Volume 12, Number 13 March 4, 2005

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U of S competes for international students

By Colleen MacPherson

Thanks to an infusion of money for recruitment, U of S attempts to attract students from around the world are gathering momentum, but it looks like it will be a slow, uphill climb.

While the $269,000 committed to recruitment last fall by the Provost’s Committee on Integrated Planning is “an appropriate investment to get us restarted”, the man leading the charge said Canada is “not even in the game” when it comes to luring international students to our campuses. Laurie Pushor said national recruitment efforts are so “woefully inadequate that you find yourself talking about Canada before you even begin to talk about the U of S”.

World Map

The director of enrolment in Student and Enrolment Services Division (SESD) pointed out that Canada’s estimated 60,000 international students is small potatoes compared to Britain. There, about one million foreign students make international recruitment the fifth largest economic generator in that country.

Once Pushor, along with other recruiters and agents, finish singing the praises of Canada – “it’s nothing but opportunity, you get a high quality educational experience, its good value for your money, and it’s safe” – they find no shortage of selling points for this Prairie university. The trick, he said, is separating the U of S from the pack.

“It’s unbelievably competitive. Everybody sells the programs. Everybody sells the quality. Then there’s everything else.”

That ‘everything else’ for the U of S includes it being a broad medical/doctoral university “with a strong sense of community”, extensive scientific and research programs, and an undergrad experience that allows students to be “a little more engaged”. That’s the message the U of S is carrying to the recruitment fair circuit throughout six targeted regions – China, South America and Mexico, Scandinavia and Western Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

Laurie Pushor

Laurie Pushor

But there are other regions that, according to Pushor, “have legs”. These are India, Bangladesh and the United States, “and we’ve taken some flack for moving the United States off the list of target markets. The reality is we haven’t figured out how to recruit students out of the U.S. yet.”

This renewed recruitment drive stems from the enrolment plan that calls for a doubling of international undergrads to eight per cent of the student body by 2010 from the current four per cent. “But it’s not all about enrolment,” he said. It also relates to the University’s internationalization push aimed at enhancing the experience of all students.

And while he denied the University sees international student recruitment as a source of revenue, “these students do pay a differential fee and we’d be lying if we didn’t acknowledge that they do generate a positive revenue stream”. Foreign undergraduate students pay 2.6 times the regular tuition in the five direct entry colleges, and Pushor said Statistics Canada reports that every international student in Canada generates about $35,000 in economic activity annually. That means recruitment pitches are made only to those with means although “we are looking at ways to recruit students … from developing or emerging economies” using vehicles like scholarships.

“But if you set that all aside, what we’re talking about are bright, young, energetic people who add so much to our community.”

Pushor said in addition to working student fairs, where a three-day event can cost up to $2,500 including a booth, materials and recruiter accommodation, the University is also trying to exploit existing relationships with other institutions in target areas. Some of those links were developed by other units on campus like the Centre for Second Language Instruction, the International Study Abroad program, and even the College of Graduate Studies and Research. Recruitment, he said, is a collaborative effort.

Paid agents are also being used for the first time in various markets. There are six agents working for both SESD and the Centre for Second Language Instruction in China, three in Nigeria and one position is being negotiated in Norway. These people are paid on a per-student basis but Pushor stressed the University “has very rigid policies about how we evaluate who we enter into relationships with”.

Here in Canada, “we’re also introducing ourselves” to international high school and second language program students in B.C.’s lower mainland and in Ontario.

When to expect results is a big question “because we’re so thin” in the target markets. Although Pushor hopes student numbers will start to climb in 2005-06, he said it’s a mistake to draw any conclusions until active recruitment has been underway for about three years, a reasonable time to develop a profile in new markets.

“Until we have some traction in those regions, it’s tough to know where the students will come from.”

For more information, contact communications.office@usask.ca

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