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A Unique Opportunity to Unlock Our Immense Potential

February 28, 2017

Open Letter

Hubert Bolduc, Montréal International; Denis Coderre, Mayor of Montréal; Claude Arbour, INRS; André Bourret, École nationale d’administration publique; Guy Breton, Université de Montréal; Pierre Dumouchel, École de technologie supérieure; Nicolas Duvernois, Junior Chamber of Commerce of Montréal; Richard Filion, Dawson College and Regroupement des collèges du Montréal métropolitain; Stéphane Forget, Fédération des chambres de commerce du Québec; Suzanne Fortier, McGill University; Christophe Guy, Polytechnique Montréal; Michel Leblanc, Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montréal; Martin Noël, Université TÉLUQ; Michel Patry, HEC Montréal; Robert Proulx, UQAM; Alan Shepard, Concordia; Bernard Tremblay, Fédération des cégeps.

Montréal, best urban destination for international students

Last week, the 2017 QS Best Student Cities ranking named Montréal the best city in the world for students, placing it ahead of Paris (2nd), London (3rd), Boston (8th), and Toronto (11th).

This is great news for Montréal. It is also a validation of the quality of training provided by our universities and the many opportunities the city has to offer. The challenges are significant, however. Between 2012 and 2015, the number of international students increased by only 13% in Montréal compared to 28% in Toronto, 77% in Vancouver and 26% across Canada. And only one in three students stays in Québec.

That’s why we need to capitalize on Montréal’s new position and leverage international students’ positive perception of the city.

Two trends are currently under way in Greater Montréal’s economy: a demographic crunch and strong growth in high-tech sectors, leading to increased demand for skilled workers. As a result, Montréal’s unemployment rate has been dropping and now stands at 6.4%. That is good news, of course, but it also means that we need to keep developing highly skilled workers and replenishing our talent pool.

We can do that by encouraging young Quebeckers to stay in school and by working harder to attract more international students and get them to settle in Montréal. International students are the best of the best in terms of potential future Quebeckers. They are already here, they have built their networks, and they will earn a Québec degree. Those are all key factors that will facilitate their integration into Québec society. What’s more, international students enrich the city’s cultural, social and academic fabric in addition to bringing diversity and fostering tolerance and open-mindedness. They are tomorrow’s skilled workers, which are increasingly hard to find.

Their stay in Montréal also generates substantial economic benefits. In 2015 alone, students from outside Québec contributed $367 million to Greater Montréal’s GDP, supported close to 3,500 additional jobs and generated $51 million in tax revenue for the Québec government.

Québec and Greater Montréal must act quickly and focus on developing a strategy to attract and retain international students, while keeping in mind the importance of promoting the French language and setting up mechanisms to assess student retention levels. The new strategy must build on existing initiatives that have received financial support from the Québec government. One such initiative is the platform recently launched by Montréal International and its partners to help retain international students. The website features a host of articles, testimonials, targeted events and promotions that showcase everything Greater Montréal has to offer. It also provides international students with a range of resources on immigration procedures and life and work in Québec.

We must find ways to help international students land their first job while in school or after graduation. To do so, the governments of Québec and Canada must work with employers to make it easier for international students to secure their first job (e.g., paid internships, summer jobs). A recently released study by the Institut du Québec looks at the above avenues for action and makes additional recommendations on how to use our strengths and reverse the trend in Québec.

Attracting and retaining international students are key to overcoming Greater Montréal’s growing economic and demographic challenges. The Québec government must make it a priority to develop a clear, concerted strategy. And that strategy must be designed to better promote Montréal internationally as the world’s best student city and encourage local employers to offer more paid internships to international students.