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Wendy Luther, EduNova, Canada

EduNova is a cross-sector cooperative of education institutions and government partners giving Nova Scotia one of Canada’s most tightly-knit international education sectors. Its CEO, Wendy Luther, tells The PIE how it’s working to create seamless pathways to post-secondary education and why it’s working to convince students to stay post-graduation.

The PIE: What is EduNova?

Wendy Luther, CEO of EduNova in Nova Scotia

"Only about 2-3% of international students stay post-graduation, but a lot of the research shows that up to 70% or 74% would like to"

WL: The EduNova Cooperative is the association that promotes Nova Scotia’s education and training expertise internationally. We are also the vehicle for our universities, college, public and private K-12, public and private language and federal and provincial government partners to collaborate on all manner of projects in international education – we have 21 members.

The PIE: Why is international education important to Nova Scotia?

WL: On the economic side, it’s our second largest export. In a province of under a million people, we have 10 degree-granting universities and our 13 campus community college system, so we have more educational opportunities per capita than anywhere else in the country. And with an ageing and shrinking population as well as migration from rural to urban communities, welcoming international students is incredibly important. We have the third largest public school international K-12 program in the country, and many of our public schools continue to be viable because of the international students that they host.

“‘International education is critical not only to our economy but to our communities and our culture”

But on many levels, it’s critical not only to our economy but to our communities and our culture. We’re practically an island on the east coast of Canada, and the closest large urban centres to us would be Boston, which is an hour and a half flight, and Montreal, a little under two hours. So for us, the international education piece is important to link our communities to markets and opportunities around the world, but also to bring more globally minded awareness to all of our citizens, many of whom never get the opportunity to travel internationally.

The PIE: How many international students study in the province?

WL: We have a little over 10,000 international students at all levels of study – a little over 1,500 in K-12, a little shy of 8,000 in post-secondary, and the balance in language schools.

The PIE: Do the different sectors work closely together?

WL: Yes, and because we work so closely in Nova Scotia with each other, our pathway programmes are very strong. So EduNova markets the seamless pathways from K-12 to post-secondary, and from language to post-secondary, for international students. Over 70% of our language students articulate onto post-secondary, and that is a much higher percentage than elsewhere in Canada.

“Over 70% of our language students articulate onto post-secondary, a much higher percentage than elsewhere”

More recently, we’ve been really solidly linking those to immigration opportunities. We have a very important report for our province, the One Nova Scotia report, which was released three years ago, and that was a call to action to all Nova Scotians to make changes now to ensure the long-term sustainability and growth of our province.

One concrete example of what has come out of that is we think that only about 2-3% of international students stay post-graduation, so the report set a goal of 10% retention. We have a real disconnect because a lot of the research shows that up to 70% or 74% of students would have intention to stay if given the right opportunities. There’s very little research done on actually how many do stay, but we feel it is very low.

The PIE: And this was the reasoning behind the recently launched programmes Stay in Nova Scotia and Study and Stay in Nova Scotia?

WL: Yes. The Stay in Nova Scotia programme is designed to help 50 international students in their final year of study – whether that be undergrad, master’s or PhD – with every support imaginable to launch a successful career in Nova Scotia post-graduation. Most of our institutions are relatively quite small so I think we are doing an excellent job in terms of very personalised support for students. But we’re now asking the question: how could we raise the bar?

“Our institutions are quite small; we are doing an excellent job in terms of very personalised support”

So the premier launched that programme in October, and we selected, from about 150 applicants, 52 students representing 24 countries and launched this programme with a retreat. They participated in a number of team building exercises as well as hearing from local businesses who hire international talent, and they participated in a number of workshops about working with mentors, about presenting themselves for the job market in Nova Scotia.

They’re are now participating in ongoing activities between now and when they graduate in the spring to help them put their best foot forward towards meaningful employment in Nova Scotia and perhaps, eventually, immigration. We have full time staff managing this programme and liaising with each student.

The PIE: What are some of the practical ways you’re helping these students find employment?

WL: It includes a programme that helps match them with mentors, senior leaders in their fields. We also partnered with Venor Youth Employment, a private sector job search firm helping match graduates to work opportunities, so it’s making a fantastic difference to be partnered with the private sector in that way. And the programme also includes a job voucher that will help offset the cost [to businesses] of hiring them.

So the goal is one year after the programme, to have retained 80% of the cohort.

“It’s making a fantastic difference to be partnered with the private sector”

The PIE: So what’s different about the Study and Stay programme?

WL: Study and Stay is to actually recruit a cohort of international students that will then transition when they arrive to the type of supports I mentioned, but for the whole duration of their course.

When we market to students, we say for those whose goal is to in addition get a great international education, to get solid Canadian work experience in Nova Scotia and to pursue in the long-term potential immigration to Canada, then they should apply for that programme.

The PIE: How many will be in that cohort, and where will they come from?

WL: Right now, it’s 50 in total from China, India and the Philippines. That’s going to be our next challenge, addressing scalability, because what’s of utmost importance to us is that we are delivering on our promise that every student who gets selected gets very personal support and finds meaningful employment.

Many of the activities that the small group will take part in are open to the broader community, so we’ll make sure that a student who did not get selected for whatever reason will be able to participate in the broader range of activities.

“That’s going to be our next challenge, addressing scalability”

The PIE: Why did you choose China, India and the Philippines for the pilot?

WL: China is where we’ve been most successful in terms of not only attracting international students but also in our educational linkages. Also, in April of 2016 Nova Scotia released its China Engagement Strategy, so we have very strong support for our engagement as a province; we just for instance signed a twinning agreement with Shandong Province in China.

“We’re the only province to have rolled out an entrepreneurship stream for international students”

We understand that the reason many Indian students choose to study in Canada is for their potential long-term work opportunities, and so we’re hopeful that being a bit more explicit and supportive in that area may help raise our profile in India.

And in the Philippines, there’s between 600,000 and 800,000 Filipino-Canadians in our country, and I believe we’ve underrepresented in Nova Scotia in that, but our initial efforts have been very positive so we’re actively looking to grow our partnerships there.

The PIE: What do you think of the changes that were recently announced to Express Entry?

WL: Really positive; I’m hopeful that these changes to the Canadian Experience Class will give more avenues for international students to stay past when their post-graduation work permit is coming to expire. There was a real concern that we had about Express Entry when it was rolled out that it penalised international students.

However, in Nova Scotia we’ve been very innovative with our offices of immigration, in that we’re the only province to have rolled out an entrepreneurship stream for international students who can start or buy a business post-graduation and have that help or work towards their permanent residency status.

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