SOCIAL INTEGRATION OF INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS IN QUEBEC (CANADA) UNIVERSITIES: A MATTER OF TECHNOLOGY?
International students are “students who have crossed a national or territorial border for the purpose of education and are now enrolled outside their country of origin » (UNESCO glossary ). International students more than quadrupled between 1975 and 2009 (OECD, 2011). In Quebec, as in the rest of Canada, the number of international students increased by 40,9 % between 2001 and 2009. They now represent almost 10 % of the total student population (FEUQ, 2011). While Information and communication technologies (ICT) are more and more considered as an important component of higher education development (ex. Leask, 2004), it is possible to argue that they play a pivotal role in the social integration of international students, as defined by Tinto (1975). In this context, our research objective is to explore the relationship between access and use of ICT and social integration of international students.
The data collection took place at the 2013 winter session. An online questionnaire was sent through email to international students registered in two large francophone universities of Montreal (Quebec, Canada). The questionnaire included three sections: 1) a section on sociodemographic information; 2) a scale of social integration (French and Oakes, 2004), made of three subscales: peer-group interactions; interactions with faculty; and faculty concern for student development and teaching 3) a section on ICT access and use. 856 international students answered the questionnaire. We performed statistic tests, using Student T test and One-way ANOVA. The variables were the three subscales of social integration, and six ICT variables (ex. diversity of access to ICT; intensity of Internet use, etc.). In order to get additional information, we also tested the three subscales of social integration with different sociocultural variables, notably migratory variables (ex. number of years in Quebec); demographic variables (ex. age); social variables (ex. level of education of parents); and cultural variables (ex. area of origin).
Our results indicate that social integration of international students is not determined in any way by ICT variables. However, among the sociocultural variables that were tested, cultural variables seem to influence the social integration of international students. More precisely, our results indicate that interactions with peers (subscale 1) differ significantly according to ethnicity (white students, M=2.49, SD=0.88 vs. other ethnic groups, M=2,20, SD=0.96, t(593) = 4.95, p = 0.000), language (French, M=2.40, SD=0.91 vs. other native languages, M=2.22, SD=1.00, t(666) = 1.96, p = 0.50) and area of origin (Western area, M=2.45, SD=0.93 vs. other areas, M=2.20, SD=0.91, t(675) = 3.25, p = 0.001).
ICT do not seem to be such a central component of social integration for international students. However, the cultural backgrounds of international students seem to determine the quality of their interactions with their peers. Interestingly but not surprisingly, the more their cultural background is similar to that of local students (i.e., being white, French-speaker and from the Western area), the more they interact with their peers. These results have implications for the way to promote positive social integration of international students in Western universities.