GlobalHigherEd has made several entries over the past month on changing trends in international student mobility, including one that situates the Canadian experience, and one that ponders what impacts the fast rising Canadian $ (the Loonie) might generate. A report released last week by the Canadian Bureau of International Education (CBIE) makes explicit a emerging strategy in relation to student mobility: retaining international students upon completion of their studies to contribute to the needs of the local and/or national labour market.
In a new report titled Northern Lights: International Graduates of Canadian Institutions and the National Workforce, the CBIE presents results of a survey with over 900 international students upon the completion of their studies in Canadian universities. The findings suggest that international students are “anxious and cynical” about employment opportunities in Canada upon graduation. Despite the recent introduction of work permit programs enabling international students to remain in Canada for one or two years after their studies (permits are limited to one year for students having studied or seeking work in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal), only 1/3 of students felt they would participate in such schemes, whereas another 1/3 expected to return home, and 1/3 were considering seeking employment elsewhere.
In assessing these findings, the authors take a clear strategic policy stance. Framing these results within a looming labour shortage due to the imminent retirement of Canada’s aging baby boomers, the report’s authors argue that retaining international students post-graduation is a complementary initiative to existing Canadian labour market development strategies, such as the skilled immigrant worker program and encouraging continued workforce participation among the aging population. The existing challenges are identified as an ever-heightening national competition for talent with greater opportunities for graduates abroad, as well as unnecessary complications to enter the Canadian and reluctance among employers. In conclusion, the CBIE directly calls for the Canadian government to both strengthen Canada’s weakening position as an international education destination and then to enhance retention rates of graduates through improved information dissemination among officials, institutions, and students.
The multiple benefits accrued by nations attracting large numbers of international students have long been recognized. In recent years, the positive benefit has been primarily discussed in terms of the direct short-term financial contribution provided by high foreign student fees to national higher education sectors. This report’s emphasis, notably coming from a non-governmental membership organization representing Canadian institutions from the K-12 to postgraduate levels, as well as public and private sectors, with research collaboration from Queen’s University and with funding from the Canadian Council of Learning, suggests a shift in interest towards the longer-term potential gain that international students might provide as potential knowledge workers in the global competition for talent. It seems national strategies of brain drain or brain circulation may be replaced with the brain ‘train and retain’ of international graduates.