Why Chinese students choose to study secondary education in Canada: An empirical investigation based on push-pull model


 Presenter (s) Xiaoli Jing, McGill University; Lisha Peng, McGill University; Kun Dai, Peking University

With the trend of globalization and internationalization of education, an increasing number of Chinese students choose to study secondary education overseas. It was reported that Chinese teenagers have become the largest group of international students in secondary schools in the USA, Canada and Australia (Farrugia, 2014). According to the data collected by the Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (2019), there were 39,165 Chinese international students studying in Canadian secondary schools in 2018. Despite this large enrolment, little is known about why these students choose to pursue secondary education in Canada. To fill this research gap, we conducted an exploratory qualitative study to investigate the factors that motivate Chinese students’ choice to study secondary in Canada.

Theoretical framework
This study adopted push-pull model as the theoretical framework. The push-pull model was originally proposed by Ravenstein at the end of the 19th century when he was studying the movement of population (Ravenstein, 1885, 1889). Based on his research findings, Ravenstein (1885) revealed that population migration was governed by a push-pull process. That is, people choose to move when they are pushed out by the unfavorable conditions in their place of origin (e.g. home country), and are pulled to their goal land (e.g. host country) by the favorable conditions in the location (Ravenstein,1885). Later on, many researchers followed Ravenstein’s footsteps, and utilised the push-pull model to analyse international student motivation to study abroad. It is noticeable that the initial push-pull model mainly focuses on macro level and external factors such as society, economy, environment, and politics (Altbach, 2003; Marginson, 2006). In 2007, Li and Bray further improved the model by adding micro layer into the it after examining Chinese students’ motivations to study in Hong Kong. Based on the refined push-pull model, we designed our study to explore Chinese students’ motivation to study secondary education in Canada.

Research method
We conducted a qualitative study to investigate Chinese students’ motivations to pursue secondary education in Canada. After obtaining the ethics approval from the relevant research ethics board, we started to recruit participants through a snowball sampling approach. In total, nineteen Chinese students who were receiving/received secondary education in Canada participated in this study. Specifically, we adopted semi-structured interviews to collect data about Chinese students’ motivations to pursue secondary education in Canada. The interviews consisted of two major open-ended questions, inviting participants to share their decision to not receive education in China and the factors motivated them to select Canada as a study destination. The interviews were conducted individually in Chinese in order to make the interviewees comfortable and to allow them to communicate more easily with us. Each interview lasted 40 minutes and was audio-recorded. Upon completion, the interviews were verbatim transcribed and thematically analyzed in qualitative analysis tool N-Vivo 11.0. The coding system was developed according to the aforementioned push-pull model, with push factors and pull factors being coded as parent nodes. The child nodes under each parent node were the macro-level and micro-level factors. Interviewee narratives were coded into child nodes by their relevance to the theme.

Results and Discussion
By adopting the modified “push-pull” model as the theoretical framework, this study illuminated the various micro- and macro-level factors influencing Chinese secondary students’ choice of studying abroad and pursuing education in Canada. With regard to the push factors, the disadvantages of Chinese education system, particularly its features of being exam-oriented and over-emphasizing on summative assessment, and unaccommodating university entrance policy for domestic migrant students that restricts their access to high-ranked universities are the most salient macro-level factors. Push factors at the micro level include the students’ thirst for higher quality education, worries about poor academic performance, concerns over the domestic politics, desires to develop independence and autonomy, and aspiration to experience new cultures. In terms of pull factors, the most significant macro-level factor is the high-quality education in Canadian schools. Other macro-level pull factors include enhanced career prospects, lower cost compared to other major host countries of international students, welcoming immigration policies, pleasant natural environment, and public safety. Pull factors at the micro level are the opportunities to improve English and French language skills, friends or relatives’ recommendation, and personal preference over Western political system.

These results support previous studies investigating Chinese international students’ motivation to study abroad (Altbach, 2004; Bodycott & Lai, 2012; Chen, 2017; Li & Bray, 2007; Mazzarol & Soutar, 2002; Yang, 2007) as well as those examining the motivations of international students studying in Canada (Chen, 2017; Jafar & Legusov, 2020; Tamtik, 2019). Furthermore, the study highlights that students’ personal preference over Western political system can be a pull factor for Chinese secondary students. Also, we identify Canada’s competitive advantages, such as providing a safer public space, lower cost of education, more friendly immigration policies, opportunity to learn French in addition to English as a foreign language.

Based on the research findings, we propose some practical implications for policy makers in both China and Canada. China is recommended to promote Chinese students’ overall development, increase the provision of high-quality and diversified educational resources nation-wide, and consider domestic migrant students’ expectations when making policies related to university entrance examination. Meanwhile, Canada is suggested to market public safety, lower cost of education, and bilingual environment as features of Canada as a study destination. It is also advised to enhance international students’ overseas study experiences so as to improve word-of-mouth for Canada as an ideal destination for Chinese secondary students.

The findings of this study contribute to the research field of international education in two ways. On the one hand, to the best of our knowledge, it is the first attempt to explore the motivations of Chinese school-aged students to seek secondary education in Canada, filling a research gap in the existing literature. On the other hand, the study provides practical implications for both home and host countries. It not only informs Chinese educational policy makers of the areas that need further improvement, but also suggests Canada to make appropriate marketing strategies to attract prospective students to study in the country. For future study, researchers could further investigate this cohort of students’ intercultural adjustment and learning experiences as young diaspora.
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