example, charges $69,600 USD ($92,500 CAD) for tuition and residence per year to international students, and it is also more difficult for these students to receive academic aid.
Currently, a respectable 14% of the student population in the UK are from another country, with 5% from outside the EU, however new policies have been put in place as an attempt to decrease this percentage. Attitudes in the country regarding immigration have shifted to a more negative point of view; as a result of this, their Conservative party passed a policy in 2010 to cap immigration at 100,000 people per year, students included. In order to dissuade foreign students, they recently increased their visa fees and not only removed their policy of allowing students to stay on and work for two years after graduating but made it incredibly challenging for them to extend their visas at all.
Judging from the behaviours of the United States and the UK, one might jump to the conclusion that international students place a burden of their host country. This could not be farther from the truth. There is an abundance of short and long-term benefits for a country when it opens its doors to international students. In addition to bringing more cultural enrichment and diverse perspectives to campuses, international students contribute to their host nation's economy. They bring wealth directly into the country through their living expenses as well as their tuition fees, which are higher than those of resident students. They are more likely to seek part-time employment than their peers and are often competitive contenders for highly skilled jobs upon graduating, becoming active contributors to the economy. Those who choose to attempt to immigrate to the country they studied after graduation transition almost seamlessly, as they are already well-versed in its cultural, political, and professional norms.
By not capitalising on these benefits, the United States is ignoring a market with massive growth potential, and the UK's attempts to put up barriers against international students could almost be considered an active attack on its own economy.
Canada has much to learn from the successes and failures of its peers. We have seen a drastic increase in levels of foreign students in the past decade, thanks largely to the development of internationally recognized programs at some of our most esteemed institutions. It is essential that as these numbers continue to grow, we find a way to harness the value of our visitors and encourage their entrance instead of dissuading it. With our current weak dollar and the precarious state of the oil industry, there has never been a better time for Canada to start looking at education as an export, instead of as a liability.