In a Class of Their Own: International Students, Class Identity and Education Migration in Atlantic Canada


This thesis explores the migration pathways and transnational class projects of 72 international students studying in Atlantic Canada. Bourdieu’s concepts of class and capital guide my analysis of the complex relationship between education internationalization and class capital accumulation strategies. I suggest that legal permanent status and post-graduate career opportunities have become salient currencies in the Canadian context, rivalling the academic capital associated with elite universities elsewhere in the Global North. In addition, I expand on Bourdieu’s concepts to highlight the role of gender and race in education mobility. I propose that such considerations reveal important nuances of capital embedded within higher education degrees in Canada, where federal and provincial immigration policies have combined to allow international study as a viable pathway to immigration. The study shows that families draw upon accumulated class capitals to invest strategically in education opportunities, assisting this generation of migrants in their quest to achieve middle class settlement in Canada. The thesis employs multi-methods, including historical, media and policy analysis to provide illustrations of relevant provincial/federal policy negotiations and in-depth interviews with international students and recent graduates in the Atlantic region. Atlantic Canada was chosen because this region has had notable success in attracting international students in recent decades, partly resulting from concerted efforts to address a declining regional population. It is also a region with a significant range of universities seeking to maintain viable enrolments. Amidst the volatile and often inconsistent accounts of their desirability as education consumers and as ideal migrants on national and regional scales, students in this study continue to aspire to middle class identities in Canada, even as accumulated forms of class capital and their values are tied to political, economic and social contingencies. Ultimately, students remain vulnerable to precarious statuses in Canada and transnationally.

Sinziana Chira
Degree: PhD
Status: Completed
Supervisor: Pauline Barber
Department of Sociology
Dalhousie University
E-mail: s.chira@dal.ca