Wednesday, 01 February 2017 18:00

Listening to our International Students

Commentary by Will Tao in Vancouver
Canada’s international students, particularly those in major metropolitan cities such as Toronto and Vancouver, have been subject to intense criticism over the last year.
The students – over 363,000 of them – have been blamed directly or indirectly for a range of social problems, such as overheated rental markets, unaffordable housing, burden on public services, cheating, and bizarrely, even driving pricey cars.
The bulk of these criticisms are based on anecdotal accounts, in the absence of any strong statistical evidence. These accounts come from professors who study and interview as part of their work, and anonymous, retired institutional administrators who can now share stories freely, without needing to validate their assertions.  
These accounts also come from journalists looking to report on the latest cross-cultural phenomenon. At the end of the day, while they may capture some of the reality and part of the story, they are ultimately one-sided.  
Outsider narrative
What bothers me, as the Canadian-born son of a 1980’s international student and as someone who is now married to an international student, is that this outsider narrative represents only one side of the story. In drawing many of our conclusions, we have not been good listeners of international students, the true insiders.
In reality, we have generally silenced their perspectives and ignored their challenges, and taken for granted our own privileges while laying blame and assigning motives.
For starters, it is worth noting that an overwhelming majority of international students are bona-fide, meaning they are genuine, immigration law-abiding students.
In 2014, Canadian Bureau of International Education counted 336,000 international students, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (as it was then called) estimated that 20,000 of them were considered “high risk”, that is, likely to violate immigration law.
This accounts for only about six per cent of all international students admitted into Canada.
Jumping hoops
Next, it is important to hear from international students themselves to learn about the challenges and barriers they face, and for often understandable reasons do not feel like sharing them publicly. In my own practice, I have found that there are three major barriers.

Firstly, Canada’s own immigration policies have made it difficult for international students. On the front end, the financial requirements are difficult to meet. International students need to show unreasonably high available funds just to be approved for study permits and seek extensions for their studies.  The prohibitive cost of international tuition forces many students to take a break from their studies or resort to extreme measures (like taking up jobs in violation of their study permits or taking out private loans) to keep with the payments.

Once a student is here, Canada currently has a restrictive requirement that students ‘actively-pursue studies.’ Educational institutions now have two-tiered policies, under which international students are subject to excessive monitoring and reporting requirements. Depending on the institution, international students have to take a certain number of courses and maintain a certain attendance rate, while domestic students do not. Students with family emergencies, mental health episodes, poor grades, or who simply want to explore a different area, are often hamstrung.
On the back end, once they are ready to graduate, these same international students have difficulty obtaining post-graduate work permits based on their study history. Without the work experience from these permits, the already difficult pathway to permanent residence is mostly closed.
Societal barriers
Secondly, there are major societal barriers against international students. I have worked with many international student advisors at universities and colleges who recount anecdotal stories of students breaking down as a result of mental health issues. Without family and often inadequate knowledge or language ability to seek professional help, these students are particularly vulnerable.
Institutions, I am told by these students, have not always done the best to accommodate their cultural differences or to eliminate discriminative practices or advise without implicit biases. These issues are almost never reported in the media.
Finally, there is an underbelly of inadequate (often unethical) third-party services being offered and provided to international students. Many of these purported advisors are untrained and unqualified educational consultants and agents. Inevitably, if not sooner rather than later, students advised by these individuals find themselves personally liable in situations akin to fraud or misrepresentation, for which there are severe criminal and immigration consequences.
Seat at the table
Regardless of the economic and political questions raised by student immigration, we must not forget that international students need to have a seat at the policy-making table. We have seen the example from down south about what happens when immigration law is mandated by public opinion, fear, and top-down orders.
If we continue down this path of blaming and not understanding, I foresee only increased fracturing within our already increasingly fragile mosaic.
Ultimately, international students can only become an important asset when we as a society stop viewing them solely as cash cows or visitors. We should be viewing as prospective future citizens.
Will Tao is a Canadian immigration lawyer based in Vancouver, B.C., with a practice primary focused on complex immigration applications and refusals on behalf of educational institutions and international students. Tao is a former New Canadian Media Board Member. He currently sits on the Canadian Bar Association British Columbia’s Equality and Diversity Committee and on the City of Vancouver’s Cultural Communities Advisory Committee.
Published in Education

by Our National Correspondent

Dr. Alaa Abd-El-Aziz, President and Vice-Chancellor, University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI) was appointed Chair of the Association of Atlantic Universities (AAU) earlier this month. New Canadian Media conducted an interview with him by e-mail. 

Q: You obviously bring a strong international outlook to the new position given your own early background and education in Egypt. How do you think your immigrant background will help as Chair of the Association of Atlantic Universities (AAU)?

A: Together the presidents of Atlantic Canadian universities share a diverse range of experience and we are stronger because of it. Having been an international student that immigrated to Canada, I would not claim to understand the needs and hopes of all international students. Everyone’s experience is unique, but that does not prevent me from drawing on my experience when I approach an issue.

I believe the key to success for both international and Canadian students stems from good relationships. At the University of Prince Edward Island, we strive to keep this at the core of everything we do, and it is emphasized during new student orientation and mental health and well-being initiatives. Interactions with friends, family, professors, staff, employers, and strangers affect our day-to-day lives, and building good relationships with these people can make all the difference.

International students will almost always have smaller networks of people in their lives so providing those services and opportunities to build those relationships when they come to Canada is key.

Q: As you say in your news release, foreign students are a particular focus. How do you think the current population of international students is fitting into Atlantic campuses? Are they contributing to the overall campus experience or do they tend to keep to themselves?

A: The culture of Atlantic Canadian universities is one in which the larger community and the campus are integral to one another. The cultural and social influences of students and their communities impact each other positively and benefit the overall experiences and success of everyone.

International students play a very important role on Canadian campuses as they are ambassadors for their respective countries. In Atlantic Canada, we strongly believe that integrating our international students into our campus communities not only benefits international students, but also Atlantic Canadian students.

Q: What does your early experience in Canada as a student/researcher tell you about what more Canada – particularly the Atlantic universities – can do to make foreign students feel more welcome? What advice do you provide to international students that you run into?

A: Canada has been, and is, welcoming to students of all cultures, and international students arrive in Canada with great appreciation for our country and its diversity. Having been an international student myself, I can say that there were many Canadians who made me feel at home by demonstrating support, kindness, and sincerity.

I personally have worked with and supervised dozens of international students and I tell them all, “In Canada you have the opportunity to be yourself, talk about your culture, interact with your community, and embrace Canadian values while enriching them with those of your own home.” This is advice that can truly help to make the best of an international student’s experience while studying in Canada.

Q: In your view, should international students have a pathway to Canadian citizenship? Would that help the Atlantic region address its demographic challenges?

A: When I think of immigration and encouraging our international students to stay and pursue citizenship, I recognize the many benefits that would have for our region. As our governments are actively working to attract talent and youth to help build our economy and society, an obvious group of people to attract would be the international students who are currently studying, researching, and honing their skills here in Atlantic Canada. In addition, I have to think about it from the point of view that even if our international students decide to return to their home country, they will forever be linked to Atlantic Canada. This too will have positive results, because if our international students are looking for opportunities to build bridges globally, there is a good chance that their first thought will be Atlantic Canada.

Q: Your time in Canada appears to have taken you to institutions from coast-to-coast. Can you please share with our readers your views on Canadian multiculturalism?

Having arrived as an international student and lived in Canada for over 30 years, I have seen many examples of how Canadians welcome, appreciate, and support the benefits of multiculturalism. We consist of people from all over the world, and yet we are probably one of the best examples of embracing differences. This makes us unique as we pour an incredibly strong foundation that embraces and respects the values of everyone.


Published in Education
Friday, 15 April 2016 16:43

Why American Profs Stream North

by Justin Kong in Toronto 

While many Americans may be declaring their intent to immigrate to Canada if Donald Trump becomes President, this migratory trend towards the north is not a new phenomenon.

Historically, everyone from runaway slaves to draft dodgers and individuals of the LGBTQ community could be found among the different waves of American migrants coming to Canada. In more recent years, this flow has remained sizeable, with Americans being the sixth-largest source of immigrants in 2013.   

Yet, Americans in Canada don’t fit most popular notions of immigrants and public discussions usually portray them as invisible immigrants or “expats.” They also appear to perform economically better than other immigrants, and many are also taking up key positions in the fields of arts, culture, and politics. 

Higher cultural-economic capital

There is some belief that this stems from the fact that American immigrants have higher cultural-economic capital than other immigrants. A sector where this is particularly apparent is within Canada’s post-secondary education system. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][A]mongst Canada’s U3 universities (UBC, University of Toronto and McGill University) almost 66 per cent of tenured professors in 2015 were American-trained.[/quote]

Ongoing research on the changing landscape of academia in Canadian universities by PhD students at the University of British Columbia (UBC), Francois Lachapelle and Patrick John Burnett, has found that among Canada’s U3 universities (UBC, University of Toronto and McGill University) almost 66 per cent of tenured professors in 2015 were American-trained. 

Rougher approximation tests conducted by Lachapelle suggest that half (33 per cent) of these are American immigrants. 

Effects on Canadian academics

Rima Wilkes, who researches immigration at UBC, suggests looking back to the 1960s to understand the phenomenon of American academics in Canadian universities. 

“[That was] when the Canadian university system saw a massive expansion,” she explains. “There weren’t enough Canadian-trained PhDs to fill the jobs. So it made sense to hire people from other countries [such as the U.S.] because we didn’t have the skills base.”   

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"[N]ow [even though] we have the skill base, in some cases Canadians with PhDs still don’t get those [tenured] jobs.”[/quote]

Wilkes notes that since then, however, Canadian universities have produced more and more PhD candidates. “So now [even though] we have the skill base, in some cases Canadians with PhDs still don’t get those [tenured] jobs.” 

All of this is happening in a context where academic employment in both Canada and the U.S. is becoming more precarious. With the intensification of competition and fewer tenured and economically secure academic jobs in the U.S., aspiring American academics look abroad. Canadian institutions, such as the U3, have been eager to receive them. 

Louise Birdsell Bauer, who researches precarity in academia at the University of Toronto, says that the preference of hiring American-trained academics stems “from institutional traditions combined with a growing inequality in prestige and training” between Canadian-trained and U.S.-trained academics. 

These factors, Birdsell Bauer explains, do in fact contribute to the “increas[ing] academic precarity for Canadian-trained PhDs,” who face intensified competition with American-trained academic immigrants for these jobs. 

'Colonial inferiority complex' 

Other researchers say that the preference and prevalence of American academics in Canadian universities actually speaks to broader attitudes in Canadian academia. 

Thomas Kemple is an immigrant from the United States. He has been a professor at UBC for more than two decades and now serves as an executive member of the UBC Faculty Association. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"Canadian universities suffer from a kind of ‘colonial inferiority complex’ where ‘our own’ could never be quite as ‘excellent’ as academics produced in the U.S.”[/quote]

“In some ways, Canadian universities suffer from a kind of ‘colonial inferiority complex’ where ‘our own’ could never be quite as ‘excellent’ as academics produced in the U.S.,” he says. “We hear versions of this argument from deans and department heads who value degrees from certain U.S. universities over their Canadian counterparts, [and] often without checking the content and quality of the applicant.” 

Unlike the experiences of many immigrants who come from regions such as Asia, Africa or Latin America who are unable to turn their credentials into positive labour market performance and economic well-being, academic immigrants from the U.S. sometimes experience the reverse. 

Kemple says whether or not the prevalence of American academics in Canadian universities should be an issue of concern is something to think about. 

“There has certainly been some discussion in recent years among faculty – but I’ve never heard it among administrators – about whether an affirmative action or diversity policy should be implemented for Canadian-born or Canadian-educated applicants for university positions.” 

Wilkes similarly notes that she has seen some discussion around this trend stating “that it is often American-born or trained scholars who are leading this [discussion].” 

There is some evidence to suggest that American academic immigrants in Canadian universities appear to be on the statistical upswing. 

Lachapelle, who continues his research at UBC, is finding that amongst the U3 and many other Canadian universities there has actually been a “small, but statistically significant increase in the number of American academic immigrants in Canadian universities between 2008 and 2015.” 

It seems American academics will continue to come to Canada, regardless of who becomes the next president of the United States. 

The writer of this article was mentored by Toronto-based journalist, Ranjit Bhaskar, through the NCM Mentoring Program.

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Published in Education
Friday, 09 October 2015 17:35

The Many Problems with the Term "White"

by Rubin Friedman in Ottawa and Anita Bromberg in Toronto

Posters promoting a "White Student Union" appeared on campus at a number of Canadian universities recently. 

What are we to make of such a student group and the use of the term “White”? 

Those behind the union seem to see it as a natural response to groups focused on marginalized and racialized communities. Their website postings suggest that the union is merely a way to protect what it describes as “values of western civilization.” 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The word "White" is itself a loaded term.[/quote]

The students using these terms should be clear about what they are defending. Are they putting forward the idea that values such as democracy, parliament, human rights, equality, and habeas corpus are important to discuss and defend, or that these are exclusively linked to one colour?

The power of words

The word "White" is itself a loaded term. 

It is in fact an exclusionary term that has been used to oppress based on notions of racial superiority.

The history of Europe, like the history of Canada is a reflection of stories of migration of large groups of peoples of varying backgrounds.

Forming a group to discuss ‘western civilization values’, and what they might mean moving forward, could conceivably have some value. However, to form an exclusive club for “Whites only” based on skin colour rather than a willingness to discuss important issues of the day is a serious flaw.

It leads to the logical supposition that the union’s real purpose does, in fact, lie in the loaded word "White” as an expression of exclusion and false superiority. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][S]uch uses of the term “White” – no matter what side of the coin you are starting from – are dangerous and negative.[/quote]

Let's not forget that similarly named groups such as those that have cropped up in the United States have been linked to white supremacy movements as have other efforts claiming to be in the name of “European pride”.  

Is blaming one race racist?

These days, the term “White” also pops up in discussions led by anti-racists in the context of “White privilege”, or “White attitudes”. These phrases are used as a kind of blanket condemnation of western or European civilization. 

While such terms are used to explain racism, are they not themselves inherently racist? Is not blaming one race, as would be inherent in the term “White privilege”, racist in and of itself? 

Surely such terms prevent us from confronting the reality that individuals of any colour or origin can themselves be racist in their attitudes and behaviour.

Indeed, the whole framework for such terms depends on using racial classifications to distinguish between people, based on sweeping generalizations and without regard to any needed nuance.  

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The challenge is to find a broader approach to dealing with racism and discrimination as they are practised in any group.[/quote]

In the end, such uses of the term “White” – no matter what side of the coin you are starting from – are dangerous and negative.  Such divisive tactics cannot build cohesion within a state of equality for all.

Mutual respect and responsibility

The challenge is to find a broader approach to dealing with racism and discrimination as they are practised in any group. 

In the Canadian context, the way forward favoured by the Canadian Race Relations Foundation is to build a shared understanding of the current state of race relations and how we got here.

At the same time through initiatives such as our 150 stories, workshops and symposia, we would seek to include the broad range of Canadians in a dialogue about the non-racist values we want to guide us towards a common future based on mutual respect and responsibility.

Rubin Friedman is a member of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation board of directors. He has extensive experience in dealing with issues of community, integration, prejudice and discrimination. 

Anita Bromberg has been the Executive Director of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation since June 2014. Prior to that, she served as National Director Legal Affairs at B'nai Brith Canada.

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Published in Commentary
Tuesday, 21 October 2014 19:44

Not All Immigrant Children Created Equal

by Charles Ungerleider in Vancouver

Canada’s economic prosperity and population depend upon immigration. Canada would not exist nor could it survive without immigration. Population maintenance depends upon immigration. The Canadian birth rate per woman is in the region of 1.6, far below the replacement ratio of approximately 2.1 births per woman. Canada’s economic prosperity is linked to having enough well educated people to support an increasingly dependent population.

A high proportion of recent immigrants have university degrees. In fact, by 2001, the portion of immigrants with university degrees was about twice that of the Canadian-born population. Although their parents are well educated, the children of immigrants still face challenges in school. The children of immigrants have lower reading literacy levels than their Canadian-born counterparts. It is fortunate that, over time, this disadvantage disappears for most students, but not all. Despite lower reading literacy, most recent immigrants perform better on average than their Canadian-born counterparts in mathematics and sciences.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]... it is important to ensure that students acquire facility in English or French for academic purposes prior to enrolling in courses that depend on such fluency.[/quote]

As most people recognize, group averages can hide significant variation among groups. When we look beyond the averages for immigrant students, we notice that immigrants from particular backgrounds are doing less well than their peers.  Students from Asian immigrant backgrounds are so numerous and, in general, so successful in school, that their performance obscures the results of the students from other immigrant backgrounds who find Canadian schooling more challenging, who perform less well and sometimes leave school prior to graduation.

Time is one of the challenges faced by immigrant students trying to learn English or French in school. Often they do not have sufficient time to both learn the language for academic purposes and to gather sufficient credits for graduation. The problem is compounded in those jurisdictions that place age limits on who can attend school and limits on the amount of additional support that students are able to receive. Older immigrant students are especially challenged by the limited time they can attend school.

Socio-economic factors

Confusion arising from different cultural expectations is also a challenge for immigrant students and for their parents. The prominence given to student engagement, critical thinking and questioning is sometimes quite different than the prior experiences that some immigrant students have had. For some students and parents, Canadian schools seem less demanding and too informal than their prior school experiences. The mismatch in expectations and experiences between prior and current school experiences adds to the challenge faced by immigrant students and their parents.

Immigrant students whose parents have neither educational nor economic advantages are often among those who find school more challenging, perform less well and leave school early. Even among those who graduate from high school, there are socio-economic differences between those who attend post-secondary school and those who do not, favouring those whose parents are more advantaged.

Child refugees or children of refugees who have not had the benefit of schooling prior to arrival in Canada are among the most challenged. Lacking familiarity with schools, prior school socialization, and basic literacy makes school a daunting set of challenges for refugee students.

Beyond averages

Over the course of their history, Canadian schools have become better at welcoming and educating immigrant students. There are many factors that have contributed to the noticeable improvement. Canadian society is less overtly discriminatory than in the past when immigration was restricted to persons of European origin. While it has not completely freed itself from its past, Canada has acknowledged and apologized to descendants of Canadians of Japanese, Punjabi, Chinese and other backgrounds whose ancestors were excluded and mistreated. This has contributed to a national climate more accepting of difference that influences all of Canada’s institutions, including its schools.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Immigrant students whose parents have neither educational nor economic advantages are often among those who find school more challenging ...[/quote]

Schools have recognized that early and continuing intervention is necessary whenever students exhibit evidence of being challenged – especially in the acquisition of literacy. Parents whose children appear fluent in social contexts with friends often infer that their children possess the requisite knowledge to succeed in courses demanding greater facility with the language than is normally used in social discourse. Although it challenges the expectations and aspirations of those parents, it is important to ensure that students acquire facility in English or French for academic purposes prior to enrolling in courses that depend on such fluency.

Schools know that they must observe student progress closely and make adjustments to the education and supports that immigrant students require to be successful in the school environment. This requires looking beyond group averages to see how individual students are succeeding.

Canada’s need for immigrants often translates into action designed to increase the likelihood of school success because adult productivity, health and engaged citizenship are built upon a foundation of successful schooling. But action is not uniform across all schools or for all immigrant students. To ensure greater uniformity, we need better policies, practices, close monitoring and a willingness to change practice and policy when the evidence suggests that they are not working to the advantage of all students. 

Charles Ungerleider, a Professor Emeritus of Educational Studies at The University of British Columbia, is Managing Partner of Directions Evidence and Policy Research Group, LLP,  a partnership of professionals with experience in applied research, policy analysis and evaluation in a variety of domains, including K-12 and post-secondary education, social services, justice, and health. He has served as Deputy Minister of Education in British Columbia, Director of Research and Knowledge Mobilization at the Canadian Council on Learning, and Associate Dean (Teacher Education) at The University of British Columbia. 

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Published in Education

 by Peter Halpin

Canada’s labour market may not be showing much demand for bakers or tailors or candlestick makers, according to the CIBC report The Haves and Have Nots of Canada’s Labour Market. But, market demand remains strong for university graduates.

Indeed, university education is preferred if not essential for most of the 25 most in‐demand professions listed in the CIBC report. Skills shortages exist in numerous professions that require university education -- from engineering, architecture and auditing, to optometry, counselling and various health professions.

The CIBC report welcomes government proposals to admit 53,000 to 55,000 new Canadians this year to help meet the national skills shortage. At the same time, CIBC warns that this initiative is “simply not big enough to turn things around.”

Retaining skilled professionals

How can Atlantic Canada attract and retain skilled professionals inside what is a highly competitive market for their services?

First, we could start by looking at the thousands of international students already enrolled at Canada’s East Coast universities. New research commissioned by the Association of Atlantic Universities (AAU) shows that our international students are willing and able to help fill the region’s skills gap.

Indeed, the survey of this student cohort reveals that a majority of international students would consider staying in Canada after they graduate. Here are a few highlights from the survey, which was conducted by Corporate Research Associates:

• 33% of respondents ranked a “desire to live in Canada after graduation” as the single most important reason for their decision to attend a Canadian university.

• 76% of respondents were interested in applying for permanent residency through the federal government’s Canadian Experience Class (CEC) immigration stream.

• Academic factors were (in aggregate) the primary reasons international students cited for choosing to study at a Canadian university – with 49% referencing the quality of teaching.

Global talent pool

It is important to note that the global talent pool is growing deeper at our universities. According to the Maritime Provinces Higher Education Commission, the number of international students attending universities in the Maritimes has more than doubled over the past decade. In Atlantic Canada, the number of full‐time visa students increased 12 per cent to almost 11,000 last year.

How can our region leverage this valuable skills asset? Fortunately, the Canadian Experience Class (CEC) program is designed in part to keep international students in Canada after graduation.

In short, the right immigration policy is in place; the demand for skills is evident in the Atlantic Canada labour market; and thousands of international students are already attending our East Coast universities. In addition, like all university students, they offer the job market what it most needs – not only specific skills, but the ability to think critically, reason, adapt and get along with other human beings.

So the puzzle pieces are all at our fingertips. What we now need to do is build a partnership to put them together.

The universities will play their part by making international students more aware of the CEC program. This program can provide a pathway to citizenship, but the CRA research shows that many international students do not know that the program exists. Nor do they know that eligibility criteria include French or English‐language competency and a year of skilled work experience in Canada.

A team effort

Other players – including the private sector, provincial and federal governments – must also step up to make the CEC program work for international students who show a willingness to stay and work here in the region.

Business leaders and business organizations are also key partners in this initiative. They are best situated to identify the skills gaps in the Atlantic Canadian workforce, and to welcome international students inside their organizations to help fill those gaps.

Governments must also play a role, by unleashing the real potential of the CEC program to help place international students in careers that will prove essential to the region’s prosperity.

The bottom line is that many of our international students – from nations as diverse and geographically dispersed as China, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia -- would like to thrive and prosper in Atlantic Canada after graduation and to contribute to the region’s development and prosperity.

We should do everything that we can to help make it so. Governments, our universities and the private sector should now partner in transforming the CEC program into an East Coast success story. Our international students represent a talent pool that must be tapped.

(Peter Halpin has served as the executive director of the Association of Atlantic Universities (AAU) since December 1, 2003. In his capacity as executive director, Halpin serves as an advocate for the region’s university sector with governments and other key stakeholders in higher education, regionally and nationally.)

Published in Commentary

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