THE CANADIAN EDUCATION CENTRE
by Scott Murray
Canadian education is a great product. Lindsay Siripongpanit is selling it, but finds it's not easy to change decades of tradition amongst Thais who are interested in sending their kids overseas.
In the early 90s, the Asia-Pacific Foundation of Canada (APFC) decided to initiate the CEC concept in partnership with the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) and, in overseas development assistance-eligible markets, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). There has always been a need for a body to market Canadian education internationally, but since education in Canada is a provincial responsibility, not a federal one, Canadians had not been able to organize themselves to project a unified image until this point.
And until recently, few institutions in Canada had even considered marketing education to international students the way they do in Australia, New Zealand, the US and the UK where international students have been the mainstay of their educational institutions for years. About fifteen years ago, the Australian government decided to make it part of their national policy that they start attracting much higher numbers of international students because they bring so much money into the country.
The CEC in Bangkok was opened 21 January 96 so Canada has only been active in the Thai market for the last three years, and really, the first two were part of the start-up phase. As Lindsay says, "You have to get to know your market, all the people in it and what you are doing." The CEC Network began life as a pilot project which opened originally in Taipei, Seoul, Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong (all co-located with embassies). These locations did so well that the Network expanded to three other centres; Bangkok, Singapore and Jakarta. (Recently, other centres have opened in New Delhi, Beijing, Buenos Aires, Santiago, Mexico City, Sao Paulo and Canberra). Yet others are slated for opening in the new few years.
Prime Minister Chretien was originally supposed to inaugurate the CEC-Bangkok in 1996, but postponed his trip. He did, however, end up opening their first fair the next year. And if you were wondering about all those red buses with the CEC ads on them, well, every time the CEC holds a fair, it buys 100 advertisements from the BMA - now you know. (This year's fair will take place November 6-7 at a hotel in Bangkok, venue tba).
Lindsay used to be a Development Officer in the CIDA section at the Embassy. She had heard that a CEC was going to be set up in Bangkok and was interested. So, she kept her ears open and when APFC finally decided to start up the office, they hired her to work as a consultant on a couple of market reports while she was on maternity leave. When she returned to her new position after three months off, she had ten days in-between her first day back and the opening. "It was a cavern," she recalls of the CEC office, "Nothing had been done; it was so stressful." Then Deputy PM Somboon Rahong attended the opening as did former Ambassador von Nostitz and APFC President, Dr. Bill Saywell.
"Thai families sending their children to study in our country are making a huge investment in Canada. People who have enough money to invest in an international education are going to be the ones who come back and run their family businesses or open up import/export companies and end up traveling to Canada for honeymoons and holidays and sending their kids later on. And these children will be the future moves and shaker of this country, so I think it is very important that we keep in touch with them. Being future business and government leaders, they will be in a tremendous position to buy Canadian goods and services.
"Most people don't realize that the average international student studying in Canada on a full-time student authorization visa invests about CAN$30,000 in the local economy each year. A lot of people say, 'Oh, you are promoting education, isn't that nice?' and they think it's so soft and sweet, but it's a business, and a big one at that."
Lindsay graduated from the University of Ottawa with a Masters Degree in Canadian Social History (she received her undergraduate degree at Queen's in history and sociology). She came over to Thailand on her own in 1990, intending to travel prior to returning to Canada. Her father, Bill Neilson, who is the Director of the Centre for Asia-Pacific Initiatives (CAPI) at the University of Victoria, was really responsible for her coming here, as he was the one who'd recommended she do so instead of going to Europe as she'd originally planned.
When she arrived, she taught English at Dhurakijpundit University on Prachachuen Road. That's where she met her husband, Tatchin, who hails from Pak Chong. Originally, she didn't want much to do with him because she thought he was a student. But, eventually she realized he too was a teacher
and had to thank him for all the little gifts he had left on her desk. They married four years later and the couple today has two children; a girl, Jessie, aged 3 and a son, Andrew, aged sixteen months.
Eventually Lindsay wanted a new challenge so she switched schools and went to teach at Chulalongkorn University's Faculty of Arts from 1991-93. At the same time, she started working for the Thai-Canadian Association (a project sponsored by CIDA) and the indomitable Mary Sun. When an opening came up to apply for a job as an officer at the embassy, Mary encouraged Lindsay to apply, and she got the position.
Lindsay is ably assisted at the CEC by two other full-time staff; Baisri (Bee) Kanchanaraphi, a Thai-born/Canadian-raised graduate of the Canadian public school system, Centennial College and York University, and Sucheela
Pruetrujira who has traveled in and studied ESL in Canada. Nounvan (Yui) Visaitsiri completes the foursome. Yui's salary is paid for by the Bank of Nova Scotia, CEC-Bangkok's corporate sponsor since 1996. A young Canadian, Marc-Andre Thivierge rounds out the staff at CEC-Bangkok. Marc-Andre is on a six month placement as an intern courtesy of DFAIT.
Lindsay says, "Canada is a hard sell as Thais haven't generally considered it an option in the past. We must break down the misconceptions such as that it snows twelve months of the year, and that every institution requires extremely high TOEFL scores.
"CEC represents everything from ESL and FSL to PhDs and all other programs and institutions in-between - high school, institutes of technology, community colleges, universities and university colleges such as Malaspina University College, the University College of the Fraser Valley and the
University College of the Cariboo (which has a program with St. John's International School in Bangkok whereby if a student takes grade 12 there, he/she can get a Canadian high school diploma).
"These university colleges are only located in BC and offer bachelor degree programs. They can be an extremely good opportunity for a lot of kids who don't have the scores to get into the traditional, mainstream universities because they are cheaper, have smaller classes and the kids get better attention. Their entrance requirements are pretty much the same, but they will make allowances and they will try and help you get to where you want to go. It's a good option for someone who has completed a bachelor's, but has poor marks and wants to upgrade."
Is it a drawback that so few Thais settle in Canada? "It can be, but it can also be a bonus as some parents will come in and tell us they don't want to send their kids to a place where there are so many other Thais studying as well. So this communal element of Thais all studying together is starting to change. Some even come in and tell us that they don't want to send their kids to Australia because all they do is hang out with other Thai students - so what's the point of going away to study?
"Thai students studying in Canada are also going all over. More and more are coming in asking for places like Saskatchewan. Remember, people in Regina and Saskatoon are very friendly. They even go and personally pick the kids up at the airport. The service standards to the students are very high."
So, what does the CEC offer? "One-stop shopping. We offer free information and counseling, and access to the internet, if a student wants to look up websites or take virtual tours of a campus. We also have our own CDRom which really helps. And we have on-line applications, information on health insurance, banking through Scotiabank, and airlines as Canadian Airlines, our other corporate sponsor, is offering a great student return fair to anywhere in Canada (Baht 19,255)."
And what about the operation itself? "We are a non-profit organization run on a cost-recovery basis. We don't charge the students anything, but we make money by charging the client institution annual fees. We also do fee-for-service activities like organizing seminars, interview sessions, and
placing and translating ads into Thai, etc. We are running at about 50% cost recoverable right now, but it would be much greater if not for the economic crisis which has caused the number of students to drop. Between our first and second years of operation, at the end of 1997, we had a 53%
increase in the number of student authorizations issued to full-time, full-fee students. But, last year, because of the crisis, we had a 46% decrease. So far this year, I've noticed a slight increase, so I'm hoping we will end up somewhere in-between the 97 and 98 results."
Summing up, Lindsay says, "We have a really good product to sell, and I'm starting to get more and more Canadian clients who are really happy with what we're doing. A Canadian education is better, it's cheaper, of a higher quality, and financially it's a great deal. We had a record number of walk-ins last year who were students looking for an alternative to the higher-priced education market in the USA and the UK."
For more information, contact the CEC at:
12th Floor, Boonmitr Building
138 Silom Road, Bangkok 10500, Thailand
tel: (662) 267-0535
fax: (662) 267-0536
website for students: www.studyincanada.com
website for clients: www.studyincanada.com/cec