Li, H. (2020). How to Retain Global Talent? Economic and Social Integration of Chinese Students in Finland. Sustainability, 12, 1-19. doi:10.3390/su12104161
Global talent is the key resource for today’s knowledge-based society and sustainable economic development, and an increasing number of countries are aiming to not only train but also to retain international students as a potential supply of highly skilled labor in innovative fields. This article explores ways to retain international students as global talent through an empirical study on mainland Chinese students’ integration into Finland as an example. Based on data obtained through semi-structured interviews with 30 Chinese students, this research identified a number of individual and societal factors that contribute to their difficulties with economic and social integration.
This research identified three implications for students and other stakeholders: First, is it better for students to invest time and effort in acquiring skills highly valued in the labor market or in learning the local language? There seems to be no definite answer to this question, since the labor market demand is contextual and varies from one field to another. However, the interviews in this research suggest that, as highly skilled migrants, the students’ job-related skills may be their most important asset with which to compete in the local job market.
However, having local language skills besides their mother tongue and being fluent in English will undoubtedly be an advantage in their job seeking processes.
Second, while the students encountered numerous challenges during their integration processes, the current study suggests that the students may need to be more proactive and innovative in their economic integration strategies. This finding is consonant with the research by Cai (2014), which suggests that Chinese students can adopt an entrepreneurial job-seeking approach, that a job-seeker make proposals to potential employers by identifying their needs and utilizing their own special skills and talents to create a position for themselves. Besides possessing the hard skills, the students’ soft skills, such as being confident, honest, and cooperative team players, can also play an important role in enhancing their economic integration.
Third, given the various societal barriers faced by Chinese students during their integration, should HEIs and local employers become more multi-cultural to accommodate and retain the global talent? As the present study suggests, integration should be a bi-directional process entailing migrant and host societies’ mutual adaptation, both as individuals and as groups. The present findings suggest that Chinese students still face a certain degree of exclusion, not only from potential academic opportunities in the host HEIs, but also from the labor market and society more generally. As Finnish society is becoming increasingly aware of the importance of training and retaining international students as global talent, it can be argued that demanding that only the newcomers ‘integrate’ is not enough. The host environment (nation-states and organizations) also need to be more open and multiculturally oriented to enhance these highly skilled individuals’ capacities to integrate and innovate. By creating an institutional or societal environment that is open to hiring and promoting people from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds to work together, global talent (such as the Chinese students) will be encouraged to utilize their transnational capital and innovative capacity to make a greater contribution.
The findings of this study also suggest that Chinese students’ economic and social integration are mutually supportive. Those Chinese students willing to reach out from their comfort zone to meet more local people and obtain more professional opportunities may also have better chances of finding job opportunities in the host society after graduation. It is also clear that those students with work experience in the local society also have opportunities to expand their social networks with the host natives. Overall, international students’ economic and social integration is not only a crucial step in their entry into the local society, but also an attractive opportunity for hosting organizations and employers to build multicultural environments that can potentially enhance their productivity and build future sustainable development.
Hanwei Li is a research associate at the Manchester China Institute, University of Manchester. She holds a Ph.D. in Education from Tampere University, Finland and a Ph.D. in Sociology from Bielefeld University, Germany. She was a Marie Curie doctoral researcher working on a European Commission funded project – Transnational Migration, Citizenship and the Circulation of Rights and Responsibilities (TRANSMIC). Her research interests include: Asia-Europe student mobility, academic integration, socio-cultural integration, internationalization of higher education transnationalism, investment migration and citizenship.