Cross Country Mobility of Graduates - Economic and Ethical Dilemmas.
The foundation for the Canada we know today was built on the cross border movement of populations from other provinces and abroad. The positive advantages of this mobility go beyond simply filling labour market gaps. It's called nation building.
Having said that, there are economic and ethical issues that arise in the wake of the Manitoba government's recent decision to offer tuition tax credits to out of province graduates. We need a public policy debate to examine the benefits and risks associated with this strategy, both within Canada and abroad.
Manitoba's offer of up to $25,000 in tax credits is intended to retain and attract talent. The graduates that might settle in Manitoba would typically be young and mobile with up-to-date skills. Those from overseas would bring language and inter-cultural diversity - key ingredients for success in the increasingly global marketplace.
So for Manitoba, attracting graduates from out of province and overseas may be valid, given its particular labour market circumstances. However, there are negative consequences for the donor provinces and countries, particularly as Canada and other countries face demographic challenges and competition for talent.
My views are echoed by Professor Ross Finnie, a Queens University economist. Finnie referred to initiatives like Manitoba's as "beggar-thy-neighbour" in a recent issue of the Globe and Mail.
An initial set of arguments for public airing and discussion could include the suggestion that Manitoba is free riding on the investment made by other provinces and countries in their education systems. In most cases, there is a cost impact on the home country of the overseas student who is lured elsewhere. For many developing countries this can be significant. The return on the investment made in a graduate's education is not realized. For a developing country, the loss of skilled workers for its public and private sectors stunts progress at a time when it's vital to build the human and physical infrastructure.
Even for Canada, the loss of talent from one province to another can be damaging as we face an emerging shortage of skilled workers. Apart from economic issues, there are social effects on communities, particularly rural, that flow from the loss of skilled talent.
In advancing this call for a public policy debate, I recognize mobility will and should occur in response to market forces. We have evidence of this in Canada with the exodus of workers to Alberta. However, the implications of a tax incentive program like Manitoba's, provides a set of arguments that should be aired, particularly as it relates to those countries trying to move up the ladder of development.
If all provinces offered incentive, the net benefit might cancel out in Canada, but not in developing countries, particularly the Caribbean and Africa. Those areas could suffer the full impact of providing graduates to fill Canada's impending talent gap.
The irony here is that while we improve educational systems in developing countries, through CIDA and other development agencies, we help produce more trained graduates we in turn then lure away from the very countries we are setting out to help!! Apart from the economics of this issue, there are ethical questions here that beg answers.
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Dr. J. Colin Dodds is President of Saint Mary's University, which with The Atlantic School of Theology jointly sponsor the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Public Affairs.
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