Ontario high tech firms are suffering from brain drain, as top graduates from Ontario universities are flocking to Silicon Valley for better career opportunities – from higher salaries to better perks. Ontario’s high tech firms, which are finding it harder and harder to attract the best and the brightest, believe that they have been victimized by the exodus of talent being churned out by Ontario’s universities.
A group of CEOs of high tech firms say that there should be consequences for grads leaving the country, especially as the government is investing $1.3 billion from taxpayers in the new Ontario students grant. They formed a lobby group, demanding students who immediately leave for jobs in the US after taking advantage of Ontario subsidized tuition to reimburse their tuition grants.
They suggested student grants shouldn’t be based on family income, such as in the Ontario Student Grant program, but on benchmarks, much like a scholarship program. If the student maintains certain grades and stays in Canada for five years after graduation, for example, the tuition money would not have to be reimbursed.
“We must look at Ontario’s heavily subsidized tuition as not just a carrot but also a stick, in critical subjects such as computer engineering,” the group leader said. The group has not provided specific examples of how money could be repaid, but it believes there needs to be a public-policy solution to the problem.
Such pay-me-back-before-you-leave demand is sleazy and short sighted. It is unlikely to be effective in reversing the brain drain. It reminds me a similar policy introduced by the Chinese government in the late 1980’s, when masses of university grads flocked to the US to pursue post graduate studies and not to return to China.
The brain drain that was only fueled by the government crackdown on students’ protest in 1989, prompted the Chinese government’s restrictive measures on overseas studies, which requested that any university graduate who applied for overseas studies had to work for a minimum of three to five years in a Chinese public organization or pay up to 10,000 RMB for each year short of five years.
But this policy, while intimidating to many students back then, failed to stop the massive flow of students who were determined to flee a country whose government used military power to crackdown on students’ protests. As a result, students, many of whom had overseas ties, borrowed funds to pay off to buy their way out of the country, killing the policy altogether.
Likewise, Ontario students will leave for US companies regardless of the tuition reimbursement demand. Silicon Valley, the mecca of the tech industry, exerts enormous attraction and is luring top talent from across the world. Meanwhile, the Canadian tech industry has a history of abysmal failures and lags far behind its US counterparts. The collapse of once elite Canadian tech giants such as Nortel Networks and BlackBerry have only fueled the students’ desire to leave, making them unable to turn down job offers from Google, Apple or Facebook.
The tuition reimbursement policy just does not get to the root of the problem, and several thousands of tuition grants won’t stop Ontario students from leaving, just like similar Chinese policies that failed to reverse the massive outflow of determined Chinese students two decades earlier. Opportunities in the US will lure them away, despite the tuition threat.
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