By Matthew Knott, News Editor of Study Travel Magazine

One of news stories this week focussed on Canada’s continuing upward trajectory in terms of international student enrolments, which reached almost 300,000 in 2013, according to the latest annual report released by the Canadian Bureau for International Education.

Across the last decade, incremental rises in international students have developed into regular increases of over six per cent – an additional 30,000 students being added per year.

But the CBIE report explored a very important issue within internationalisation, one that impacts on Canada and any other country seeking to expand its intake of international students: integration.

A CBIE survey of more than 3,000 international students within the report revealed that 56 per cent had no Canadian students as friends. The tendency was far more pronounced among certain regions; only 29 per cent of Middle East and Northern Africa (MENA) students and 31 per cent of East Asian students said they had Canadian friend.

There may be a plethora of reasons explaining this trend and the report explores cultural barriers and institutional barriers. To some extent this may also be an unavoidable consequence of large-scale recruitment from certain markets; Chinese students, for example, may find themselves accommodated and schooled with their compatriots in large numbers. 

Students in our regular ‘view from the classroom’ surveys in market analysis features on key language study destinations sometimes report that they think there are too many students of the same nationality on their course, and study travel agents often relate that students and parents are looking for a school that won’t have too many students from their countries.

This is not necessarily a problem, but, as the CBIE argues, it casts a shadow over claims of ‘internationalisation’ and the cultural benefits of hosting international students for the host countries.

“When Canadian and international students do not fully benefit from each other’s presence through meaningful social interaction, everyone loses,” the report says. “Moreover, it is difficult to claim that internationalisation has been truly achieved on a campus or in a school where, despite opportunities, connections between the two groups are rare.”

The report provides some positive case studies of measures that some Canadian institutions have put in place to address this issue, and it is something that schools, cities and governments will need to give some thought to as international student numbers increase. Otherwise they risk failing to capitalise on the benefits and losing their attractiveness as a study destination.

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