The direct benefits of international education for Canadian post-secondary institutions and communities are well-known. International students enhance the learning experience of all students, connect Canadian campuses and scholars to global knowledge networks, and contribute to local economies. Additionally, international education is also increasingly being recognized as an important means of enriching Canada’s human capital by providing a pathway to permanent residency for those who initially come to Canada to study.
But while the immigration benefits that international education offers are increasingly recognized, the specific factors that encourage international students to stay in Canada after graduation – particularly in smaller centres outside the country’s major metropolises – are less widely understood. Canada is fortunate to be home to dozens of high-quality public universities and colleges in mid-sized and smaller population centres, which could serve as catalysts for increased retention of international students and as portals for their contribution to local economies. But it is unclear that these institutions are being leveraged to this end as effectively as they could be. Improving this situation is important as many of these communities could benefit significantly from increased immigration and settlement of young, skilled newcomers.
In this report, we seek to advance a discussion of how international education can be leveraged to help increase the populations and build the economies of these communities over the long-term. The paper begins with a brief review of the role that post- secondary institutions can play in driving economic development in what we call “smaller centres”, that is, mid-sized, small, and rural municipalities that are not a part of a major metropolitan conurbation and count fewer than a million inhabitants. Our focus then pivots to a review of what we currently know about international students in Canada: why they come, where they study, and what they study. Building on this foundation, we shift to an examination of what we already know – and what we do not know – about the retention of these students. This leads quite organically into a discussion of the factors which impact international students’ decisions of whether and where to stay after graduation.