Message from the Minister of International Trade Diversification

I am very pleased to launch the new International Education Strategy (IES), Building on Success, in conjunction with my colleagues at Employment and Social Development Canada and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

International education is an essential pillar of Canada’s long-term competitiveness. Canadians who study abroad gain exposure to new cultures and ideas, stimulating innovation and developing important cross-cultural competencies. Students from abroad who study in Canada bring those same benefits to our shores. If they choose to immigrate to Canada, they contribute to Canada’s economic success. Those who choose to return to their countries become life-long ambassadors for Canada and for Canadian values.

Many Canadian education institutions export services such as curriculum licensing and technical and professional training, often with the help of the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service (TCS). In doing so, they export Canadian values and import new ideas, as well as generate economic returns for Canada.

In 2018, international students in Canada contributed an estimated $21.6 billion to Canada’s GDP and supported almost 170,000 jobs for Canada’s middle class. This is a significant economic contribution—and one that is felt right across the country.

Competitor countries in this sector recognize the long-term benefits of international education. They have upped their game, and to remain competitive, we upped our game too.

We asked provincial and territorial partners and stakeholders across Canada what is needed to grow and sustain Canada’s international education sector. Building on Success is our blueprint for the future. It is also an integral part of Canada’s ambitious Trade Diversification Strategy: New Markets, New Customers, New Jobs.

With a Budget 2019 allocation of $147.9 million over five years followed by $8 million per year of ongoing funding, our new International Education Strategy will, in collaboration with the provinces, territories, associations and institutions:

  • Encourage Canadian students to gain new skills through study and work abroad opportunities in key global markets, especially Asia
  • Diversify the countries from which international students come to Canada, as well as their fields, levels of study, and location of study within Canada
  • Increase support for Canadian education sector institutions to help grow their export services and explore new opportunities abroad

Our new International Education Strategy ensures that Canada will remain among the world’s top destinations for learning. This is essential in order for our schools, students and researchers to continue to expand their connections abroad and to ensure Canadian students benefit from the world of learning beyond our borders.

I invite you to review Building on Success, our strategy to ensure Canada strengthens its international education competitive advantage so that our students can take what they learn abroad and use it to help create jobs at home.

The Honourable James Gordon Carr
Minister of International Trade Diversification

Message from the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour

Today’s global economy is changing rapidly and increasingly, employers are seeking new skills to meet these challenges. Expanding Canadians’ access to higher education and skills training will strengthen Canada’s workforce and create the conditions to compete successfully in global markets. Post-secondary education is vital for Canada’s success as an innovative nation, and the need for global competencies, skills and networks has never been more important.

When Canadians have the opportunity to study and work abroad, they develop portable, transferable skills like adaptability, problem-solving, resilience and intercultural competencies. They also develop new relationships that can lead to higher earnings and better employment.

I am excited to announce the launch of Canada’s new International Education Strategy (IES), Building on Success, along with my colleagues at Global Affairs Canada and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

The IES includes a five-year Outbound Student Mobility Pilot program which will help post-secondary students with the costs of study or work abroad. The program also focuses on supporting under-represented students (e.g. Indigenous students, students from less privileged backgrounds, students with disabilities) to develop the skills they need to succeed in an increasingly globalized and changing economy.

Diverse, resilient Canadians are the building blocks of Canada’s future success. When people have a fair chance to reach their potential, our economy thrives. Through this new strategy, more Canadian students will have the chance to develop internationally valued skills, setting them up for a lifetime of success.

The Honourable Patricia A. Hajdu
Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour

Greetings from the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship

I am pleased to introduce the Government of Canada’s International Education Strategy for 2019-2024.

In 2018, more than 721,000 international students studied in Canada, sparking new ideas, strengthening innovation and building people-to-people ties that are crucial to international trade and the global economy. As most international students are young, have Canadian educational qualifications and in-demand labour skills, and are proficient in one of our official languages, they are often ideal candidates for permanent residency. In fact, nearly 54,000 former students became permanent residents in Canada in 2018.

The strategy builds on the attributes that have made Canada a destination of choice for international students: strong schools and programs of study in both English and French; welcoming and diverse communities with an enviable quality of life; and opportunities to start careers and pursue permanent residency.

One action identified in the strategy is for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada to improve its online services and forms to better connect to people who seek to visit, study or work in Canada. We also plan to expand the Student Direct Stream and make it available to prospective students from additional countries. The Student Direct Stream enables students who submit electronic applications and meet additional up-front requirements to benefit from expedited processing times.

The strategy also identifies the importance of international experiences for Canadian youth. As we increase promotion of International Experience Canada, a federal initiative that enables young Canadians to work and travel in more than 30 partner countries, we hope more young Canadians will go out and develop the international experience and contacts that many employers now value in today’s interconnected world.

I am confident that the International Education Strategy will increase awareness of what Canada has to offer international students and will contribute to our ongoing reputation as a respected centre of international education.

The Honourable Ahmed Hussen, P.C., M.P.
Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship

Vision: International Education Strategy (2019–2024)

Over the next five years, the new International Education Strategy (the Strategy) aims to diversify the education sector, boost Canada’s innovation capacity, promote global ties and foster a vibrant Canadian economy. The Strategy will also help to ensure that Canada’s labour force has the needed skills and talent to ensure Canada can compete successfully in global markets, creating middle-class jobs and fostering prosperity in communities across the country. The Strategy is designed to support and complement efforts by provinces, territories and stakeholders toward a collective goal of a sustainable and successful international education sector.

The Strategy aims to draw students from around the world to communities across Canada where they can enrol in a wide variety of schools and programs at all educational levels (Figure 1 in Annexes). At the same time, it will help a growing number of Canadian students return from studies and work abroad with the global competencies, skills and networks needed to drive Canada’s success as an innovative, trading nation. Lastly, it will assist more Canadian schools and businesses design and export cutting-edge educational services and products to an increasing number and diversity of international markets.

The Trade Commissioner Service of Global Affairs Canada will lead the new Strategy, with other major components managed by Employment and Social Development Canada and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

Building on success, driving prosperity

International education makes a large and growing contribution to Canada’s prosperity. International students in Canada spent an estimated $21.6 billion on tuition, accommodation and other expenses in 2018[1] and sustained close to 170,000 jobs for Canadians in 2016. Educational expenditures by international students have a greater impact on Canada’s economy than exports of auto parts, lumber or aircraft. Between 2014 and 2018, the number of international students in Canada increased by 68%. In 2018, a total of 721,205 international students at all levels studied in Canada—the largest number ever.[2] Opportunities in the sector are growing.

The new International Education Strategy builds on the attributes that make Canada a powerhouse in international education: strong schools and programs of study in both English and French; peaceful, welcoming and diverse communities; an enviable quality of life; opportunities to work and start careers; and pathways to permanent residency.

Birane Wane (Senegal), University of Ottawa – Communication

“What motivated me to come to Canada, and specifically to Ottawa, is the bilingualism of the capital. In addition to being a prestigious university, recognized worldwide, the University of Ottawa provides countless opportunities to its students. The most notable is undoubtedly the opportunity to study in a perfectly bilingual environment and being able to use French and English at a very high level. Moreover, international students like me can benefit from many services made available to them. Those include the mentoring program and the co-op system, which provides students the opportunity to complete paid internships while pursuing their studies. Studying in this special location, at the heart of Canada’s capital, is an incomparable experience in so many ways.”

Incoming students, along with Canadians studying abroad, spark new ideas and increase Canada’s innovation capacity. Perhaps most importantly, international education fuels the people-to-people ties crucial to international trade in an increasingly interconnected global economy.

International students co-found successful start-up

HeyOrca Inc. is a rapidly growing social media company that created a platform to streamline workflows for agencies that use social media as a business tool. Based in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, HeyOrca was founded by two international students, Joseph Tao (Malaysia) and Sahand Seifi (Iran), who met at Memorial University and have secured more than $2.65 million in investment capital. A client of the Trade Commissioner Service, HeyOrca now employs more than 30 people and has more than 400 customers worldwide. “We truly believe in the potential that international students bring to our economy,” says Sahand Seifi.[3]

Drivers of change

To ensure a sustainable international education sector Canada must address several challenges.

Increased competition

As more countries recognize that international students represent an important source of revenue and human capital, and as greater numbers of people worldwide can afford to study abroad, the sector has become increasingly competitive. In recent years, both traditional competitors (e.g. Australia, France, Germany, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the United States) and emerging ones (e.g. China, Malaysia) have invested more in marketing their educational offerings, particularly through the use of digital media. Some of these competitors offer generous scholarships—some even offer free tuition—to attract top talent.

In addition, many traditional source countries for international students are growing the capacity and quality of their own education systems. Some universities in China, Japan, Singapore and elsewhere in Asia now rank among the world’s best and attract growing numbers of students from abroad. This will likely shift the destination countries preferred by students and also inspire more students to study in their home countries. A steady increase in the number of schools in Asia and Europe offering programs of study in English further intensifies the competition for international students.

Need for diversification

Currently, more than 50% of Canada’s international students come from two countries, India and China (Figure 2 in Annexes). In addition, international students are also concentrated in large cities in Canada. Attracting students from a wider diversity of countries, as well as to a greater variety of regions and schools, would foster sustainable growth of Canada’s international education sector and distribute the benefits more equitably across the country (Figure 3 in Annexes).

As a trading nation, Canada must continually expand and diversify not only its customer base, but also its roster of potential exporters. This requires securing markets, as well as encouraging and enabling new exporters. The new Strategy contributes to these goals by increasing the diversity of inbound student populations, skill sets and programs, and by fostering people-to-people ties and international networks. This will help build labour markets, spur economic development in target regions and industries, and support diversity at Canada’s educational institutions.

Innovation and skills

International education can help Canada meet current and emerging labour-market challenges. Canada faces significant medium- and long-term labour shortages, particularly in the highly qualified professional and skilled trades that sustain a modern economy.

Outbound mobility

Part of the challenge is that not enough Canadian youth enter the labour market with the right mix of skills. A recent report found that only 44% of Canadian youth (ages 15-29) and 34% of employers believe that youth are adequately prepared for today’s workforce.[4] Another report noted that while many Canadian graduates may have the necessary technical knowledge, they lack the soft skills and work experience required by employers in Canada.[5] Periods of study and work abroad can help them acquire these skills and can also help them develop intercultural competencies, strong international networks, and a deeper understanding of economic regions of importance to Canada.

However, relatively few Canadian students choose to study or work abroad (Figure 4 in Annexes). The report of the Study Group on Global Education estimates that approximately 11% of Canadian undergraduates study abroad during their academic career—significantly fewer than students from France (33%), Australia (19%) and the United States (16%).[6] Further, of those Canadian students that do decide to study abroad, many of them choose to study in traditional education destinations, like the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and France. Key barriers reported by Canadian students include the cost of studying outside of Canada and difficulties in transferring credits earned at educational institutions abroad. While some government programs provide financial support to Canadians who study abroad, these supports are often allocated based on merit, without considering the needs of certain under-represented students who face unique barriers.

Inbound mobility

Due in part to the aging of Canada’s population, immigration will increasingly drive net workforce growth. Within the next decade, for instance, immigration is projected to account for 100% of net growth in the workforce, up from 75% today. International students make excellent candidates for permanent residency: they are relatively young, proficient in at least one official language, have Canadian educational qualifications, and can help address this country’s current and pending labour market needs, particularly for highly skilled workers. Given these advantages, it is not surprising that 53,700 international students became permanent residents of Canada in 2018, contributing as productive and valued members of Canadian society.

Future of work

Advances in technology are changing the nature of work, requiring new knowledge and specific competencies including creativity, flexibility and adaptability, along with communication, problem-solving and inter-cultural skills. Intercultural competencies and knowledge of other societies is particularly important for trade-based economies such as Canada’s. The new Strategy will target the countries, programs and skills needed to drive innovation, improve Canada’s competitiveness and foster sustainable economic growth.

Coordinated approach

Implementing a new, coordinated strategy can help meet these and other challenges, and take advantage of emerging opportunities to maximize the sector’s long-term benefits to Canada.

In Canada, ministries of education in the 10 provinces and 3 territories are responsible for the organization, delivery and assessment of education. While provinces and territories hold constitutional responsibility for the delivery of education programming, the federal government can and should play a leadership role in the international sphere. Over the past months input from provinces and territories, as well as key education stakeholders, has been sought to help align and shape the new International Education Strategy. Ongoing engagement will also help inform adjustments as needed during the next five years.

These stakeholders include K-12 schools, colleges, institutes, CEGEPs, universities, language schools, not-for-profit organizations and private companies, all of which may be engaged in multiple areas of the international education sector. This engagement could include recruiting international students for enrollment in Canadian educational institutions; sending Canadian students and youth on exchanges for study and work abroad; developing international partnerships between educational institutions in Canada and abroad; and selling exports of made-in-Canada education and training models, curricula and technologies.

The Trade Commissioner Service (TCS) of Global Affairs Canada leads the overall implementation of the new International Education Strategy. To ensure a coordinated approach, three departments developed the new Strategy together: Global Affairs Canada; Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC); and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), with support from other federal government departments. In addition, the Strategy complements other Government of Canada priorities and policy initiatives, such as the Innovation and Skills Plan (2017) and the Trade Diversification Strategy (2018).

Elements of the new International Education Strategy

Canada’s new Strategy has three key objectives:

  • Encourage Canadian students to gain new skills through study and work abroad opportunities in key global markets, especially Asia
  • Diversify the countries from which international students come to Canada, as well as their fields, levels of study, and location of study within Canada
  • Increase support for Canadian education sector institutions to help grow their export services and explore new opportunities abroad

To implement the Strategy, Budget 2019 allocated $147.9 million over five years, followed by $8 million per year of ongoing funding. Key elements of the Strategy include:

Initiative Outcome Lead
Outbound Student Mobility Pilot ($95 million total over 5 years) More Canadians study and work abroad, acquiring the skills, intercultural competencies and international networks essential to their careers and economic growth. Employment and Social Development Canada

A five-year pilot project will support up to 11,000 college and university undergraduate students to study or work abroad in alignment with larger Government of Canada priorities. Financial assistance will range from $5,000 to $10,000/year. Half of the funds in the pilot will support equal access to international mobility opportunities and market diversification for underrepresented students (e.g. low-income students, Indigenous students, and students with disabilities). Students from these groups are the least likely to pursue study abroad opportunities, but stand to gain the most from those opportunities, gaining highly-valued skills and competencies and developing a professional network of contacts within their field of study.

The pilot will also support students from outside of those groups, prioritizing study abroad opportunities to countries outside of the traditional destinations of the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and Australia. Encouraging these students to study in less traditional study abroad locations—particularly in Asia and Latin America—will foster specialized knowledge and new economic ties with these regions to the Canadian workforce. In particular, Asia represents a significant strategic opportunity for Canada: with strong projections for future growth and important cultural and business ties in the region, it’s essential that an increasing number of Canadians pursue work and study opportunities there.

Studying abroad can present logistical challenges, particularly for students who have never travelled overseas. Post-secondary institutions accessing funding through the pilot will provide wraparound supports and guidance to students studying abroad, as well as develop security strategies to ensure that Canadian students studying in other countries can do so safely. In parallel, post-secondary institutions will provide integration supports to students studying on their campuses.

The pilot will also test new approaches to maximizing participation and responding to learners’ needs.

The pilot will be evaluated by an independent third party from 2022 to 2024 and include analysis of feedback from users to determine future directions for the project.

Canadian woman who studied in China

“Being trilingual, mobile, enthusiastic, analytical, and eager to learn and understand, enabled me to find a job quickly, which keeps me in contact with China every day and puts into practice my knowledge and skills, to the benefit of my organization.”

Initiative Outcome Lead
Increased promotion of International Experience Canada (IEC) (approx. $1 million supplemental over 5 years and $200,000 ongoing) Greater awareness among young Canadians about opportunities to work and travel abroad through IEC Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada

IEC is a federal initiative that enables Canadians between the ages of 18 to 35 to work and travel in any of more than 30 partner countries. In exchange, Canada allows youth from partner countries to work and travel in Canada. Many more foreign youth participate in the program than do Canadians, however, and four countries (France, Australia, the United Kingdom and New Zealand) traditionally receive a total of 80% of Canadian participants. Promotion of the IEC will increase under the new International Education Strategy, aimed at raising awareness among Canadian youth of opportunities to work and travel abroad under the program. This is expected to increase both the popularity of IEC and the number of Canadian youth with valuable skill sets sought after by employers in today’s global markets.

IEC and the Outbound Student Mobility Pilot will increase the pool of Canadians with intercultural competencies and knowledge of other societies.

Suzanne, former IEC participant

“Australia had always been a place I wanted to explore. During my year there, I worked with the Victorian Electoral Commission in Melbourne assisting with post-state election activities and with an Aboriginal education training company in Alice Springs to help prepare for its annual audit. Both were truly unique experiences. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about the memories and the technical and life skills that I gained from deciding to work and live abroad.”

Initiative Outcome Lead
Targeted digital marketing strategy (approx. $24.1 million supplemental over 5 years and $5.4 million ongoing)

Enhanced support by the Trade Commissioner Service (approx. $4.9 million supplemental over 5 years and $1 million ongoing)

Attract students from a wider diversity of countries to a greater diversity of schools and programs of study across Canada.

Greater support for education clients leads to increased sales and licensing of Canadian educational services and products abroad.

Global Affairs Canada

A new digital marketing strategy will aim to diversify Canada’s international education sector and address regional and demographic gaps. It will target growing numbers of students from new source countries, as well as those seeking a wider choice of programs. Priority countries include Brazil, Colombia, France, Indonesia, Mexico, Morocco, the Philippines, Thailand, Turkey, the Ukraine and Vietnam. The scope of target countries will be adjusted regularly, based on the needs of Canadian provinces and territories, education associations, institutions, relevant international student statistics, and additional data analysis.

Campaigns will also raise the profile of regions, schools, French language programs and programs that traditionally attract fewer international students. China and India will remain important sources of international students for Canada, with a focus on in-country diversification to attract students from different regions within those countries and in other areas and levels of study.

The new marketing strategy will feature new tools, channels and technologies that influence the choices of international students and will fully capitalize on the Edu Canada brand. Ongoing analysis of results, along with input from provinces, territories and stakeholders, will inform adjustments to the marketing strategy.

Building on success: Edu Canada brand

Launched in 2016, EduCanada is a collaborative promotional initiative involving the provinces and territories through Global Affairs Canada and the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada. Thanks to this ongoing collaboration, the EduCanada brand represents the high quality of Canada’s education sector and contributes to increased numbers of international students across the country. Under the new International Education Strategy, the use and effectiveness of the brand will increase.

To complement these marketing efforts and to increase exports of educational services and products, the Trade Commissioner Service (TCS) will intensify its efforts to grow and diversify Canada’s international education sector. Enhanced TCS initiatives will include better training for trade commissioners on the capacity of Canada’s education sector, more international recruitment fairs, and a larger Canadian presence at signature international events in the sector.

China and India will remain important markets for Canada in international education. The new Strategy will focus on diversifying source regions for students within China and India, as well as levels, programs and regions of study across Canada, to amplify economic benefits and create jobs in more of our communities. The Strategy will also seek to diversify opportunities in both markets for Canadian stakeholders to deploy their expertise, for instance, in areas such as early childhood learning, flight training, and care of the elderly in China, and in aviation (pilot training), teacher training, hospitality, health-care training and corporate training in India.

Canadian Trade Commissioner Service

For 125 years, the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service (TCS), as part of Global Affairs Canada, has been helping companies and organizations succeed in the global marketplace. With a broad network located in Ottawa and in more than 160 of Canada’s diplomatic missions abroad, the TCS plays a key role in advancing Canadian interests in the international education sector. In 2018-2019, the TCS provided education sector services to more than 800 clients, including at relevant trade shows and education fairs abroad, and organized in-Canada events to promote the EduCanada brand. These TCS services contributed to 83 new commercial agreements and contracts for clients in more than 35 countries.

Initiative Outcome Lead
Expand Student Direct Stream to additional countries (approx. $1 million over 5 years and $100,000 ongoing). Attract more international students from target countries. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC)

The Strategy will expand the Student Direct Stream to additional markets. The Student Direct Stream endeavours to offer faster processing of study permit applications to prospective international students from certain countries who plan to study in Canada at the post-secondary level. To be eligible, applicants must submit electronic applications and provide certain upfront documents to demonstrate that they meet specific eligibility criteria in addition to meeting all study permit requirements under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and its Regulations.

Building on success: Student Direct Stream

Currently available in China, India, the Philippines and Vietnam, Student Direct Stream is a streamlined and expedited application process for eligible international students. Under the Strategy, Student Direct Stream will be implemented in additional countries, where feasible, providing students who meet upfront requirements with more seamless immigration services.

Initiative Outcome Lead
Modernize immigration forms and processes (approx. $18 million over 5 years and $1.2 million ongoing). Improved client services for those who seek to visit or study, work or stay in Canada Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada

The development of a dynamic electronic applications process will enable Canada to offer timely immigration services and effectively manage the increasing demand of foreign nationals seeking to visit or study, work or stay permanently in Canada. This will further enable clients to receive decisions in a timely manner and assist in increasing the quality of applications.

Initiative Outcome Lead
Additional scholarships for international students to study in Canada ($5 million over 5 years)

Consolidate existing scholarships under a cohesive, strengthened narrative.

Attract select students by targeting countries, programs and schools; strengthen bilateral relations.

Attract additional international students; support Canada’s education brand.

Global Affairs Canada

Increased scholarship funding for incoming international students will help to attract top talent from a broad range of countries, strengthen bilateral relations and partnerships, and contribute to diversification efforts.

Canada currently has a variety of scholarship programs for specific regions and countries that do not benefit from a unified, comprehensive promotional strategy. The Strategy will consolidate existing programs under a coherent narrative to facilitate promotion and raise awareness in target markets.

Measuring success

As the new Strategy is implemented, Global Affairs Canada, Employment and Social Development Canada and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada will closely monitor key indicators of progress and develop new performance measures to ensure that the Strategy delivers what it sets out to achieve and to identify potential improvements. Performance measures may include the number of leads generated by marketing campaigns and other promotional efforts; awareness among Canadian youth of the International Experience Canada program (IEC); and the experiences of participants in the Outbound Student Mobility Pilot and IEC. These measures will be analyzed regularly and revised as needed to align with Government of Canada priorities and in light of international education trends.

Conclusion: Greater contribution to Canada’s prosperity

Under the International Education Strategy (2019–2024), the education sector will grow its potential and benefit greater numbers of middle class Canadians. The Strategy will support the efforts of provinces and territories responsible for education, address current and emerging challenges in collaboration with partners and stakeholders and follow a consistent approach throughout its five-year life cycle. By building on the sector’s success, the Strategy will equip Canada with the skills, knowledge and expertise needed to innovate and thrive in the global economy.


Figure 1: Canada – Number of study permit holders by study level and by year in which permit(s) became effective

Source: Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, temporary residents data, February 28, 2019

View accessible version of figure 1

Figure 2: Canada – Study permit holders with valid permit as of December 31, 2018, by country of citizenship

Source: Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, 2018

View accessible version of figure 2

Figure 3: Distribution of international students in Canada

Source: Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, 2017

View accessible version of figure 3

Figure 4: Percentage of undergrads studying abroad while pursuing degree

Data sources: France: Campus France (2015); Germany: German Academic Exchange Service (2013); Australia: Government of Australia (2015); U.S.: National Survey of Student Engagement (2016); Canada: National Survey of Student Engagement (2016) and Universities Canada (2014). All figures are for university students.

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