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Collective power

Concerned university members call for stronger advocacy for international students in Canada

Campus and Community

This article is authored by Dr. Sevtap Savas, Yajun Yu, Aaron Curtis, Dr. Sonja Knutson and Dr. Meghan Burchell.

Students bring enormous value to Canadian post-secondary institutions, to their scientific, educational, and technological endeavours, and to Canada’s global success.

From left are Yajun Yu and Dr. Sevtap Savas.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

Through research and development, they also create novel knowledge and products with positive impacts on the local and global economy and in other parts of our lives.

This value is regardless of whether these students are Canadian or international citizens.

The contributions of international students to Canada and these students’ unique circumstances are not often emphasized.

As students, staff, and professors at a Canadian university, we believe we should shed some light on the topic of the contributions of international students and challenges they may face.

International students make significant contributions to Canada

  • Like Canadian students, international students contribute to our education, scientific discoveries, technological innovations, and community work and services. They also represent Canada globally at academic conferences, and through publications and patents.
  • Like their Canadian peers, international students are a part of our communities. They are employees, volunteers, tax-payers, and our neighbours. They also help us increase our global awareness as we learn diverse knowledge, opinions, and cultures from them.
  • International students are away from home and family. In many cases, moving to Canada also means that they are not speaking in their native language. Despite these challenges, international students establish lives and excel in Canada. These are demonstrated examples of resilience, self-sufficiency, adaptability, strength, courage, and determination that enhance the collective power of the Canadian society.
  • International students are well-educated, and the majority of them are young. These qualifications make them excellent candidates for immigration to Canada. Following their studies, many international students stay in Canada and continue to contribute to Canadian objectives. Those who return back to their home countries also keep making positive contributions at various levels, such as establishing or enhancing good relationships between Canada and their home countries.

According to the Government of Canada, in 2016 international students in Canada spent roughly $15.5 billion on tuition, accommodation and discretionary spending.” These funds are estimated to support around 140,000-170,000 Canadian jobs.

Considering the fact that Canada has approximately 650,000 international students, this means for nearly every four international students recruited and retained, one Canadian job is supported.

In short, Canadians greatly benefit from the presence of international students in our country.

So, what is the problem?

There does not appear to be a strong appreciation and visibility for international students in Canada.

These students easily fall through the cracks, especially when times get tough.

“In the absence of strong advocacy . . . their underrepresentation in matters most related to them may continue, and eventually, their rights may not be protected.”

The most recent example of this being their exclusion from two of the federal COVID-19 related financial aid packages (Canada Emergency Student Benefit and Canada Student Service Grant programs).

In a country where we take pride in diversity, inclusiveness and social justice, such a systematic disregard for these students’ well-being is concerning.

What should we be doing? 

This question is the heart of the matter. 

It is time that international students receive this well-deserved advocacy.

Mr. Yu and Dr. Savas are calling on all Canadians to support international students,
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

In the absence of strong advocacy, their voices may remain unheard, their underrepresentation in matters most related to them may continue, and eventually, their rights may not be protected.

We, therefore, call that international students are empowered by strong leadership, representation, and advocacy both within and outside of Canadian post-secondary institutions, including at the provincial and federal government levels.

Outside of these institutions, we can do our part as members of Canadian society by demonstrating our compassion and dedication to Canadian values in our interactions with and support of international students.

Let’s do our part

If there is anything the current global COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us, it is the importance of unity, compassion and civil rights and equity.

“If Canada is interested in continuation of these benefits . . . and in social justice, we must empower our international students and remove the barriers they face.”

International students have extensive educational, scientific, economic and social contributions to Canada.

If Canada is interested in continuation of these benefits, our ability to recruit international talent in the future, the survival of our vibrant post-secondary institutions, and in social justice, we must empower our international students and remove the barriers they face.

We are hopeful that together with student organizations, university members and concerned citizens, the upcoming vice-provost (equity, diversity and inclusion) at Memorial will play a strong role in advocating for international students in our province and beyond.

Please join us in this important undertaking.

Dr. Sevtap Savas is an associate professor in the Discipline of Genetics, Faculty of Medicine; Yajun Yu is a doctoral student in the Discipline of Genetics, Faculty of Medicine; Aaron Curtis is a master’s student in the Discipline of Genetics, Faculty of Medicine; Dr. Sonja Knutson is director of the Internationalization Office; and Dr. Meghan Burchell is an associate professor in the Department of Archaeology, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences. 

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