MBA Programs in Canada: Increasingly Attractive for International Students

Internationals are attracted by the progressive immigration policies and an environment that is welcoming of foreigners

Canada has long been an attractive study destination for overseas MBA students — but the demand is now skyrocketing. The Graduate Management Admissions Council, which puts on the GMAT, says Canadian business schools reported a 7.7 percent rise in applications last year, helped by strong demand from international candidates, who are attracted by the progressive immigration policies and an environment that is welcoming of foreigners. 

Universities Canada, an advocate organization for higher education institutions in the country, says that overall, full-time foreign student enrolment rose by about 15 percent between 2017-18, with 572,415 study permits issued last year, up from just 122,665 in 2000. 

In particular, business schools are on a big overseas recruitment drive. Teresa Pires, associate director of recruitment for the full-time MBA at Smith School of Business, Queen’s University says that international students add diversity of thought in the classroom. That helps everyone build “cultural intelligence” and improve their cross-cultural communication skills. 

Alfred Jaeger, academic director of MBA programs at McGill University’s Desautels Faculty of Management, says: “Their presence mirrors the global environment the world’s economy is living in, which prepares all students for success.” 

At Desautels, the percentage of international applications for the MBA program increased from 65 percent in 2015 to 87 percent in 2019. “Over the past five years we have seen a steady increase in both the number of applications received, and in the number of international students applying,” says Jaeger. 

The school is placing advertisements on social media, attending recruitment fairs in targeted regions, which include the Middle East, Asia and Latin America, and conducting online and in-person information sessions to attract overseas talent, he says. 

Federal money is also flowing into this effort. The government announced recently nearly $148m of funding over five years to attract more overseas students to Canadian shores. For good reason: the economic benefits of international students nearly doubled between 2010-16, reaching $15.5bn in tuition fees and other costs. 

Jaeger says: “Canada is a country of immigrants where foreigners can be integrated into the fabric of Canadian life. We have a good economy, immigration policies, and a safe tolerant environment.” 

International students in Canada stand to benefit from liberal post-MBA visa policies

Compared to many other countries, Canada’s post-MBA visa policies are quite liberal.

For example, those doing two-year degrees are allowed to work for three years after graduation, which gives them enough time to apply for permanent residency and make a life for themselves in Canada.

According to figures from the Immigration Department, last year 10,950 former study permit holders became permanent residents. That’s an enormous increase from 2015-17, when just 3,000 did. 

Canada is undergoing the biggest increase in immigration in more than a century, having taken in 425,000 people overall last year. It is part of prime minister Justin Trudeau’s strategy to increase economic growth as Canada’s population ages. 

This is a stark contrast to the US, which under president Donald Trump has turned to protectionism, which is one reason for a 10.5 percent drop in foreign business student demand last year. 

[See the Top 10 MBA Programs in Canada]

The influx of immigration has caused some concerns in Canada, however: mainly that universities should not lose sight of catering to the local population. Schools counter that because international students pay higher fees, they can cross-subsidise initiatives that benefit the local economy. 

At Desautels Faculty of Management, non-residents pay $89,000 for the two-year MBA, compared with $79,500 for Canadian citizens or permanent residents. 

Also, overseas students will contribute economically if they stay in Canada and work after graduating, which many of them do thanks to the progressive visa rules

“Canada’s favorable post-graduation work and immigration policies have definitely helped our overseas students as they are able to stay in Canada for an extended period of time and gain valuable work experience,” says Imran Kanga, director of recruitment and admissions for the Rotman School of Management’s full-time MBA. 

“This not only helps our graduates’ employment prospects but also makes our program more attractive to overseas students.” 

Canada features strong post-MBA career options

Christopher Lynch, senior director for recruitment, admissions and marketing at the Alberta School of Business, says: “The MBA is a big financial investment and one that students make with the expectation of having strong post-MBA career prospects. 

“Canada’s post-graduation work permit makes it a lot easier for international students to find post-graduation employment and reduces some of the uncertainty and stress that can come from having to find an employer willing to hire and sponsor a student for a work permit.” 

Employers value Canada’s highly skilled workforce: more than 65 percent of foreign-born adults had a post-secondary degree in 2017, the highest proportion of the OECD club of mostly rich nations. 

Amazon, for example, has created 10,000 jobs in Canada over the past few years, with plans to add another 6,000 soon. 

“Most of the employers that recruit students at Rotman are large multinational organizations that have a global presence and they value international talent,” says Rotman’s Kanga. 

“Our overseas students are also able to leverage their international experience working at Canadian companies. Scotiabank is a great example – as one of Canada’s most international banks, they recruit many of our Latin American students to help them expand their presence in the Latin America region.”

[See the Top 10 Budget MBA Programs in Canada]

Other big recruiters of MBA talent in Canada include PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Air Canada, KPMG, Bank of Montreal, Bell Canada, TD Bank, and more.

In terms of MBA applications, Rotman has seen steady growth in applications since 2016. Overseas students are attracted partly by lower tuition and living costs than at some European and US programs. 

JD Clarke, executive director of recruitment and admissions for masters programs at Ivey Business School at Western University, adds that high quality of life and political stability are also a boon for students, as is the immigration regime. 

“Relative to our competitor schools in the US and Europe, this is a huge competitive advantage for Canadian schools as we compete to recruit the best talent from around the world,” he says. 

He adds that Ivey’s job placement rate is the same for overseas as domestic students. “It shows that the quality of overseas students being admitted to Ivey is on par with Canadian students, and that recruiters value and respect the international diversity and global experiences of our overseas students.”


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