Push-Pull Factors Related to Student Retention and Integration in Québec

Copies of the full report are available upon request to Research-Recherche@cic.gc.ca.

Executive summary

This study aimed to identify the principal factors that drive English-speaking youth including English-speaking international students and immigrants to remain in or leave the province upon the completion of their university education. We were concerned with the socioeconomic and linguistic factors that attract students to the province and contribute to the retention of these youth in the English-speaking community (ESC) of Quebec. Specifically, we examined English-speaking students’ initial motivations for studying and living in Quebec, what kind of support they obtained upon arrival and across their period of study, and the conditions that might motivate them to remain in the province upon the completion of their studies.

Push and pull factors were identified by surveying and interviewing English-speaking students, both Canadian and foreign-born, from Quebec’s three English-language universities: McGill, Concordia and Bishop’s University. We collected a total of 502 on-line survey responses (445 valid responses). We also collected in-depth qualitative information from 25 focus group members across the three universities.

Our sample was balanced between Quebec-born respondents (35% of total), students from the rest of Canada (27%) and international students (38%). Approximately three in five non-Quebec English-speaking students were recent immigrants to the province (arrived in the past 5 years). Most students were studying full-time (83%) at the time of the survey and there was a mix of undergraduates and graduates. The majority of the sample was female (73%), white (62%) and under the age of 30 (71%). Less than half of students surveyed learned English in childhood (44%) compared to only 9% who learned French; 18% came from bilingual homes (English/French) and 29% were Allophones.

Students generally reported being satisfied with their learning and living experiences to date and this finding was consistent among Quebec-born, other Canadian and international students. Students from the Rest of Canada (ROC) showed the highest satisfaction levels with their university learning experience. However, students were least satisfied with the availability and accessibility of support services in English in their city of residence (Montreal/Sherbrooke).

When asked about their arrival experience to the university, many focus group participants recalled a warm welcoming from their peers, professors and academic supervisors. Some students felt less welcomed by the school’s administration, claiming that they had little or no guidance in navigating the university “system” when they first arrived. Students had generally positive survey ratings of their university learning experience to date, but several focus group participants felt strongly that the university and government could be doing more to support students to learn and practice French. Students felt that there is no time to learn French while studying full-time for an academic major and/or working part-time to make ends meet.

When deciding where to live and study, the most important factors as rated by students on the survey were: program of study, quality of education, studying in English, and a low cost of tuition. International students also identified cost of living, a safe place to live, international recognition of qualifications, and post-study work opportunities as important pull factors. Other key factors included the culture and “vibe” of the city (Montreal/Sherbrooke), living close to a beautiful, natural environment with open green spaces, family, friends and social networks, and the ease of applying to the university or of getting a visa (immigration).

Several students in the focus groups identified the French language, and to a lesser extent, French culture as key factor that drew them to Quebec. However, despite their initial intentions to learn French, most of these students did not actually improve their language skills due to time constraints, a lack of motivation, or because they interact mostly with English-speaking students. Access to health and mental health services was also a hot topic of discussion among focus group participants, and there were some very mixed reviews across the three universities. While the schools do provide access to basic medical services, students claimed that the availability of daily appointment times is inadequate. Students were also concerned with the quotas placed on the number of mental health sessions one could attend while enrolled in school.

Slightly more than one in four students surveyed plan to seek employment in Quebec after graduation (35% of Quebec-born students) and over one-third (35%) intend to find employment elsewhere in Canada (50% of students from the ROC). If they were to leave their current place of residence in the next five years, around half of students surveyed would go to another province or territory in Canada (as would 71% of students from the ROC); 11% would move to another community in Quebec (18% of Quebec-born students) and 11% of international students intend to return to their country of origin. Almost half the students surveyed (46%) report intentions to stay in Quebec after graduation and another 18% were on the fence or undecided about the future. Retention rates are higher for Quebec-born students (70% are somewhat or very likely to stay) compared to international students (43%) and students from other provinces (35%).

The most important factors that influence students’ decision to stay in Quebec after graduation include: good job opportunities, a good network of friends, a safe place to live, and low cost of living. Students born in Quebec were concerned most about cost of living and having a good network of friends whereas other Canadians were focused on job opportunities and the low cost of living in Montreal. International students were also looking for good job opportunities, a safe place to live and a strong network of friends. Focus group participants were split (50:50) in their decision to stay and integrate in Quebec after graduation or leave to pursue opportunities elsewhere. But the unanimous factor for students is employment. Graduates are willing to stay in Quebec if there are quality, competitive jobs available that provide incentives for language skills; but they are also ready and willing to pursue opportunities elsewhere, depending on the health of the local economy and job market.

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