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A growth opportunity in the foreign-student business

Bessma Momani is a fellow at the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation and the Centre for International Governance and Innovation, and professor at the University of Waterloo. Jillian Stirk is a mentor at the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation and associate at the Simon Fraser University Centre for Dialogue.

As the world is trying to digest the prospect of Donald Trump as the next president of the United States, Canada has an opportunity to capitalize on the international apprehension of the climate this outcome might bring to American university campuses.

While this indeed may be an opportunistic move, Canada should put the marketing of its universities into high gear, as we are now in the season where parents and families choose where to send their children to study for the next four years and beyond.

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International students are big business. In Canada, we capture nearly $8-billion a year from international students who pay higher tuition fees than domestic students, and who contribute to our economy by spending on housing, food and all other aspects of living.

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According to a 2012 study commissioned by Global Affairs Canada, our international students created 86,570 jobs and contributed nearly half-a-million dollars directly to the public coffers in a single year. From employing teachers and instructors to providing language training to support services and giving a boost to internal tourism, international students are a net benefit to our economy.

We already attract nearly 336,000 international students, bringing vital economic stimulus to every part of Canada. But the time is ripe now to strategically increase our recruitment of international students. There is a global unease that Mr. Trump's America may not be as welcoming to foreigners and visible minorities.

Parents and students have some legitimate concerns, as there are already reported increases in hate crimes across the United States since the election. Sadly, students of visible minorities on American campuses have experienced a surge of incidences of intimidation and verbal abuse since the election.

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The time to act is now. The end of the fall season is when universities begin recruitment for next year's admissions. The United States attracts nearly a million students a year to its universities. Among the fastest-growing senders of international students include Nigeria, China, Vietnam, Brazil, France and India. Canada should aim to take a big chunk of these students.

As most parts of Europe are also dealing with their own rise of populism and ethno-nationalist parties that make many minorities and prospective international students feel increasingly unwelcome, Canada can benefit from this sad state. We are, it seems, a rare beacon of a liberal society, welcoming to visible and religious minorities.

Indeed, when Global Affairs Canada surveyed international students who are in Canada about why they chose this country to embark on their studies, they noted the quality of our institutions, this country's reputation as a tolerant society and a high reputation for public safety. Let's make lemonade out of the uncertainty in U.S. politics by increasing our intake of international students.

This requires a concerted effort to use global media, foreign embassies and international university fairs to remind the world of Canada's great postsecondary institutions.

And as our Prime Minister is one of the most popular world leaders today, it would be a great time for Justin Trudeau to use his global social media visibility to tell prospective students and families that Canada is back and welcoming their young people to our universities.

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