Canada calling

Overseas-education | Crystal Wu 22 Jun 2021

Students and parents alike got excited recently when Marco Mendicino, Canada's minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship, announced two new ways for Hong Kong citizens to apply for permanent residency.

One of them was for people who had completed their post-secondary qualifications in Canada within the past three years prior to their application.

That once again brought studying in Canada back under the spotlight.

This is not the first Canadian immigration policy to target Hongkongers.

The first was launched in November, and since then, education centers in Hong Kong have observed a rise in interest in studying in Canada - especially for diploma programs.

The director of Academic Link Overseas Studies Center, Sing Wong Yik-sing, said that for almost two decades of his career, there used to be very little interest in post-secondary diplomas and college studies, but noted that he has received more inquiries following the November announcement.

He attributes this to Canadian diplomas being a shorter and cheaper post-secondary credential.

Astep Education general manager Mavis Ho Yan-lam concurs, adding she has seen increased interest among fresh graduates and young professionals.

For his part, Wong said he had also seen interest among parents with accompanying young children who could benefit from Canada's free public education system. However, he warns that not everyone can apply for these programs, as applicants need to have a valid reason for studying their chosen courses to have their visas approved.

The Ontario Secondary School Diploma is one of the more well-known Canadian education systems in Hong Kong because it is used at the Canadian International School of Hong Kong.

The school said: "The OSSD and Canadian education system tend to be more conceptual or skill-based in a number of discipline areas, and there is also a strong development of oral communication skills.

"In fact, students are encouraged to demonstrate their learning through other means beyond traditional pen and paper evaluations such as tests or exams.

"Students who come from a system where there is a stronger emphasis on rote learning of facts or information to prepare for a high-stakes test or exam typically find it challenging, at least initially, to think in a different way."

One of the notable differences is that in Ontario secondary schools, courses are provided at different levels to accommodate different students' post-secondary directions. Courses are divided into two levels - applied and academic - in grades 9 and 10.

In the final two years of secondary studies, they are divided into four different levels: university, university/college, college, and workplace.

Canadian International School said: "University-level courses prepare students for three or four-year degree programs at universities and focus on conceptual learning; college-level courses prepare students for a two-year community college diploma and focus on practical application; while workplace-level is intended for students moving directly into the workforce or a trade apprenticeship after secondary school."

While Ontario public schools may provide "the full breadth of options," private schools may focus on providing courses for the university-bound.

At the school, all courses are taught at the academic and university levels. The school believes that the Ontario grading is less dependent on exams and allows the student to showcase their skills through different means.

The city's learning culture contributes to more favorable OSSD grades, which makes students more competitive in university applications.

The school said: "We do believe that studying a Canadian curriculum with the intent of studying in a Canadian university is advantageous insofar as its familiarity. Canadian universities can feel quite confident that a student studying in the academic stream in a Canadian program, whether overseas or domestic, will transition well to university."

Other than diploma courses, undergraduate programs in Canada remain popular despite the pandemic.

"With international students accounting for more than 30 percent of our student body, McGill remains the most international university among all Canadian universities," said Alvin Chung Chin-wai, McGill University's regional head of alumni relations and advancement in Asia.

"Across all faculties, we saw a 30 percent increase in the number of applicants from around the world, compared with the previous year."

With the recent announcement, Chung said that there may potentially be an increase in student applications to McGill, but assures that the university has already been handling great uptakes over the recent past globally and is "well-positioned to welcome the best talents from around the world, no matter where they come from."

Added Chung: "We are hopeful the new policy will receive favorable consideration among Hong Kong students and parents toward Canadian universities, and perhaps McGill in particular."

For Hong Kong secondary school students who are looking to imigrate and explore a new country, the announcement may be a welcoming one, as the pathway will be open for applications until August 31, 2026.

But students who are interested may have to start preparing early - even before their DSE examinations.

Ho said university applications in Canada end around February and March - before the DSE. Therefore, they rely on students' school results and examinations, such as the TOFEL and IELTS, for conditional offers.

She added that higher-ranked universities usually require students to reach a minimum of Level 4s in their DSE and an overall score of 6 in their IELTS, but students usually have a few Level 5s in their DSE results and an overall of 6.5-7 in their IELTS.

Said Mendicino: "With young Hongkongers casting their eyes abroad, we want them to choose Canada. Our Hong Kong immigration pathway is a historic initiative, intended to attract talented applicants who will drive our economy forward.

"Skilled Hongkongers will have a unique opportunity to both develop their careers and help accelerate our recovery. This landmark initiative will strengthen our economy and deepen the strong ties between Canada and the people of Hong Kong."

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