By Nicola Hancox, Editor of Study Travel Magazine

I was prepared for arctic temperatures when I attended the 8th Languages Canada Conference in the city of Gatineau, QC last week. A quick check of the weather pre departure told me it was around minus 14.

After a challenging 2014 and a raft of changes to the sector’s legislative and regulatory environment, this year’s conference was entitled Bridges to the Future and was said to reflect a sense of renewed focus, speaking volumes about this study destination’s grit and determination.

A workshop by Daniel Guhr, a renowned researcher and government adviser at Illuminate Consulting Group was one of the stand out sessions for me. Guhr talked about change drivers for future language travel, including a shift in international student mobility to intra-Asia study and the emergence of Chinese providers targeting international students seeking English taught programmes (our central feature in the July issue of ST Magazine will explore this area further). He also talked about how the industry is attracting a lot of outside acquisition interest (considered a dynamic disruption period!) and how technology was marching on and to move with it or be left behind (a nod to the increasingly sophisticated online learning delivery models, like MOOC’s, entering the marketplace). He also stressed the need for Canada to shake the ‘my province is not your province’ tag, perhaps a reference to provincial fragmentation which could be holding business back. Great orator and highly recommend attending one of his sessions if you get chance.

Arctic temperatures were keenly felt in a session by Citizen and Immigration Canada (CIC). Director General, Susan MacPhee, spoke of the country’s growing immigrant population (Canada welcomes 255,000 new permanent residents a year and anticipates between 260,000 and 285,000 new immigrant residents in 2015). However, the topic of work rights for language students was the elephant in the room – the sector is battling back after the discontinuation of the language co op programme during ISP reforms – and member question time was loaded. “Can work rights be brought back?” asked one member. “Work experience in Canada is a privilege, not an immediate right,” replied CIC candidly.

“You speak of rights and privilege,” answered Languages Canada’s Executive Director, Gonzalo Peralta, “But why can’t a language student work but a private career college student can? A university graduate can, but a language student at a university can’t?” It is clear much ambiguity remains and understandably the delegation were looking for answers. Sadly answers weren’t really forthcoming. “Policy has hurt our sector,” added Peralta, and when policy keeps changing, misunderstanding can occur, chimed in another delegate. With a carefully crafted response, CIC replied that progress with ISP reform had been made and that they would continue their ongoing dialogue with the association and its members about challenges it faces. The disappointment and frustration in the room was palpable.

Australia’s model for international education was referenced several times throughout the conference and was used as an example of what Canada should be aspiring to. Following several years of decline, Australia’s international education sector recently bounced back with record commencements in the higher education and Elicos sectors. The aptly named Armchair Chronicles, which featured informal exchanges with several renowned figures in international education, provided the perfect opportunity for moderator and LC Executive Director, Gonzalo Peralta, to quiz English Australia’s Sue Blundell on the role she and her peers have played in this market’s return to glory.

Just like Canada, we too have had a very up and down relationship with our immigration department, said Blundell. Success equals continuity of relationships, she added, perhaps a nod to the cross-sectoral committee that comprises a mix of industry and government representatives which has led to a string of positive outcomes. Two years in the making and four committee meetings a year, it has taken time however, said Blundell. Like a phoenix rising from the flames, the Australia success story is a powerful exemplum for the Canadian international education sector to aspire to.


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