Resilience and International Student Mobility: The Impact of Institutional Factors on Recruitment, Retention and Pathways to Permanent Status

The Federal government has indicated that it sees the recruitment of international students as a means of economic competitive advantage. Measures have been introduced to liberalize entry provisions and create new paths to residency. However, the policy and practice governing international student mobility is framed not only by the Federal and provincial departments but by a range of other stakeholders including universities themselves.

This project addresses a central theme within the Partnership by focusing on how social institutions engender resilience. It proposes to address the multiple ways in which universities – as social institutions – are implicated in creating and/or hindering spaces of student resilience at two levels. At the structural level we are interested in how institutions play a role in the selection and admission of students, the way they shape and regulate international student activity in terms of differing forms of labour – study and paid employment - and the supports they provide to students. These supports come into play over the duration of a study program but can also be present post graduation if and when a student seeks to change their status from international student to permanent resident. At the individual level, we seek to examine this process by documenting the experiences of international students themselves. Rather than focus on their individual motivations to come to Canada we wish to consider how they individually and collectively navigate, exploit and contest existing institutional structures at the local level.

This approach will necessarily entail gathering information on international students’ subjective views of resilience. This case study project will focus on and compare two universities located in the Ottawa-Gatineau region. Carleton University is among the top six universities for international student enrolment in Ontario with students from 120 countries. Like many universities it has a concerted recruitment campaign and charges differential fees to international students. In contrast, the University of Ottawa is the world’s largest EnglishFrench bilingual university. It has taken the step of charging only domestic fees to French speaking international students who choose to pursue full time study in French. Students in both universities live in Ottawa, Ontario and Gatineau, Quebec. The differing recruitment practices of the universities suggest the basis of a useful institutional comparison.

Photo by Alexis Brown on Unsplash

Research Activities (12 months – January 2018 – December 2018) – This project proposes a qualitative instrumental case study methodology (Stake, 1995) that will permit us to capture the particularities and complexities of the two different universities in the Ottawa-Gatineau region. We will be using document analysis and semi-structured interviews.

  • Stage One – Mapping International Student Mobility in Canada – a brief review and textual analysis of the Government’s policies and practices from the implementation of the Canadian Experience Class (2008) to recent reforms of the student study permit. Purpose: To provide the broad context that frames the activities of universities and student mobility.
  • Stage Two – Detailed environmental scan of the two universities’ activities vis-à-vis international students. This will entail the collection and review of information provided to prospective and incoming international students. Key informant interviews with officials in international offices (IO) in the two universities will also be conducted (approximately 10). Purpose: To provide an ‘official picture’ of the universities initiatives vis-à-vis international student and how these initiatives contribute to or limit resilience.
  • Stage Three – One to one interviews with international students currently enrolled at the two universities (approximately 40). Semi-structured personal interviews are an ideal method to gain in-depth understanding of everyday experiences from individuals’ perspective, while also gaining insights into the role of broader structures in shaping these experiences (Bennet 2002; Longhurst 2010). Students will be identified through on campus clubs, posters and where possible through IO offices. Purpose: To document the ways in which students experiences contradict and/or affirm universities ‘official picture’. To develop a profile of how students engage in ‘strategic’ displays of resilience. Following these interviews we anticipate interviewing some community based service organizations such as the Catholic Centre for Immigrants and local legal aid clinics.
  • Project outputs to date include:
  • Wu, X. & Veronis, L. (2022). English-Speaking International Students’ Perceptions and Experiences in a Bilingual University: A Geographical Approach to Linguistic Capital. The Canadian Geographer / Le Géographe Canadien, 66: 542-555. DOI: 10.1111/cag.12755
  • 2020: Best Poster Silver Award, Pathways to Prosperity (P2P) Annual National Conference 2020: Wu, X., Veronis, L., & R. Walker. “English- and French-Speaking International Students’ Experiences and Perspectives at a Bilingual University,” (virtual conference), 22-23 November.

Principal Investigators:

  • Christina Gabriel, ChristinaGabriel@Cunet.Carleton.Ca
  • Luisa Veronis,

Research Assistants:

  • Louise Cockram, Carleton University
  • Xiaohao Wu, uOttawa
  • Rachel Walker, uOttawa
  • Somunachi Okee Aguguo, uOttawa

Community Partners:

  • Carleton University;
  • Ottawa University;
  • IRCC;
  • Immigrant Women Services Ottawa;
  • Hire Immigrants Ottawa;
  • LASI Coalition;
  • World Skills