Domestic and international students drive economic growth

TheStar.com – Opinion/EditorialOpinion
Published On Tue Nov 16 2010.   Bonnie M. Patterson, President and CEO of the Council of Ontario Universities

Ontario competes in a global economy. To ensure the prosperity of our province, we must continue to increase the proportion of the domestic population with higher education, and strive to attract top talent from around the world.

Demographers have written extensively about the impact of our aging population, declining birth rate, and the resulting challenges in filling our future workforce needs. Over the last 20 years, the labour market grew by 25 per cent — growth that drove the economy. But over the next 20 years, the labour market is only expected to grow by 8 per cent. If this trend holds, Ontario will have a shortfall of approximately 1 million people to fill available jobs. Add to that the need for increased innovation to drive productivity and competitiveness, and it becomes increasingly important to expand participation rates in higher education. This includes efforts to increase participation of people with disabilities, aboriginal people and first-generation students who would be the first in their family to attend a post-secondary institution.

Real progress has been made in Ontario to improve access. With the support of the McGuinty government, there are over 100,000 more students enrolled in universities than there were five years ago — the equivalent of adding another University of Toronto and University of Waterloo combined. Particularly important to the province’s innovation capacity is the addition of 14,000 graduate spaces since 2005, bringing the total to 51,041 in 2009-2010. While much has been done, Ontario and Canada still lag behind in this regard — ranking 25th in PhDs per capita among nations in the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Certainly, more needs to be done to encourage domestic students to pursue graduate studies, particularly in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Typically, our PhD students have most of their costs covered by the university they attend through teaching assistantships, graduate awards or research grants. Even so, we do not generate enough advanced degree holders, particularly PhDs, to meet demand from business, government and academia. We need more domestic graduate students and we need to attract more from around the world.

Universities in Britain, the United States and Australia have been successful in attracting hundreds of thousands of international students annually, compared to about 20,000 at Ontario universities. But the global competition for talent is intensifying as other countries seek to bolster their own innovation capacity. With scholarships and international competitions being offered by many, talent is highly mobile.

The benefits to those countries that can attract this talent are significant. A new report from the OECD indicates that the inflow of talent increases research, development and economic activity, cooperation between countries, immigrant entrepreneurship, and the opportunity for domestic corporations (large and small) to leverage foreign knowledge for competitive advantage. The report, The Global Competition for Talent: Mobility of the Highly Skilled”, indicates that even if skilled individuals return to their home countries, they become the catalyst for future relationships in research or business.

In Ontario, we know that international students collectively contribute more than $1 billion annually to the economy and more than half of international graduate students stay to become ongoing contributors to the future of Ontario. Those graduates who return to their home countries for academic and business opportunities often become the conduit for future collaborative research projects, student exchanges and trade arrangements.

Ontario has work ahead to be a player in global competition. Despite the excellence of our academic programs and research to which international students will attest, Ontario universities are not well known internationally, with a few exceptions.

On a recent trip to Hong Kong, I witnessed first-hand the keen interest that Asian families, institutions, businesses and government place in higher education. I was also proud to witness Premier Dalton McGuinty promoting the quality and scope of Ontario universities. The creation of new Ontario Trillium Scholarships for international PhD students is not just about recruitment of highly skilled people to our province. It is also about telling the world that Ontario universities are among the best in the world, that there are real opportunities to conduct groundbreaking research and learn with leading people in any number of fields.

As we take steps to drive a brighter future for Ontario, we must to continue to encourage the increased education of our domestic population and to attract talented students from around the world.

< http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorialopinion/article/891166–domestic-and-international-students-drive-economic-growth >

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *