Quebec must develop a clear strategy to make it a destination of choice for international students, if it wants to increase its capacity for productivity and innovation. That is the message Heather Munroe-Blum, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of McGill University, delivered at a lunchtime conference of the Conseil des relations internationales de Montréal (CORIM).
“Quebec needs all the talented, educated people it can get,” said Prof. Munroe-Blum, who stressed that Quebec is in serious competition with both emerging countries and other Canadian provinces. “Quebec’s share of Canada’s international student population has decreased from 33 percent in 2001 to 25 percent in 2010. In contrast, British Columbia’s share increased from 10 percent to nearly 20 percent.”
There are numerous benefits to recruiting international students, she said, not the least of which is their impact on our economy. For example, international students in Canada have an economic impact of eight billion dollars annually. And according to the Conférence régionale des élus, one third of international students who study in Quebec choose to stay here after their studies.
“A great example is Aldo Bensadoun,” she noted, referring to the founder of Aldo Shoes. After graduating from McGill, the Morocco-born Bensadoun “stayed in Quebec and from here created a large Quebec multinational that today has 1,000 shoe stores in 66 countries around the world.”
However, she added, there is an unfortunate lack of recognition of the costs behind recruiting and supporting students who come from outside Quebec. Although these students pay higher tuition than their Quebec peers, the universities only keep the equivalent of in-province tuition. The difference – $55 million each year, in the case of McGill – is turned over to the Quebec government, which redistributes the money across the entire Quebec university system.
“Universities, and the students they’re attracting, are being deprived of significant resources that should be returned to them,” she added. “That’s not an invitation for universities to do more.”
Prof. Munroe-Blum concluded by asking the Quebec government to include the quality of programs, research and international recruitment to the agenda of the forthcoming higher education summit, saying that “Quebec is positioned to win the race for global talent if we move quickly, competitively and with confidence.”