The International Education Strategy aims to double the number of international students and researchers — to 450,000 — in Canada by 2022 in an effort to create jobs and stimulate the domestic economy.
Canadian full-time undergraduate students pay an average of $5,700 in tuition every year. International students, meanwhile, can pay three times that amount — or an average of $19,500 every year.
The government estimates that recruiting more international students could generate some 86,000 new jobs in Canada and add an additional $10 billion to the domestic economy each year.
The strategy will "advance Canada’s commercial interests in priority markets around the world and ensure that we maximize the people-to-people ties that help Canadian workers, businesses and world-class educational institutions achieve real success in the largest, most dynamic and fastest-growing economies in the world,” said Minister of International Trade Ed Fast in a statement.
The priority markets identified in the plan include Brazil, China, India, Mexico, Vietnam, and the Middle East-North Africa — emerging economies where there is increasing demand for international education.
An investment of $5 million per year, already approved in the federal budget, will be used to brand and market Canada as a "world-class education destination" in those countries.
An additional $13 million over the next two years will go toward Mitacs, a Vancouver-based non-profit that offers students internship and research opportunities abroad.
Announcement brings mixed reaction
Wednesday's announcement was greeted by mixed reaction on university campuses.
"Having an international environment at UBC is one of the things that attracted me to it. I am an international student. I'm an American," says Daniel Hilbert, a student at the University of British Columbia.
"As the world changes, more and more people have access to university all over the world. And I think it's just a supply and demand thing. If people are willing to come from other countries, come to Canada and they want to do their university here, good for them," says UBC history student Ruari Trueger.
But not everyone agrees. Some students say recruiting more international students could make it difficult for Canadian students to compete.
"The classrooms aren't getting any bigger, right? And there's going to be more demand to get in. Canadian students will maybe have to look at options to go to school abroad or somewhere else," said UBC computer science student Michael Zbeetnoff.
"International students pay way greater fees than domestic students. So I can see from a profit standpoint and to make money that it makes sense that universities would do that," says UBC marketing student Brittany Flavelle. "At the same time, I see why that's a concern for displacing students who are from Canada, who deserve to be able to study in their own country."
"Funding for universities has been declining year over year, and they're looking for more sources of funding. Where they took all the money from the stone of Canadian students, now they're trying to get it from foreign students," said Basil McDonnell, whose son graduated from UBC and whose daughter attends McGill.
UBC recruiters insist the government's plan will actually improve the university experience for all students.
"They're not displacing Canadian students. They're providing a good source of funding not only for the entire university, but also for Canadian students to provide programming and infrastructure," said UBC regional recruitment director Aaron Anderson.
B.C. hosted almost 26 per cent of Canada's 265,377 international students in 2012. In addition to recruiting more, the government wants to prevent "brain drain" by making it easier for international students to obtain permanent residency after graduation.