Re­cruit but also re­tain

The Telegram (St. John’s) - - EDITORIAL -

Ev­ery in­ter­na­tional stu­dent com­ing to uni­ver­si­ties and col­leges in At­lantic Canada faces a key ques­tion af­ter grad­u­a­tion. Should she or he stay here? For some, it’s sim­ple, es­pe­cially if their home coun­try is in eco­nomic tur­moil or suf­fer­ing from civil un­rest. For many oth­ers, the ques­tion is more dif­fi­cult.

In­ter­na­tional stu­dents make up a grow­ing and es­sen­tial seg­ment of cam­pus pop­u­la­tions across the re­gion, boost­ing en­rol­ment and bring­ing ad­di­tional rev­enue to cash-strapped, post-sec­ondary in­sti­tu­tions. They also sup­port im­mi­gra­tion ef­forts if they re­main.

The loss of hun­dreds of Saudi Ara­bian stu­dents was acutely felt in At­lantic Canada over the past few weeks fol­low­ing an in­ter­na­tional diplo­matic spat. The Saudis didn’t like a tweet from the fed­eral Depart­ment of For­eign Af­fairs and or­dered more than 8,300 stu­dents home — a set­back for the At­lantic prov­inces and the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.

Many uni­ver­si­ties and col­leges had seen their in­ter­na­tional stu­dent bod­ies surge in re­cent years, reach­ing 20 per cent and some­times 30 per cent of to­tal stu­dent pop­u­la­tions.

But per­haps the Saudi af­fair fast-tracked ad­di­tional help for over­seas stu­dent pro­grams, be­cause this week, the At­lantic Canada Op­por­tu­ni­ties Agency (ACOA) stepped for­ward to ex­pand fund­ing for fed­eral-pro­vin­cial projects — in par­tic­u­lar, Nova Sco­tia’s Study and Stay pi­lot project. There is a dual em­pha­sis on re­cruit­ing and re­tain­ing in­ter­na­tional stu­dents. It makes sense to at­tract the best minds pos­si­ble to At­lantic Canada and it makes even more sense to keep them here af­ter grad­u­a­tion to fill labour short­ages and key gaps in the job mar­ket.

Get­ting in­ter­na­tional stu­dents to come to the re­gion is prob­a­bly the easy part. Af­ter all, many young peo­ple en­joy travel and set­ting out on an ad­ven­ture to a new coun­try. It’s af­ter grad­u­a­tion, when the real world beck­ons, that re­quires some hard de­ci­sions and key sup­ports.

So, why does the fed­eral gov­ern­ment equally sub­si­dize re­cruit­ing de­part­ments, when uni­ver­si­ties al­ready en­joy much suc­cess in that area, in­stead of putting more money into im­mi­gra­tion sup­ports and re­sources on cam­pus in an ef­fort to re­tain peo­ple?

Uni­ver­si­ties are well ad­vised to ex­tend sup­ports to over­seas stu­dents to help them over­come so­cial, aca­demic, fi­nan­cial and eco­nomic bar­ri­ers. These stu­dents al­ready face higher tu­ition costs, yet there are al­most no fi­nan­cial sup­ports or bur­saries avail­able for them. They come for a bet­ter life and the op­por­tu­ni­ties of­fered in Canada, but are of­ten taken for granted. Help get­ting work per­mits and visa ap­pli­ca­tions would be of real as­sis­tance in their search for mean­ing­ful em­ploy­ment.

ACOA is on the right track by in­vest­ing in in­sti­tu­tions of higher learn­ing and in the fu­tures of highly trained, po­ten­tial new Cana­di­ans.

Many over­seas stu­dents might want to be­come Cana­dian cit­i­zens, but job op­por­tu­ni­ties and other sup­ports are ob­vi­ously de­ter­min­ing fac­tors.

Re­mov­ing these road­blocks and im­prov­ing job op­tions are key first steps.

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