International students contribute billions to Canadian economy

OTTAWA (CUP) – A new study released on last week by International Trade Minister Stockwell Day has announced that international students generated a whopping $6.5 billion for the economy while completing studies in Canada in 2008.

The report, entitled “Economic Impact of International Education in Canada,” was released on Oct. 28 and indicated that over 178,000 students arrived to study for six months or more last year – with nearly 50 per cent coming from East Asian countries in particular. Ontario hosted the largest amount of students out of all the provinces, welcoming over 65,000 into its post-secondary institutions.

After bringing in $6.5 billion last year, Canada’s education export now tops the regular revenue the country gains from exporting certain natural resources, such as coal, which normally accounts for $6.07 billion per year.

“We’ve always known that it’s a big number, but this is new – that they’ve quantified it in this government-commissioned report,” said Robert White, an international relations policy analyst for the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC).

According to the report – which was originally commissioned this past February and prepared by Vancouver consultants Roslyn Kunin & Associates, Inc. – nearly 65,000 jobs in the education services industry were directly supported by the funds generated by international students, equal to 5.5 per cent of all jobs in the sector.

“In terms of the economic impacts, there’s that direct impact of the tuition fees that they’re paying,” said Tyler Chamberlin, assistant professor at the Telfer School of Management at the University of Ottawa. “Then you also have, of course, all the indirect benefits that come to the region: they’ve got to live somewhere . . . they’re going to buying books, they’re going to be buying food . . . plus, bear in mind that many of these students, when they’re on exchange, are going to travel as well.”

The study estimated that over $285 million alone was funneled directly into the tourism industry in 2008 – supporting another 5,000 jobs and accounting for $161 million in Canada’s gross domestic product.

White indicated that these findings are an excellent incentive for the government to focus more on the internationalization of post-secondary education in Canada.

“It was one of the priorities in our advocacy agenda – recommending a major government investment or initiative in an international student recruitment strategy,” he said, referring to the AUCC’s pre-budget submissions to the House of Commons finance committee. “In laying out that recommendation, one of the things we point to is that among other things, international students bring a pretty significant amount of dollars into the Canadian economy.”

White noted, however, that economic effects account for only some of the many benefits Canada enjoys when international students choose to study in the country.

“It’s only one element of the rationale behind why it’s important for Canadian universities to continue to attract international students and why we need to government’s support in doing that,” he continued. “Having these international students, these minds, the best and brightest coming to our campuses enhances the teaching and learning and research environments of our universities.

“We see the benefits of that on many levels, beyond just the economic impact for the communities; but it’s a compelling argument too, and yes – we think it adds some impetus for the government to focus on it, to look at this.”

The report stopped short of making recommendations for broader education strategies, but did suggest methods of keeping better records of international students in the future. Suggestions included surveying foreigners about their experiences in Canada upon their departure and encouraging government agencies and post-secondary institutions to develop a proper system of tracking international students’ expenditures, tuition rates, and enrolment.