Chris Cooter: «We have raised our target for immigration from 400,000 to 500,000 people per year»

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Chris Cooter, Canadian High Commissioner

Chris Cooter, Canadian High Commissioner

This is a follow-up interview. Last week, we interviewed Dorish Chitson from Overseas Education Centre (OVEC), who highlighted the tendency of more and more students to join Canadian universities, particularly due to immigration laws. We took the opportunity of the visit to Mauritius of Canadian High Commissioner Chris Cooter to delve more into the issues raised.

You are back in Mauritius in the context of the education fair. Last week, Ovec’s Dorish Chitson talked about the tendency of Mauritian students to opt more and more for Canadian universities. Why do you think that is the case?
My strong impression at the education fairs held in the last couple of weeks was that students – and their parents – are even better prepared than before, and ready to learn about what Canadian educational institutions have to offer. The 24 colleges and universities here in Mauritius for the education fairs – a record number – told me that they were very pleased by the high level of interest by prospective students. And I heard many times from these institutions about how well Mauritian students are performing, which is one important reason why educational institutions are here in such large numbers: Mauritians do great in Canada.

What is it that is attracting more and more students to Canadian universities?
The growing attraction of Canadian education is due to many things: the quality is internationally recognised as very high; at the same time, the costs are very competitive with those in other countries; also, the range of available options of study, both academic and technical, is extensive, and we saw that in the variety of colleges and universities at the education fairs. We had institutions visiting Mauritius from Vancouver in the far west to St. John’s in Canada’s far east, offering everything from engineering to medicine to entrepreneurship. And I think a lot of students are finding that Canada offers an education that will be very relevant to a successful career, including in areas important to Mauritius like the blue economy. Finally, I think many are opting for Canada because it is so welcoming.

Do you mean the country is taking more and more people interested in settling there?
Yes. Canada is one of the most open and welcoming countries to visitors, applicants for residency and citizenship and refugees. Just before the pandemic, we had at least 600,000 foreign students in the country and I’m sure we will reach and exceed that number again soon. Already in 2022, we welcomed more new students from Mauritius than in any previous year. A few weeks ago, we raised our target for immigration from over 400,000 per year, to 500,000 people per year by 2025, a high number for a country of only 38 million people. So, my point is that we very much want students and other visitors and migrants to come to our country.

What are the main categories of people interested in emigrating to Canada?
Canada continues to see high demand from students, workers and visitors, in addition to applications for permanent residence throughout and since the global pandemic. This shows how valued a Canadian qualification and Canadian experience are globally. At the same time, our migration department continues to work tirelessly towards backlog and inventory reduction to ensure that students, visitors and workers can enter Canada as quickly as possible. One of our colleagues from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada joined us here in Mauritius to present on Canada’s migration pathways, including legal pathways to employment and permanent residence available to students.

What about universities setting up campuses here for those who can’t afford to go abroad for the whole period but can do the last year in Canada?
Canadian colleges and universities are looking at new models that don’t necessarily involve travelling to Canada. For example, Prince Edward Island University and the University of Mauritius will offer a joint BSc in climate science. There are discussions between your and Canadian polytechnics for similar arrangements. And we recognise your goal of becoming a regional education hub, which could also offer interesting opportunities for partnership with Canadian educational institutions with a base in Mauritius. At least one of our colleges is already planning an office in Port Louis.

Mauritius is in dire need of skilled workers. In our last interview we talked about Canadian colleges offering training for skilled jobs. Has there been any progress on that front?
Yes, I raised that point with your High Education Commission director and the minister of labour. We agreed it would be helpful to work together to better understand the needs of the job market – both in Canada, to which a number of Mauritian workers go every year, and in Mauritius, where we could better target education pathways to ensure students are getting the right skills for the jobs that are out there.

Is there any interest from Canadian colleges?
I discussed this with our colleges and universities as well. They are clearly coming to a realisation that a blended approach in which, for example, a college education could be a pathway to a university stint, followed by a career in a field where there is strong demand for employees, may make a lot of sense for many prospective students. That blended approach could take advantage of the digital communication and education tools that we have all become familiar with during the pandemic. I spoke with a number of Canadian companies specialising in distance learning, who were recently in Cape Town and they are enthusiastic about expanding what can be done in education in your region with this technology to maximise the options for students and enable them to be readily employed. So, just over the last few months, my sense is that we have made progress on better matching education to the skills needed in your economy.

Last time, we also talked about a possible collaboration between Mauritius and Canada, particularly in the field of the Blue Economy. Has there been any progress on that front?
Yes, a number of steps that will help both your and our Blue Economy are underway. Like Mauritius, Canada is very interested in the Blue Economy. One look at the map and you can see why. Canada has the longest coastline in the world and borders the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic Oceans. Almost five million Canadians live in coastal areas, so it is unsurprising that with Kenya, we co-hosted in 2018 the first global conference on the Blue Economy.

«Over the last few months, my sense is that we have made progress on better matching education to the skills needed in your economy»

In fact, we have been hearing about the Blue Economy for the last three decade. What kind of issues is the Blue Economy addressing in Canada?
The Blue Economy encompasses a range of marine activities, some traditional, like fishing, some related to the quality of our environment, such as tourism. In Canada, public consultations on our Blue Economy strategy revealed that we must address a range of crosscutting issues such as the regulatory arrangements, science and technology and public involvement but that fundamentally we have to protect natural ecosystems to ensure sustainable use of the marine environment. As such, we have focussed on the need to tackle climate change, and protect biodiversity.

Concretely, what has been achieved in this area?
Last year, Canada pledged C$5.3 billion to international efforts to combat climate change. We are also working in the Commonwealth, for example, to enable greater access to finance for Small Island Developing States (SIDS), including Mauritius, so that adaptation to rising, rapidly warming seas can be paid for. In December, Canada will host in Montreal the UN Conference on Biodiversity (COP15). We are aiming for an ambitious agreement that would be similar to Canada’s own commitment to protect 30% of marine area, and 30% of land area, by 2030 (“30 by 30 by 30”).

So what kind of support are you offering Mauritius?
During my visit to Mauritius, I met with several cabinet ministers and we discussed working on the Blue Economy. I also spoke with our educational institutions, many of which are very strong in marine science, about collaboration with education institutions in your country, and potential commercial spinoffs in the Blue Economy. They were very keen to pursue this so I hope we can develop that in the near future. We have an excellent new honorary consul, Brian Ah-Chuen, who is doing very good work representing us. As Canada becomes more and more focussed on the IndoPacific region – for which we have a new strategy – I am sure you’ll hear even more from Canada given Mauritius’ central role in institutions like the Indian Ocean Rim Association.

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