Global Affairs Canada has begun consultations on the next iteration of the strategy, set to launch in 2024 and run for five years. In initial publications, the government body highlighted key areas for discussion including education agent regulation, the role of aggregators and diversification.
But Universities Canada, which represents 97 institutions, has urged caution when it comes to agent regulation.
“We encourage cautious policy making as to not impinge on institutional autonomy”
“While we welcome shining a light on bad actors and disreputable ghost agencies, we encourage cautious policy making as to not impinge on institutional autonomy nor recognize the various levels of internationalization and the challenges at institutions across Canada,” the organisation wrote in its submission.
It added that agents are an “important” part of the landscape and many institutions have established “strong agent policies”.
The group noted that aggregators pose “an added risk” but could be “part of the solution”, saying their resources and networks can be used to disseminate training and educational content to “raise the bar” for agent services.
Both Universities Canada and the Canadian Bureau for International Education have also urged the government to address problems with study permit processing, including delays and high denial rates for students from certain countries.
Universities Canada flagged that the UK, the US and Australia are all “significantly” ahead of Canada when it comes to visa processing times and warned that students may pivot to other markets if they can’t secure study permits in a timely manner.
In November, the federal government announced the launch of a recognised institution framework, which will facilitate faster visa processing for universities and colleges with a positive record of vetting and supporting international students.
Universities Canada also noted that issues with study permits are hampering diversification efforts, particularly in African markets. Some target countries are seeing high study permit refusal rates and the rate is increasing in many, despite ongoing calls to address the issue. Students from this region also face longer processing times.
CBIE added that GAC needs to make a “long-term commitment” to promotional plans when establishing priority markets in order to support institutions to diversify their international student cohorts.
“Canada’s cash-strapped education institutions have limited capacity over the short-term to expand their international student recruitment efforts or to redeploy existing resources,” the advocacy group wrote.
The group suggested the “most effective” way for Canada to meet its immigration targets is via a strategy to facilitate access to permanent residency for international students who want to remain in Canada after graduation.
The country issued permanent resident status to more than 20,000 former international students in the first three-quarters of 2023, marking a new record, but this remains a small proportion of the total number of students in Canada.
CBIE also called for a more joined-up approach to Canada’s international student program, including integrating other federal departments into the leadership and execution of the next international education strategy.
“Canada’s universities continue to work hard to keep Canada competitive in the global marketplace,” said Philip Landon, interim president and CEO of Universities Canada.
“They have built strong international partnerships through two-way student mobility, student and faculty recruitment and research collaboration.
“We look forward to continuing to work closely with Global Affairs Canada to align Canada’s research agenda with international education and ensure Canada remains among the world’s top destinations for international students, faculty and researchers.”