Universities set sights on international students

Dropping enrollment at home, desire to be seen as "more globalized" fuels rush to bring new students to Canada

Attracting international students is becoming a major priority for many Canadian universities.

"I was attracted to going to school in Canada," says Ahmad Alqurashi, a student at Dalhousie University who is originally from Saudi Arabia. After receiving a scholarship in his home country to study abroad, he chose to study in Halifax.

"I heard it was a good school, and it was in a smaller city. That appealed to me."

While bringing in students from other countries has long been an interest for Canadian schools, it seems to be getting more attention every year. International enrollment at Dalhousie jumped 18 per cent in 2009, said school administrators. Currently, around 1,200 students came directly from other countries - most notably India, China and the United States.

"I think it speaks to a wider trend," said Robert White, international relations analyst for the Association of Canadian Universities and Colleges. "[Universities] are trying to become ore international-minded. They recognize the fact that the inclusion of these international perspectives, international mind-sets ... it globalizes the campus."

The organization represents post-secondary institutions in Canada, including Dalhousie University, Saint Mary's University and the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. Part of the AUCC's role is to help increase the profile of Canadian schools in the rest of the world, and to help students who wish to come to the country and study.

In January, the AUCC released a study, "Recruiting International Students in India" to examine exactly how six universities across Canada, including Saint Mary's, were trying attracting students. It examined some of the best approaches that the schools were taking, such as working directly with Canada's High Comission in India or making sure that recruitment staff are trained in immigration policy.

The study also dove into the marketing programs of the schools. Administration from Saibt Mary's wasn't available to comment on their recruitment efforts. But Charles Crosby, spokesperson for Dalhousie, says that the way they market to international students isn't too different than how they try to appeal to Canadian schools.

"It's not that different. People want good academics ... good faculty. [International and domestic] students are looking for the same things," Crosby said.

He says that attracting international students is becoming more and more important, especially to universities and colleges in Atlantic Canada. He says that fewer high school students in the province are applying, mostly because changing demographics means there are fewer people of the right age.

The Maritime Provinces Higher Education Commission, which studies post-secondary education in Atlantic Canada, found that the number of Maritime high school students enrolling in universities is down 13 per cent. Students from outside the province now make up 29 per cent of university students in the Maritimes. Crosby says it's closer to 50 per cent at Dalhousie.

Crosby said they've trying different tactics to get information about Dalhousie to students in other countries. He says the institution employs recruiters in other countries to talk directly with potential students. And for the students who aren't contacted by a recruiter, Dalhousie is using the Internet as a way of presenting itself to students.

Alqurashi says that's where he found out about the school.

"I got information about it online, from forums. Both in English and my language," he said. "That was extremely helpful and helped the decision."

One of the problems universities face when trying to get students from other countries is that Canadian institutions don't have the profile that others do. Crosby says they've tried to counter that by using recruitment agents and offices in countries like India, China and the United States to "keep a physical presence."

"A big part of it is definitely reputation-building," he said.

White adds that it's not only trying to raise the reputation of the schools, but also of the country itself. That's where Canada might have an advantage over other places, he says.

"It starts with the advantages of the country itself. Quite a bit of the decision is made on the country [students would like to live in] and then, they take a look at the schools available in it," White said. "And Canada has the advantage of being seen as a very welcome and tolerant society."

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