Montreal, the best student city in the world

February 15, 2017

Montreal, the best student city in the world

By Prof. Suzanne Fortier, Principal and Vice-Chancellor, McGill University

This week, Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) named Montreal the best city in the world for university students. It is yet another reason to be proud as we celebrate the 375th anniversary of our incredible city. The ranking also provides an unprecedented opportunity to fulfill the potential of Montreal to draw talent from around the world.

Attracting international students is important, and not just to improve the learning environment for students in a globalized world, or for economic reasons. Our population is aging rapidly. Quebec has the highest proportion of the population aged 65 and older in Canada, with the exception of the Atlantic provinces. Our universities and the government project a decline in Quebec university students, and even the most intensive recruiting efforts here at home will not reverse this trend. 

To maintain a vital society and strong workforce, we have to welcome global talent with open arms. In recent years, the Government of Quebec has put in place several initiatives focused on retention and consulted widely on recruitment. As Hélène David, Minister for Higher Education, notes, these initiatives demonstrate “the government’s resolve to systematically implement actions to increase the number of international students who remain here in Quebec.” Everyone wins when we throw open our doors to students from around the world. 

However, despite our city’s considerable attractions, despite the clear benefits that international talent brings, Montreal and Quebec have room to improve. According to data from Statistics Canada, we had the lowest increase in the number of international university students of any province in Canada between 2000 and 2015, and growth far behind British Columbia and Ontario.

Surely, the best-ranked student city in the world can do better. We must start right away to design and implement a talent recruitment and retention strategy. We must quickly examine and implement best practices from leaders in international education, such as Australia and British Columbia, including a deep analysis of international markets, both francophone and non-francophone. We need sophisticated, co-ordinated marketing efforts, both digital and face-to-face. We need to ease overregulation of tuition to give universities the incentive and the means to recruit internationally.

Montréal International has set an ambitious target to retain 3,600 additional international students by 2019. The organization estimates that this influx of fresh talent would increase the GDP of Quebec by approximately $72-million per year. I believe that we can achieve this goal. After all, Montreal is not just the best city for students; it is also the best city in the world to live in.

Montreal is a magnet for young people. However, we must not take this power for granted. Government, businesses, universities and citizens must act quickly to build on our strong reputation and ensure that Quebec's universities and CEGEPs become an education destination for students across the globe.

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