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Canadian universities set sights on students from India

The University of Windsor has recruited 2,000 Indian students and nearly 6,000 overseas students since deciding 15 years ago to become “Canada’s leading international university.”

And this was only the beginning of the school’s global recruitment drive, said Dr. Majid Ahmadi, who runs Windsor’s graduate engineering programs.

“Three years ago we took 70 to 75 Indian students in engineering. It has now more than doubled to 180,” Ahmadi said last Friday at a students’ fair attended by a dozen universities and colleges from the University of Victoria on the Pacific to Halifax’s St. Mary’s University on the Atlantic.

“I’ve admitted 95 students already on this trip and that is not the end of the story. Our target for next fall is 200.”

More than any other school, Windsor is making known a federal government initiative that allows foreign students to work for as long as three years after graduation and makes it much easier for them to get permanent residency. Indian students can be swayed to study in Canada because while the education is of a high quality it costs far less than in the U.S., which remains the destination of choice for most foreign students.

International students have added about $300 million to Windsor’s coffers since 1998, according to statistics provided by the Toronto-based Canadian University Application Centre. It coordinates the recruitment activities of many Canadian institutions of higher learning in India as well as across Asia, the Middle East, Africa and South America.

With provinces cutting spending on education, the only way for many schools to survive is to look abroad, where they can charge what the market will bear.

“One of the keys of our success is that we do not play with students. We look at their qualifications and if they are qualified I refer the applications to our office to prepare letters for signature,” Ahmadi, an Iranian who received his doctorate in Britain before emigrating to Canada more than 30 years ago. “I fill the forms in on the spot and admit them. The entire process takes three days.”

Among those accepted last week to study for a master’s in electrical engineering was Malarkodi Selvan.

“I feel very good,” Selvan said as her husband, Dr. Tamil Selvan, beamed proudly. “Basically we want to settle in Canada. We know that the University of Windsor has a good faculty and that the country has a clean, safe environment and a stable economy.”

The program that Selvan will begin next September takes 16 months. Tuition runs about $22,000.

“Canada has not marketed itself so well as Britain or the United States but it is really picking up as word spreads,” said Anjali Anand Seth, manager of CUAC’s Gurgaon office. “I’ve told my own daughter that she must study very hard because I want her to go to university in Canada.”

The University of Winnipeg began hunting for undergraduate students in India 18 months ago. It already has recruited 45 students and hopes to reach 100 by next autumn. Undergraduate tuition for foreign students averages about $18,000. Living costs add another $10,000 to $12,000 annually to the bill.

“It is definitely a competition but we come as a group because the fight for students is really with the U.S., Britain and Australia,” said Jason Brennan, Winnipeg’s director of admissions, as colleagues affiliated with the CUAC made their pitches nearby to scores of students and parents.

“Being together gives us a real weight because between us we offer a wide variety of programs. If we do not have what a student wants another school here probably has that program. What we offer is a Canadian degree and work experience. That makes them highly marketable here. But the reality is that they are becoming citizens of the world with a lot of options.”

St. Thomas University, a liberal arts school in Fredericton, N.B., is just getting started in India. It has signed up five students already and hopes to double that.

“Look at the high school demographics for New Brunswick for the next 12 years. We are down every year,” said Ryan Sullivan, St. Thomas’s international recruitment coordinator. “We must either increase our intake from the Maritimes or look internationally. We want to diversify the experience for our students but there is a financial part, too.”

Serious questions have arisen about the quality of many students accepted in Britain and Australia and at some of Canada’s community colleges.

The same could not happen at St. Thomas because “our community is small and the professors are intimately involved,” Sullivan said. “If I do not get students of the right calibre, I will personally hear about it.”

Mel Broitman, a co-founder and director of CUAC, said maintaining academic standards was vital, but difficult to do.

“We try not to focus on this as a quick cash cow, but on quality,” he said. “This is what will create wealth and contacts. They may end up working in Dubai or China but they will like Canada and that will help our country.”

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