Canadian universities' Brazilian ambition

Last October I wrote a really strange column noting that the government of Brazil is sending 75,000 students abroad on scholarships, and Brazilian businesses were bankrolling another 25,000, and Canada was way behind in recruiting those students to Canadian universities.

Who else is getting ready to play host to the Brazilian scholarship students? The United States, of course: they’ll take 35,000 students, nearly half of the total. In June, the Institute of International Education held conference calls with 80 U.S. universities to tell them how to make sure the Brazilian kids choose those schools as their study destination.

Who else? Germany’s on board for 10,000. France will take 5,000. That leaves 15,000, spread among “institutes in Asia and other countries in the Americas and Europe.” Probably some will wash up on Canadian shores, more or less by accident. That’s the way it usually goes.

But today I’m here to tell you it’s not going to go the way it usually goes. From the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada:

The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada is collaborating with the Canadian Bureau for International Education to bring Brazilian university students to Canada. Through the CBIE/AUCC program and other agreements between Canadian institutions and the Brazilian government, an estimated 12,000 Science without Borders scholars are expected to come to Canada between now and 2016.

I’ve asked AUCC for more details. I’m leery of double-counting: if a student attends UBC for three years, does she count as three students? If she goes to McGill for a year and Stanford for a year, does she count as one student in Canada and one student in the U.S.? But still, the scale of this effort seems laudable. And I’m told it was accomplished with no participation by the government of Canada.

This always kicks off a discussion about whether it’s any of the federal government’s business to market Canadian education abroad. But as I noted in my column last autumn, the Harper government claims to see this as a settled question: of course it’s the feds’ responsibility. In fact, Trade Minister Ed Fast said, when the government struck an experts’ panel to recommend an internationalization strategy, that such efforts would be “critical to Canada’s continued economic growth and prosperity.”

But when he said that, the Brazilian scholarship program was already announced, and the Canadian panel had a mandate to take forever coming up with a plan, so Canadian universities decided not to wait. With details of the scheme pending, I’m nonetheless inclined to say this is good news.