The Government of Québec must demonstrate transparency and reconsider its position in regards to the Québec Experience Program (FR: Programme de l’expérience québécoise - PEQ), and needs to enhance the program and respect the commitment it’s made to international workers, believes Polytechnique Montréal President, Philippe A. Tanguy.
“While our students are demanding adjustments to the reforms to the Québec Experience Program that were announced in July, we at the university executive are of the opinion that this program must be considered in terms of university geopolitics as well. This isn’t just about the competitiveness of Québec universities versus those in other Canadian provinces, but rather versus universities across the globe,” notes Tanguy.
“By restricting the application of grandfathered rights to those who earned their degrees prior to the end of 2020, the government is abandoning its initial commitment to those same students. Given the current pandemic, a research project risks being seriously disrupted for so many international students, and the consequence is that they will graduate later than expected,” continues Tanguy.
Reforms that were announced by Nadine Girault, Québec’s Minister of Immigration, de la Francisation et de l’Intégration were received as a good start, and indeed, met some of the university sector’s demands, including recognition of internships as professional experience, and consideration of some grandfathered rights for those who’ve earned their degrees abroad. Yet the new conditions imposed on international students who are already studying in Québec represent something of a break of moral contract, given that admissibility rules have changed suddenly, after they've already begun the process.
The program represents a competitive advantage for Québec’s higher educational system, and namely for Polytechnique Montréal. For students, the program is attractive given that it provides them with the chance to settle in Québec as highly-skilled workers, however it’s also appealing to potential new members of the professorial corps. “It’s critical for Polytechnique, since we’re counting on hiring over 60 accomplished professors over the next few years," stresses Tanguy. “Well managed, the QEP is part of the tools we can use to recruit those internationally renowned professors.”
Changing the rules of the game
Since last autumn, Polytechnique Montréal's President has joined a group - including business leaders, students associations, and other university leaders - who have requested flexibility in terms of QEP reforms. “The Government of Québec must allow all international students who are already registered in a Québec university program, or who started their studies in the Autumn 2020 semester, to benefit from accelerated permanent residency in Québec, as was laid out in older iterations of the QEP,” insists Tanguy.
"Students were recruited by universities based on that possibility. It's unfortunate in terms of Québec's reputation, as well as that of its universities, to change the rules when the proverbial game has already started - including the stipulation that international students have a year's worth of work experience before permitting them to even apply for the PEQ. This rupture of moral contract affects the credibility of policies that seek to help us catch up in terms of enriching our province - in comparison to other Canadian provinces – as well in terms of increasing the number of well-paid, high-quality jobs,” explains Polytechnique Montréal's President Philippe A. Tanguy, who intends to continue efforts related to the Québec government program.
International students are key members of Polytechnique Montréal’s community. As of the Autumn 2020 semester, over one quarter of new registered students are international students, from over one hundred different countries. Overall, more than 30% of Polytechnique students come from somewhere other than Canada.
Critical contributions to Québec society
students contribute to Québec's economy and society at large, right from their arrival at Polytechnique. They often make significant sacrifices to come and study here. The prospect of permanently settling here in Québec and contributing to it as citizens upon graduation has enormous appeal for many of them. Given our highly competitive global world, our society simply cannot deprive itself of this generation's presence, talents, and creativity," notes Tanguy.
The possibility of being able to become a citizen once their academic journey has ended is, for many international students, a sizeable motivation, as well as a factor in their academic efforts to succeed.
The troubling signal sent by on-going QEP reforms holds risks for the development of innovation in Québec. Polytechnique Montréal’s graduate students – half of whom are international students – work in elite research teams, often in partnership with Québec companies who are actively looking to attract new talent to reinforce their competitive edge.
“Without international students, Québec’s research and innovation ecosystem risks experiencing negative impact, with consequences we cannot imagine on Québec’s commercial and industrial competitiveness,” concludes Philippe A. Tanguy.
This article was first published on 17 September by Polytechnique Montréal.