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Editorial: Recruit but also retain

Nathalia Bonilla-Alvarez (left) and Jeong Woo-Kang are two international students enrolled in the English as a Second Language program at Grenfell Campus.
Nathalia Bonilla-Alvarez (left) and Jeong Woo-Kang are two international students enrolled in the English as a Second Language program at Memorial University of Newfoundland’s Grenfell Campus. — SaltWire file photo

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.

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.

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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