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Canadian Educators Expect More Int'l Students with Harper's China Visit

As Prime Minister Stephen Harper is promoting Canada's education options among Chinese students during his visit to China, Canadian educators are upbeat about increasing the number of international students at their schools.

Education falls under the scope of the provinces in Canada, but Harper renewed a memorandum of understanding with Beijing on the second day of his trip earlier this week. The agreement called for an extension of the Canada-China scholars' exchange program.

This is the first time the Canadian federal government has started paying serious attention to education, said Sandra Schinnerl, director of international programs at British Columbia's Kwantlen Polytechnic University.

"Nationally and provincially we have been getting a lot of (messages) about the greater importance of education - not only receiving students, but sending out more Canadian students because this is now a global landscape," she said.

The extension of the scholars' exchange program will ensure that more students can benefit from studying abroad, but Schinnerl said only about a handful of Kwantlen students are now studying in China.

"There's a number of different reasons for that," she said. "Language is certainly one of the barriers, cost at the moment is a major barrier, and many of our students at Kwantlen have work and other responsibilities."

Schinnerl said that the university is taking a number of measures to increase interest in China, which includes the introduction of a mobility program and a new Asian studies program with a strong emphasis on China.

"Students, recognizing that China is going to be an incredibly important partner globally and economically, (are) saying 'I need to know about this region of the world,'" Schinnerl said, noting Kwantlen intends to increase the number of its international students by 5 percent over the next four years. International students make up about 8 percent of Kwantlen's student body at present.

The Asia-Pacific Foundation said the number of students from China applying for Canadian student visas increased almost 130 percent between 2005 and 2009, going from 7,447 to 17,064. Students who received these visas joined the nearly 50,000 other Chinese-born students already studying in Canada.

Altogether, there are about 200,000 international students in Canada, and they contribute 6.5 billion U.S. dollars to the economy.

"What's driving that increase in international students, generally speaking, are these national and provincial interests and efforts and China, for us, is going to be one of the major target countries of our recruitment efforts," Schinnerl said.

She also said Kwantlen has a lot of strong connections to the Chinese community in metropolitan Vancouver, which gives the university a competitive edge combined with efforts to send more Canadian students to China and offering a degree in Asian studies.

Sik On Hon, manager of Chinese marketing and development at Vancouver's Langara College, also believed government initiatives are attracting more students than ever before.

"I think the Canadian government is really encouraging foreign students to come to study in Canada," he said, adding Chinese students benefit from Canadian government plans such as the Student Partners Program (SPP), which has made it faster and easier to get student visas.

"All these add up to an increasing trend of students (coming) from China and other countries."

Ajay Patel, Langara's associate director of international education, said that even without government initiatives such as the SPP, Vancouver is already a very appealing destination for Chinese students due to its diverse population.

As for the future, Schinnerl expected more Chinese students to attend classes at Kwantlen and more Canadian students to study abroad.

"I think the emphasis for increased mobility of students to all parts of the world will only see bigger numbers go to China. I think students, generally speaking, have a lot of interest in knowing more about China," she said.

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