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Canada is one of the top destinations for foreign study for Indian students, says the director of the Canadian Education Center (CEC), Maria Mathai, in a phone interview with TCYonline.com.
The CEC is an NGO in India working in close association with the Canadian High Commission, New Delhi.
TCYonline.com's student visa expert, Maninder Singh also throws light on various facilities available for overseas students desiring to pursue their studies in Canada [Images].
Excerpts from the interview:
Despite the fact that tuition and living costs of studying in Canada are cheaper than the US or the UK, not many Indian students prefer Canada. Why do you think that is?
Maria: Canada is relatively new to marketing and promotion of international education. There is lack of awareness in India about the options the Canadian universities are offering. On the other hand, knowledgeable students put Canada on their priority list while comparing it with the US, the UK or Australia.
The CEC was set up by the government of Canada to improve the recognition and increase awareness about the Canadian education. Now we function as an independent and not for profit organisation. For higher education like PhD degrees, students have been going to Canada since the fifties. But it was only in the last 12 years or so that concerted efforts have been made to promote and market Canadian education. Consequently, there has been a substantial increase in number of students opting for Canada since 1997.
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Maninder: Education in Canada is cheaper compared to Australia, the UK and the US. Overseas students prefer Canada because more work opportunities are available to them now. Previously, international students were allowed to work for one or two years, depending on location. Now, Canada has rolled out a new open work permit scheme to attract foreign students -- a move that may lure away Indian students from their favourite destinations like the US, Britain and Australia.
Under the new scheme, foreign students will now be able to get an open work permit under a post-graduate programme, with virtually no restrictions on the type of employment and no requirement of a job offer. The duration of the work permit has been increased to three years to ensure easier employment opportunities to target foreign students in an increasingly competitive global education market.
Where would you place Canada in comparison with the US and the UK?
Maria: Well, in terms of the education system, I would put it on a par with the US and the UK. Education is very important for Canada. It is reflected in the amount of funds and grants given to educational institutions like universities and colleges; the kind of facilities that are available in the education institutions.
You will find that Canadian universities and colleges are among the best in the world in terms of facilities, the faculty and the research conducted in institutions. It is as good as if not better than in any other country, including the US and the UK.
Even with a work permit, many students, graduates have a difficult time finding jobs in most places. What is the situation like in Canada?
Maria: Jobs are aplenty today in Canada. At the same time it is important for an international student to realise that there are a lot of job opportunities available across industries and at all levels in Canada which 'cannot be fit' for people from other countries.
The economy in Canada is booming and there is an extreme shortage of skilled professionals, and unlike other countries where the shortage is in one or two particular industries, it is across the board in Canada. Some of the students get jobs even while doing internships. Yes, if you have a work-permit, it won't guarantee you a job. You still have to look for a job based on your merit and qualifications.
Could you tell us about Canada's new off-campus work permit programme?
Maria: It's bit early to talk about it because it was introduced only last year. The data is still being collected but the initial response has been very positive. In some way it's been bit of surprising also. We expected a lot of students to go for off-campus jobs but we did not get that much response. We found that the students' main concern is studies and work is not their primary requirement.
Maninder: The programme enables international students gain valuable work experience in a Canadian setting and to deepen their society understanding and appreciation of Canadian culture and values. This is one of several initiatives designed to help make Canadian post-secondary institutions destinations of choice for international students.
How does knowledge of the English language affect a student's job prospects in Canada?
Maria: It is very important. You see, language is the mode of communication. Whatever your job profile is, you have to communicate to the person at work. Language is a very important component and the student should definitely be proficient in English if s/he is going to be in the Anglophone Canada which means they speak English. Similarly, he must know French if s/he is going to be in the Francophone provinces. As far IELTS score is concerned, I can say that for undergraduate studies it should be 6.0 and for post-graduate that can go up to 7.0. For diplomas, the students can go with 5.5-6.5 as well.
Maninder: Finding a job in Canada isn't easy -- especially as a foreigner. One should be proficient in the English language for better job options and best salaries. One should be good at all four modules of the IELTS -- Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking for which good preparation is key.
Do you recommend a prospective Indian student learn French as well?
Maria: It depends on which part of Canada s/he is going to study. The country is officially bilingual and most of Canada is Anglophone. There are a few provinces mainly Quebec and New Brunswick which are officially bilingual and have a very strong French component. Even in these provinces, students can go to English-speaking universities and colleges and can successfully complete their education in English. Yes, if you plan to study or work in Francophone Canada, it would help if you know French -- your day-to-day life will be much easier.
Which courses are in high demand in Canada these days?
Maria: The biggest demand is for engineering, business and computer science (IT). In recent times we have seen a lot of interest in CPL (Commercial Pilot Licence) or aviation-related courses. Of course, a lot of students are going for animation, too. Canada is one of the best countries to learn animation.
We see the maximum number of students in the months of June, July and August. Every year between 2,600 and 2,700 students go to Canada. Canadian diplomas and degrees are valued throughout the world, including all the Commonwealth countries.
A large number of overseas students want to settle in a foreign country. Does the Canadian government welcome this?
Maria: Definitely. The Canadian government welcomes international students to stay back in their country on completion of their studies. There have been a few rule changes during the last three to four years favouring international students. Very recently, there have been two significant rulings favouring international students which would help speed up their process in case they want to settle in Canada.
One is, of course, the Canadian experience class which allows students who have studied in Canada to apply for immigration in Canada itself. And, second is a very recent ruling which says international students who have studied for two years or more, again as per their eligibility, would be eligible for a three-year open work-permit.
There are certain conditions attached to it but it is a very good move. We are hopeful that the students will make use to this opportunity to build up their work experience.
Maninder: For international students who wish to remain in Canada as permanent residents, the new guidelines and ability to work off-campus may prove critical. This would go a long way towards fulfilling the condition of minimum one-year continuous full time (or full-time equivalent) work experience for their skilled worker permanent residence application. With careful planning and skilled work experience under their belt, international students and foreign graduates can now successfully pursue an accessible route to Permanent Residence in Canada.
We in India hear a lot of news of fake colleges being set up in Canada, some in two-room apartments. Does the government have a check on this?
Maria: In Canada, most of the institutions are public institutions. Even private institutions which have been set up have to get provincial accreditation. Moreover, education is a provincial responsibility in Canada. So, the students, before applying for such colleges, should check with the Canadian government website as to whether it is enlisted or not so as not to fall prey to unscrupulous elements. Students can always check with us (CEC) or the Canadian High Commission (www.newdelhi.gc.ca)
Canada is known for its good health care benefits. Are overseas students entitled to them during their study period?
Maria: Every educational institution which enrolls students has to take appropriate insurance coverage for international students. Insurance is something which is covered in their course fee. It is a mandatory requirement by the government of Canada and all education institutions enforce it in letter and spirit. However, some students take additional insurance coverage as well to be on the safe side.
Maninder: In some countries, the government covers medical or dental treatment without any cost. They go to a doctor, dentist or hospital and they receive treatment at no cost. This is NOT the case in Canada. All international students studying in Canada need to make certain they have adequate insurance to cover any medical care or accidents while they are in that country. If students do not have an insurance plan they will be responsible for paying all costs for medical treatment themselves. A visit to a doctor can cost $40 to $60 or more and a hospital stay can cost more than $1000 per day. A student who does not have medical insurance would be required to pay the entire bill for these medical services.
What about scholarships and Government grants for deserving and students?
Maria: Government grants are usually available for post-doctoral studies and scholarships are available at all levels. At the undergrad level they are available based on merit. When you go higher it can be in the form of tuition-waiver, teaching for research assistantship. In some institutions, in Quebec, they even waive international students' differential fee which, I think, is a big incentive for students.
Maninder: Limited financial assistance is available for international students. However, some schools may offer scholarships (based on academic merit) specifically for foreign students. Most common scholarships are: The Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan Ontario, Graduate Scholarship Programme and Quebec Provincial Government Scholarships.
Top Careers & You (TCY) is an organisation that trains national and international students for high-end examinations viz. GRE, GMAT, CAT, SAT, IELTS and TOEFL. Visit tcyonline.com for hundreds of free practice tests.
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