Last week, the Canadian government announced a groundbreaking update to their post-graduation work permit (PGWP) policy, allowing international students to complete courses online, and up to 50% of their programs while outside Canada, without hurting their eligibility for the permit. This update was monumental for the international education community.
Despite the significant impact this news has on students, widespread coverage of COVID-19’s effect on international students continues to focus on the economic benefits they bring to Canada. While it’s true that international students are an asset to the Canadian economy, these stories are neglecting to take into account the students and their wellbeing. We need to focus on the individual people affected, and what we can do to support our students in this moment of crisis.
The Student Experience
Students, both international and domestic, are facing unprecedented circumstances due to COVID-19. School closures have sent many students home to their families, while those without the option to return home have become increasingly isolated within their school communities. Many of these students are young adults on their own for the first time. International students may find themselves navigating a new country during a pandemic, with limited access to local support networks.
Uncertainty around the future has made it difficult for students to plan. Those who were planning to work to support themselves may be concerned about finances, and others are concerned about the health of loved ones who may be far away.
With the lack of stability and increased isolation, students are reporting feelings of loneliness and decreased mental health. This is why our larger communities must step up for them at this time.
In the future, we will look back on how we supported our students during this experience. Our actions now will affect our relationships with both domestic and international students for years to come.
When students choose to study in Canada, they put their trust in our institutions and communities. Canadians have a reputation for being welcoming, supportive, and inclusive. This is our opportunity to live up to that reputation. When we discuss the current state of immigration or education, there is far more at stake than just economics. We are talking about the lives and futures of human beings who have, in many respects, placed themselves in our care.
When we look back at this time of crisis, will we be proud of how we treated students in need? Did we think of them as numbers, or did we see them as individuals? We need to care about students’ wellbeing, as well as mental health. Focusing solely on economic impact is a discredit to the relationships that we’ve built, and the effect of education on students’ lives.
International students offer more to our country than just the economy. They broaden our perspectives, spark innovation, and expand our culture. Canada is a mosaic of the many different people who live here.
What Does Support Look Like?
The PGWP update demonstrated the Canadian government’s interest in supporting international students and their success. This announcement was meaningful because it exhibited a continuing commitment to the education of international students, even in non-traditional circumstances. More announcements like this will continue to showcase the government’s flexibility and dedication during a global crisis.
These policies will benefit our students’ futures, but many of them are on the ground, in need of support now. Naturally, students are turning to their schools for guidance, aid, and stability. Some schools, such as the University of Toronto, are providing financial support, including emergency relief grants for students.
Housing is a crucial area of need right now. Many schools are allowing students to remain in their dorms, despite campus closures, or moving them to hotels. Other universities and colleges are helping students find long-term housing options off-campus. The University of Victoria is going above and beyond, assisting students in moving to private rooms, supplying masks, and providing meal deliveries to help students self-isolate.
With anxiety and other mental health concerns on the rise, online counselling is another tremendous resource that schools can provide, as well as guidance around finances, immigration, and career planning.
That being said, let’s keep in mind that students are members of more than just their school communities, but of our larger communities as well. So we’re opening up the conversation: How can the community step up at this time? How can we support students in need in our ways?
If you have any ideas, we’d love to chat. You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.