International Students as Future Citizens

Policy and Practice Rationale

Student migration is a recent and growing area of scholarly and policy interest. Post secondary institutions in North America, Australia, New Zealand, Europe and some countries of Asia are now competing to attract and retain fee-paying foreign students. For governments of immigrant-receiving countries, foreign-born university graduates represent an attractive pool of potential new immigrants who have the potential to contribute to the labour force immediately after graduation. Following in the footsteps of Australia and New Zealand, the Canadian government has begun to elaborate its strategies for attracting foreign students as future citizens: since 2008, changes in immigration policy have made it easier for international students to obtain permanent resident status in Canada. Simultaneously, Canadian universities are increasingly focused on recruiting fee-paying foreign undergraduate students as an untapped source of revenue and as a strategy to enhance their international profile and network. Indeed, a recent task force commissioned by the federal government recommended that Canada nearly double the number of international students from 239,000 in 2011 to 450,000 by 2022. In this context, a national research project focusing on international students is timely.


Conceptual/Theoretical Framework

The project will determine whether theories of migrant motivation, adaptation, and well-being can be applied to the specific context of international students. It will also make significant contributions to an understanding of transnationalism and the mobility patterns of the highly educated. In addition, the project will contribute to scholarship in the sociology of education, particularly an understanding of the educational experiences of minority students.


Research Questions

Specifically, the following questions will be addressed in this research:

  • What can Canadian universities and the communities in which they are situated do to increase the successful adaptation and retention of international students?
  • What can policy makers and communities do to increase the likelihood that international students will stay in Canada, remain in smaller communities, and become citizens?
  • Are there specific strategies that Northern and minority Francophone communities can use to recruit international students and retain them after graduation?
  • What kinds of networks could be created for these students in order to improve their adaptation and retention?
  • Are particular types of students (e.g., based on background, personality characteristics, milieu from which they originate, program of study in Canada) especially likely to stay in Canada and to settle in smaller communities?
  • How does the economic performance of immigrants who originally entered as students compare with the performance of economic migrants who entered in other streams?
  • How does field of study impact economic outcomes?


Description of the Project and Possible Approaches

A multi-method approach will be used in this project, including surveys and focus groups of international students, and interviews of educators and community stakeholders (e.g., municipalities, economic development corporations, employers) who work with or are impacted by international students. For example, a longitudinal survey will systematically examine the sociological and psychological predictors and indicators of success outcomes (and retention) among international students at various stages of their education and, for those who stay in Canada, their transition to work. Focus groups with international students will probe motivations to study abroad and experiences at Canadian post-secondary institutions in more depth. Interviews with educators and community stakeholders will examine perceptions of how increasing numbers of international students are impacting communities, promising practices for providing supports to and strategies for retaining international students in local communities, and perceptions of the potential role of international students in local economic development.