Rethinking international recruitment

Better integration is essential

In 2012 alone, according to Statistics Canada, close to 105,000 international students enrolled at universities in Canada. They now represent over eight per cent of the total student body at Canadian universities, with that proportion steadily increasing. According to data from the Association of Atlantic Universities, between 2002 and 2012, the number of foreign students in Maritime Canada tripled. Collectively these students are making a significant contribution, particularly to the knowledge economy.

This is why, argues the Université de Moncton’s Chedly Belkhodja, we should do more to promote their integration into economic life.

“The situation has improved but there is still work to be done,” concludes Belkhodja, a professor in the department of political science. Belkhodja’s research examines the management of ethnic and cultural diversity at universities in four predominantly francophone communities: Sudbury, Ont., St. Boniface, Man., Sherbrooke, Que. and Moncton, N.B.

At the Université de Moncton, for example, the school’s 712 international students make up 15 per cent of enrolment, the highest proportion in Canada. The university has established a range of support services to ease their transition, including having greeters meet students at the airport, holding campus integration activities, and coordinating mentorship and student twinning. Recruitment is also being upgraded.

But more is needed, argues Belkhodja, to encourage discussions and meetings between local and foreign students.

“At Moncton, 17 former international students from 17 different countries help attract potential students to the university,” says Belkhodja. “The recruiters know the situation in Canada and in their own country. They are able to tell applicants how things really are.”

Further, the effort to better integrate international students extends beyond the university campus.

“Universities today are looking to retain these students. They pay attention to what happens after the students graduate and to their integration into the labour market. The drive to retain students may include obtaining work permits for them while they are still studying.”

With more than 265,000 international students having made the transition from temporary student visa to being permanent residents, Belkhodja argues that the university is a laboratory for diversity from which we should draw inspiration. That concept needs to be better communicated to Canadians.

“Everyone involved, both within and beyond the university, needs to help the public better understand that international students and graduates alike provide additional benefits to their host communities”, he says

Research funded by SSHRC: The university, integration of international students and immigration policy: case studies in four universities in French-speaking communities