Switzerland ranks 1st among 16 peer countries on the foreign student index, though its lead over Australia and the U.K. has dwindled since 2000. Australia, in particular, has made enormous strides over the past 10 years on the foreign student index—improvements that have been driven almost entirely by an impressive increase in its share of foreign students from 5.1 to 6.6 per cent. Also, although Ireland ranks 5th, its performance on the foreign student index over the past decade has been remarkable. In 2000, Ireland held 0.36 per cent share of foreign students and achieved a foreign student index score of only 2.2. By 2010, Ireland managed to nearly double its share to 0.7 per cent and increase its foreign student index score to 6.5—enough to move it from a “D” to a “B” and rise from 11th to 5th in the rankings.
As a measure of the attractiveness of higher education systems, then, the foreign student index shows that Switzerland, Australia, and the U.K. have reputations for high-quality tertiary education, while Canada is improving but still in the middle of the pack.
The Australian experience provides timely lessons about how aggressive countries should be in trying to attract more foreign students. By 2008, international student tuition accounted for 15 per cent of university funding in Australia—the result of its ambitious recruitment strategy.1 But when the economic crisis hit, the supply of foreign students declined, leaving Australian universities with major funding challenges. Combined with less-than-ideal experiences for some international students, the Australians’ aggressive marketing approach has caused some damage to its universities’ international reputations.2
Still, given the additional benefits of having more foreign students—such as greater diversity in the student body and revenues from foreign students and technology transfers that can help offset declining public financial support for higher education3—there are good reasons for Canada to improve the attractiveness of its system to foreign students. So long as efforts are strategic and gradual, there is much that Canada can do to improve.