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Brexit and Trump ‘make Canada a more attractive prospect for Hong Kong international students’

University of Toronto president says his school has 30 per cent more students from the city than five years ago

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 December, 2017, 8:01am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 December, 2017, 11:28pm

Canada has become an increasingly popular higher education destination for Hongkongers, the head of the University of Toronto said last week, with his own institution recording a more than 30 per cent increase in students from the city over the last five years.

Meric Gertler attributed the heightened interest to the university performing consistently well in global rankings as well as the country’s openness to foreigners – as opposed to a perceived less welcoming atmosphere in the US and UK, two traditional powerhouses in university education.

The Canadian academic and university president noted that Hong Kong had been an important source of students for the University of Toronto, the institution having about 650 undergraduates and postgraduates from the city. That figure was only about 490 in 2012.

Gertler added that the increase in interest seemed to be a general trend in Canada.

He believed it was influenced by political events in recent years, including the British referendum vote to leave the European Union – the so-called Brexit – and the election of Donald Trump to the US presidency, both of which are thought to have been spurred in part by hostility to immigration.

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“Both events make Canada look more attractive because while international students might have perceived the US [and the UK] as being now less welcoming to international students, you see Canada going in the opposite direction, encouraging international students to come,” he said.

The professor highlighted the country’s efforts in making it easier for students to get permanent residency. Last year, the Canadian government announced changes to a scoring system used to select candidates for permanent residency, with fewer points awarded for qualified job offers and additional points for foreigners who got a degree in the country.

“These are all ways of sending very friendly signals to international students at a time when other countries want to put up walls or reduce the number of visas for international students,” Gertler said.

There is concern about uncertainty for Britain’s research and academia, with it and the European Union still negotiating their relationship after the country officially withdraws in 2019.

Those worries are exacerbated by British Prime Minister Theresa May’s repeated rejections of suggestions that international students be excluded from official migration figures. The British government is trying to meet a long-missed target of reducing net migration to the tens of thousands per year.

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In the US, critics of the government have voiced concern about an unwelcoming atmosphere for international students, with Trump championing an “America first” doctrine.

Gertler said his university was also attractive because of its consistently good performance in global rankings and Toronto being a culturally diverse city with relatively little crime. For the last five years, the university has been ranked between 19 and 22 on the Times Higher Education World University Rankings.

With about 6,750 alumni living in Hong Kong and mainland China, the school would have more collaboration with the city in future, Gertler said. The university currently has partnerships with the University of Hong Kong, Chinese University and the University of Science and Technology.