Succeeding in Canada: An exploratory study of the needs of immigration-track international students

To compete in the global economy as a sparsely-populated industrialized nation, Canada is endeavouring to attract talent from around the world. To this end, the Canadian federal and provincial governments are turning to the education sector as a primary immigration channel. In theory, international students gain knowledge, skills and credentials relevant to the Canadian context, and contribute to provincial and national economies as they pursue Canadian status. However, Canada’s ability to attract and retain talent is dependent on meeting the academic, socio-cultural and personal needs of this population.

This study takes a phenomenological approach with an aim to better understand the viewpoint of undergraduate international students planning to immigrate to Canada. In particular, this study will seek to reveal barriers to the well-being and goal-attainment of this diverse population, and identify which needs are not being met on- and off-campus.

Qualitative data will be gathered through a series of semi-structured interviews of six to eight international students attending a Canadian research-intensive university. Resulting data is intended to inform best practice for stakeholders of Canada’s international education sector and provide a foundation for further research.

The Big Picture

Canada is a relatively small player among English-speaking countries when it comes to educating international students. Only 5% of the world’s mobile students are studying in Canada. However, the Canadian government has learned that one of the most effective methods for developing and attracting new Canadians is through our education system. Recognizing this, the feds have put in place education-to-immigration opportunities for international students that are competitive on the world stage. For example, students not only have the ability to work part-time during academic study (off-campus work permit), but they may be eligible for the post-graduation work permit program allowing them up to three years of work after completing eligible 2-year diplomas or 4-year degrees. During this work period, students will become eligible for application for permanent resident status.

The above opportunities, and Canada’s reputation for a relatively strong, consistent public education system, have put Canada on the map as an education-immigration destination of choice. At the same time, following the economic challenges in 2009, some Canadian post-secondary institutions have faced funding challenges due to reduced transfers of base operating funds from provincial governments. College and university administrations are being pressured to resource a greater proportion of operational funding through their own means. In some cases, this pressure is leading to a market model within educational institutions where the focus swings from service delivery to revenue generation and cost reduction.

Research Questions

under construction!


My interest is with degree seeking international students who plan on taking the immigration path. Why? Because it is my belief that the mindset of these students, and the pressure placed on them, is much different from those who know they will be returning to their home country. For students from East Asia in particular, they know that when they return home with a North American degree, they will be sought after by employers and have the respect of their family and friends. While there are still challenges for these students, I estimate that the experience of those students moving towards gaining permanent residency in Canada will be generally more challenging. For example, they will exit undergraduate studies in a less competitive position with in Canada. They also may bear the stress of being separated from family and friends indefinitely. For this reason, I am interested in researching this category of student.


I will begin with an extensive literature review with a particular focus on Canadian literature. However, I will also look for literature that represents other English speaking countries such as Australia, the US and the UK. This review will help me narrow my questions before I conduct primary research. When I do, I plan to use a phenomenological approach to understanding the realities and needs of particular international students as outlined above. This will require in-depth interviews of 6-8 students.

to be continued…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: