Among British students, Canada hasn’t ranked highly as a destination for education. Perhaps it’s the distance that makes applicants think twice. Perhaps it’s the cold winters. But it certainly isn’t the quality of education, cost of studying or standard of living.
Canadian degrees, awarded at 90 universities nationwide, are internationally recognised and respected, according to internationalgraduate.net. Their education system offers “strong student support services, small classes and active campus communities”. And, as Canada spends more per capita on its education system than any other country in the world, tuition rates are lower for international students than they are in many other countries.
As for quality of life, Canada was ranked eighth in the UN’s worldwide Human Development Index 2010. Brits are welcome, too. According to Rob Norris, the minister of advanced education, employment and immigration in the province of Saskatchewan, “There’s a spirit of welcome across Canada. We want to make sure that our campuses and communities are increasingly diverse, international and cosmopolitan,” he says.
Saskatchewan puts its money where its mouth is. Norris explains: “We have made record investment of more than C$2.8bn (£1.8bn) in post-secondary education in the past three years. That includes a 3,000 per cent increase in funding for student housing, and new dollars in key areas where we want to be leading in innovation.” Namely, science and engineering, responding to the area’s wealth of natural resources, including arable land, uranium, oil and the mining industry.
Recession is not a word that appears in the Canadian dictionary. Within the province of Saskatchewan alone – an area the size of France – there are currently more than 9,000 job vacancies (saskjobs.ca). “We’re not shy about saying to international students there are career opportunities here,” says Norris. “In Saskatchewan, we’ve just made some improvements to our regional immigration system to allow [post] graduate students to stay for a couple of years [after completing their studies] to enable them to find career opportunities.”
There’s also the graduate retention programme, which enables graduates with honours degrees from Saskatchewan universities to qualify for up to C$20,000 (£12,800) back if they stay and work in the province for seven years.
But that’s jumping ahead. Students contemplating Canada as a destination should first consider fees, which vary greatly. British students pay around C$11,000 (£7,000) a year at the University of Winnipeg in Manitoba, C$18,000 (£11,500) at York University in Toronto, and $24,000 (£15,300) at the University of British Columbia, according to their websites. As for postgraduate study, costs range from $3,780 (£2,412) a year at Memorial University in Newfoundland to $17,500 (£11,039) at the University College of Cape Breton in Nova Scotia.
As for a visa, you shouldn’t need one. A study placement of up to six months is yours for the applying. For longer study, UK nationals need a permit, for which the Canadian High Commission requires you to have been accepted to a university in Canada, and have proof that you can pay for tuition fees and living expenses. It estimates the latter to be around $10,000 (£6,300) per year, plus CA$4,000 (£2,500) for the first dependant and CA$3,000 (£1,900) for each subsequent dependent. You need a clean criminal record and an equally clean bill of health. It takes eight to 10 weeks to process applications, and costs around £75, which is usually non-refundable, regardless of success.
For those applying to study in Quebec, things are a little different. You will need to get a certificate of acceptance from the Quebec government. Visit immigration-quebec.gouv.qc.ca/en/immigrate-settle/students/index.html for more information.
Overall, though, there are few immigration barriers to UK students. Dr George Maslany, from the University of Regina, confirms: “There’s not much red tape. It takes about two months, but usually anyone from Britain who applies for a permit gets it.”
Financial assistance may be available in scholarships and bursaries. These are numerous and most are competitive, awarded on academic merit rather than financial need. But at the Dr David Hannah, associate vice-president of student and enrolment services at the University of Saskatchewan, says: “We have a guaranteed entrance scholarship programme for undergraduate students, which gives them anywhere from C$500 (£320) to C$3,000 (£1,915) for their first year of study, depending on their academic qualifications. They don’t even have to apply for that, it’s automatic.”
Similarly, places on Canadian courses are almost exclusively awarded on academic qualifications. There are some exceptions, for example medicine often has an interview process. Hannah says: “It’s usually based on secondary school performance. With UK students, we typically look for three A-levels of at least D grades. In some courses it might be higher – for business courses, for example, we’re looking for B grades.”
With the strong and long-standing connections between Canada and the UK, students should have little trouble settling in. “We are very respectful of our traditions, including the monarchy and the Commonwealth, which plays a vital role within our culture and community,” explains Norris. “There’s an affinity here that, from the feedback we get from students and scholars from the UK, gives a tremendous feeling of being at home.”
Hannah agrees: “Because of our Commonwealth connections, our university system is derived from the English and Scottish systems. I think that would be a lot of comfort for students coming to any Canadian university.”
Another plus, for British linguists, may be Canada’s bilingualism: in parts of the country, it is possible to study in either French or English. Most, however, benefit from the lack of language barrier. Maslany jokes “British students don’t have any difficulty as Canadians are devoid of any accent, but UK students have a range of accents. It can take a little while for us to familiarise ourselves with those!”
And the big chill? “The first winter here can take some adjusting,” Hannah admits, “but all of our buildings at the University of Saskatchewan are connected through interior walkways, so you don’t have to spend too much time outside in the cold. In the summer, temperatures top 30C, and from the middle of April until mid October, it’s really very pleasant around here.”
Norris concludes: “The mood in Canada is one of real optimism. We are very student orientated, with universities that are held in high regard. This is a land that’s focused on the future.”