I have long advocated international students be permitted to work in Macau during their studies, and although that stance has not changed, the geo-political situation has, and strengthens that position.
Recent Chinese policies such as the Education Initiative to support the Belt and Road program and the Greater Bay Area indicate that reaching out beyond borders using a variety of modes has become more pressing. These initiatives serve to add more arguments to those I have plied to decision makers since 2011.
In 2010 the Ministry of Education aimed to increase the number of international students to 500,000 by 2020 – last year they numbered 492,000. Of current international students in China, 60 percent are from Belt and Road Initiative regions encouraged by scholarships, English-medium international departments and futures in China-focused careers. There has recently been pressure not to treat international students differently from local students so as to avoid accusations of preferential treatment and to help with integration and the benefits that living and studying together offer local and international students alike.
China is also grappling with a brain drain, being a net exporter of skilled human talent. To stem that tide have been courses of action such as the 1,000 Talents Program to entice the best academic minds back home. This August has seen easing immigration policies to attract highly skilled overseas workers and foreigners graduating from Chinese tertiary institutions with 2- to 5-year visas and permanent residency. These should help achieve an opening up, and social and economic development.
Against this background of China’s policies to encourage development of international skill and talent, here in Macau, lawmaker Ella Lei responded to the Macau Hotel Association’s suggestion to allow non-resident students to work as being unlawful. To address this apparently singular concern of Ella Lei and Ho Iat Seng, laws can change, that’s what lawmakers do.
Lei said that current abuse of the import labour regulations indicated a system in need of improvement and not a need to open more doors to foreigners. In reality, any abuse is more likely to indicate an overly restrictive set of regulations in an environment of substantial human resource deficiency. As the Macau Hotel Association recommends, a casual student workforce would be a very suitable and elegant solution to their members’ manpower problems. Who better than a flexible workforce of bright, cheery, engaging and engaged young workers with language skills and other capabilities already here in Macau? It is a resource, literally begging to be used.
I do not suggest we offer international students privileges beyond that given to local students, but to integrate them on an even footing with their classmates, to be given the same opportunities to extend their learning beyond the classroom, into the workplace through internships and part-time casual work, and into the community through workplace connections.
A casual international student workforce limited to maximum weekly working hours offers a bunch of systemic benefits to the students, the classroom, institutions, industry and the community both locally and internationally, now and into the future, just as the Chinese policies acknowledge. Indeed, with many of our courses taught in English, our European heritage and internationally highly qualified academics, Macau is uniquely positioned to be a platform to support Mainland policies.
International students could apply what they learn at university to their workplaces, and then share their workplace experiences back into the classroom. They develop a deeper understanding of our culture, styles of communication, laws and institutions, as well lasting and profound relationships by actively contributing to our community. Macau would attract a larger pool of higher quality applicants, as international students who need to support themselves financially can consider our institutions. With that increase in quality, the entire university cohort is invigorated, and our local students benefit from that competitive edge – it lifts everyone’s game.