On Campus

PhDs a hot commodity

University recruiters in Beijing to attract doctoral students--education Canada's largest export to China

Representatives from 14 Canadian universities will try to attract Chinese doctoral students to their schools during a recruitment mission in Beijing starting Friday. They will be competing with institutions from eight other countries.

And while diversity on Canadian campuses is one reason behind the recruiting drive, putting more money into cash-strapped university coffers is another.

Dozens of institutions from various countries, including Canada, the U.S., the U.K., Australia, Germany and France, were invited to the PhD Workshop that runs Friday through Sunday, organized by the China Education Association for International Exchange and the Association of Chinese Graduate Schools.

The Canadian schools will meet with some of the 500 doctorate students attending the workshop and discuss areas of research, opportunities for innovation and the benefits of pursuing a PhD in Canada, a Foreign Affairs spokeswoman said.

Heather Kelly, director of student services with the School of Graduate Studies at the University of Toronto, said in an email from Beijing she plans to meet with more than 100 students.

“The University of Toronto recognizes that the key to innovation is collaboration, partnership, and co-operation with leading global institutions,” said Kelly. “So, our interest in working with top Chinese institutions is to develop targeted initiatives with universities, whether that be researcher to researcher, educational experiences, student internships or graduate student projects.”

Concordia University, Dalhousie University, McGill University, McMaster University, Queen’s University, the University of Alberta, the University of British Columbia, Universite Laval, the University of Manitoba, Universite de Montreal, Universite de Sherbrooke, the University of Waterloo and York University will also participate, Foreign Affairs said.

There’s fierce competition to attract students from abroad.

“There are many, many factors in which our members are interested in attracting more international students, top of which is creating a more diverse global campus,” said Pari Johnston, director of international relations with the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada.

“These students are longtime ambassadors for Canada when they return home. When they stay in Canada, they contribute to a research effort, to our economies, to our knowledge economy.”

The University of Toronto has been actively recruiting outside Canada for at least a decade and visits a couple of hundred high schools around the world every year to draw undergraduate students, said David Zutautas, assistant director of student recruitment.

Zutautas agrees diversity is important, noting the U of T has students from 163 different countries. “You can’t be an international university if you don’t have an international student body, if you don’t have an international perspective from your professors,” he said.

“Do universities want international students? Absolutely.” International students help the universities financially as well, with undergraduate tuitions ranging from $8,000 to $30,000 a year, depending on the institution and program, said Zutautas. That compares to $5,000 to $6,000 a year for Canadian students, he said.

The more than 178,000 foreign students who went to Canadian high schools, universities, colleges or trade schools in 2008 spent $6.5 billion on tuition, accommodation and discretionary spending, according to a report released last month by International Trade Minister Stockwell Day.

More than half of those students went to universities. Chinese students spent the most, at $1.3 billion, making education Canada’s largest export sector to China, the department said. More Chinese students are choosing to study in Canada. Between 2006 and 2008, Canada saw a 52 per cent growth in the number of study permits issued to Chinese students, according to government figures.

But overall, the number of full-time international students at Canadian universities, which had been growing for some time, has slowed in the last few years, in the face of well-funded, aggressive student recruitment campaigns by the likes of the U.K. and Australia, said Johnston.

“I think the issue for us is the other countries . . . have made major investments through their governments to market and promote their countries as a destination of choice to promote their university sectors as a destination of choice,” said Johnston.

In November, the association called for a significant new government investment in an international student recruitment strategy.

During this weekend’s PhD fair the Canadian schools can also meet with representatives from the Chinese government and Chinese universities and technical institutes to discuss areas for collaboration. Most of the students have been pre-selected for full scholarships from the Chinese government.

The Canadian Press