“An early contender for the worst article of the back-to-school period,” was Alex Usher’s reaction upon coming across an article by Douglas Todd in the Vancouver Sun titled “The pros and cons of foreign students.” Melonie Fullick’s reaction was closer to mine. The article called for a round of “Crap detection in the higher education news.” There is only one use for the article by Douglas Todd: as the ultimate example for students in schools of journalism of what shoddy journalism is all about.
The title is already misleading as it points to the “pros and cons of foreign students,” while the article itself is nothing but a non-disguised attempt at trashing the whole concept of hosting international students. This starts with the subtitle, which asserts “Canada is pillaging many poorer countries of their best and brightest and using them as ‘cash cows’ for its institutions.”
Melonie Fullick already points to Douglas Todd’s use of the term “foreign students,” which “suggests strangeness and unfamiliarity, or “other-ness,” as opposed to “international students,” which describe national origins or/and citizenship.
But there is more to these not-so subliminal linguistic tricks. Todd refers to “the flood of foreign students,” to “the river of foreign students,” to the “foreign-student phenomenon,” to “this expanding cohort,” and to “this growing educational army.” Scary stuff!
Granted, this is the season when some Canadian parents are unhappy that their children didn’t make it to their preferred universities for one reason or another. It is however unfortunate that some think it is the right time to play on their disappointment and get them to watch out from this horde of foreigners overrunning Canadian universities and “crowding-out” the true citizens.
There is no question that the recruitment of international students raises complex issues that will need to be addressed through data collection and rigourous analysis. The problem is that all these “cons” in Todd’s article are neither established nor substantiated by any credible study or data.
As pointed out by Fullick, Todd relies on the words of Philip Resnick, who acknowledges that he has never researched the subject. But since they couldn’t find any Canadian data on costs/benefits of international students, they both refer to an 11-year old study of the US system by George Borjas. This Harvard economist, who seems to be known for his anti-immigration (and anti-international student) stance claimed to have “discovered foreign students have displaced local students, particularly white males, especially in graduate schools.”
There are many more colourful (literally) parts to the Todd article, like when he takes a swing at “the three million people with Canadian passports who live outside of the country. Many people in this category (HOW MANY?) obtain subsidized Canadian educations, even though neither they nor their parents have contributed significantly (HOW MUCH?) to Canadian tax coffers.”
I refer to Melonie Fullick’s article about the other issues raised by Mr. Todd (The connection to “Crazy Rich Asians,” “the language challenge, which some local students say is harming the quality of classroom interactions,” and the (predictable) opinions of the Canada’s Centre for Immigration Policy Reform).
But let’s have some fun and talk a bit about the author’s use of numbers to make his case.
The article starts with “…in the past few decades: The number of foreign students in the country has roughly tripled to more than 250,000.” Don’t you think the readers need to know exactly how many decades it took for the tripling? Plus, by how much the total student body has increased overall during these “few decades.” The number given is essentially meaningless unless shown as a proportion over a well defined period of time.
Then, after stating that there are currently 250K international students, Mr. Todd later discusses “doubling” that “to 450,000”. Oops!
But here is the best one. “What are taxpayers to make of this expanding cohort, who now make up 20 per cent of all B.C. students? At the University of B.C., international young people comprise almost one out of six of the 57,000 students.
This is really puzzling when one considers Todd’s focus on the role of University of B.C. President Stephen Toope in “aggressively recruiting offshore Asian students …”. There are only 2 ways to understand it:
Either the author doesn’t know that one out of six is less than 20%, or the author thinks that the reader wouldn’t know that one out of six is less than 20%.
I would further recommend that journalism students use this article as an example of poor numeracy and statistics usage in reporting.