The origins of International Students’ Day are sombre. After Nazi forces raided the University of Prague in 1939 following student protests against the killing of student Jan Opletal, all higher education institutions in then-Czechoslovakia were closed. The unrest culminated in more than 1,000 Czech students being deported to concentration camps, and several students and professors were executed without trial on November 17, 1939.
International Students’ Day was first marked in London in 1941, by the International Students Council (which had many refugee student members, who had fled to the UK). Since then, the commemoration of these events has expanded worldwide. Institutions, students, and educators remain aware of the value of education and the importance of protecting schools and institutions against ideological oppression. The event has special meaning for student activism, as it commemorates the actions of students who stood up against an occupying regime.
Canada’s Passion for Student Activism Runs Deep
Students are frequently at the forefront of activism and social justice movements, and this is as true in Canada as it is elsewhere around the world. In Quebec, many credit the comparatively low tuition fees for higher education to a long tradition of student activism against tuition hikes. In the Western provinces and British Columbia, students are frequently among those protesting against the environmental impact of fossil fuel extraction.
On a more everyday scale, volunteering and community involvement forms a strong part of the ethos of Canada’s schools, colleges, and universities. Many institutions offer credit for volunteering, arrange co-op work placements with local organizations, or set up clinics (including health clinics, legal aid centres, and more) to allow students to practice their subject while participating in the community. These opportunities to take learning out of the classroom are what attract many international students to Canada. Not only are they a way to gain Canadian work experience, they also aid in integration and helping students find a home from home.
Growing Numbers of International Students are Choosing Canada
This year, International Students’ Day coincides with new figures that confirm the number of international students in Canada has almost doubled in the last eight years. According to the latest figures from the Canadian Bureau for International Education (CBIE), a Canadian, non-profit, non-governmental membership organization, the number of international students in Canada grew from 184,170 in 2008, to 353,750 in 2015. This figure is based on the number of students in Canada with study permits. However, individuals do not require a study permit for study programs of less than six months’ duration.
Given that this figure does not include international students pursuing study programs of less than six months — such as many language school programs — the real number could be much higher. Language school network Languages Canada estimates that up to 90,000 students were in Canada pursuing language programs of less then six months’ duration.
During the 2014—2015 academic year, the number of international students studying in Canada rose by eight percent, although this growth was slightly lower than the 10 percent growth in 2013—2014. The CBIE report, which analyses data from up to 2015, bolsters the most recent data from Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). In its annual report for 2016, IRCC stated that it issued 125,783 new study permits for international students in 2015.
The Transition to Permanent Residence
IRCC also reported that 5,829 international study permit holders transitioned to Canadian permanent residence through the economic streams in 2015. Although this figure was slightly lower than the 2014 figure, it is worth noting that the Express Entry immigration system was introduced in January, 2015. Under the Express Entry system, eligible candidates for certain Canadian immigration programs may enter a pool of candidates. Upon entry into this pool, they are assigned a Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) score based on civil status, education, work experience, and other factors. With the emphasis placed on skilled work experience in Canada and abroad, many international graduates may have struggled to compete against other individuals in the pool with more years of skilled work experience. These struggles were acknowledged by IRCC — Canada’s Minister of Immigration, John McCallum, at one point said, “International students have been shortchanged by the express entry system.”
However, as previously reported, changes to the Comprehensive Ranking System are scheduled to enter into force on November 19, 2016. Among these changes is the introduction of additional points for eligible Canadian educational credentials. Consequently, international graduates of Canadian study programs may find that they are in a better position within the Express Entry pool. With support from the Canadian government and an improved situation within the Express Entry pool, many more international graduates may be able to make the transition to Canadian permanent resident status, either through a federal program or one of the Provincial Nominee Programs (PNPs).