Lisa Brunner

Research Topic

Mapping the intersections of higher education and (im)migration

Research Description

Economic immigration and higher education systems are changing in two interrelated ways. As OECD governments experiment with ways to select more ‘successful’ and ‘easily integrated’ immigrants, some are shifting away from human-capital selection approaches, instead favoring demand-driven, ‘just-in-time’ systems. This positions sub-national actors – mainly employers, but now in some cases educational institutions – as more directly influential actors in immigrant selection and ‘integration’ processes.

At the same time, as OECD governments struggle to simultaneously increase higher education participation and fund system expansion, the economic benefits of international student enrollment are progressively entrenched in long-term institutional and governmental planning. As a result, strategies at multiple scales seek to significantly increase the recruitment and retention of international students – particularly in Canada.

Given the complex ethics surrounding internationalization in age of neoliberalism and neocolonialism, my research seeks to better understand the implications of these intersecting changes.

What was the best surprise about UBC or life in Vancouver?

There's so much wildlife I never saw growing up, like banana slugs, starfish, and marine mammals. My heart still skips a beat when I see a seal bobbing in the ocean – it never gets old!

Why did you decide to study at UBC?

I took some UBC courses before I was accepted – first through the Western Canadian Deans' Agreement as a graduate student at Simon Fraser University, then later while working at UBC as a staff member – and the professors were excellent. I also attended some great events organized by the Liu Institute for Global Issues and the Institute for Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice. I think Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies is doing important work in response to the realities of doctoral studies today, as evidenced by the Public Scholars Initiative and Graduate Pathways to Success programming.

What is it specifically, that your program offers, that attracted you?

Educational Studies is flexible in terms of course requirements and disciplinary approaches, allowing students the freedom to go where they need to go. My co-supervisors Dr. Shan and Dr. Andreotti offer two different yet complementary areas of expertise, so it is thrilling to learn from them. As a doctoral student, your relationship with your supervisor is crucial, so I am lucky to work with two professors who are both intellectually and pedagogically strong.

 

Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

My educational background is interdisciplinary, spanning literature, political science, geography, law, and education. The more disciplinary lenses I try on, the more some intellectual puzzles gnaw at me – one being the ways we allow borders and citizenship to determine opportunity in relation to other constructions of difference, such as class and race. After completing my MA research on refugee resettlement, I knew I wanted to dive even deeper into a related topic, but I also wanted time to pause and think – not only about what I could best contribute, but also what “needed doing.” I took a five-year break from school to work, and that professional experience helped crystallize my topic. I now feel fortunate for the privilege to return to those intellectual puzzles in a formal academic setting.

What do you see as your biggest challenge(s) in your future career?

The world is deeply unjust, and sometimes the amount and difficulty of the work to be done is overwhelming. It is also difficult knowing everything may be for naught if destructive forces like climate change and capitalism continue spinning out of control. For me, the biggest challenge is continuously re-finding ways to come to terms with the ethical paradoxes of modern life.

How do you feel your program is preparing you for those challenges?

There are students and faculty in the Department of Educational Studies who take these concerns seriously, and their leadership and support is invaluable.

What aspects of your life or career before now have best prepared you for your UBC graduate program?

My MA supervisor (Dr. Jennifer Hyndman) taught me the importance of engaging not only with research participants and academics but also practitioners and policy makers; a Mitacs Accelerate internship with Immigrant Services Society of BC was a formidable experience. Working as an international student advisor, teacher, and curriculum designer also provided relevant preparation for my program, but so did my years spent as a waitress, child care provider, and parking lot attendant – they all informed my way of seeing and approach to research, as did my lived experience as an international student (and now immigrant) in Canada.

What do you like to do for fun or relaxation?

It can be hard to relax, but I try to get outside. Bowen Island holds a special place in my heart. When it's raining, I like playing board games and the piano. The Vancouver Fringe Festival and the Vancouver International Film Festival are also awesome.

What advice do you have for new graduate students?

If you're struggling to choose a research focus/question/methodology, take the time you need to decide – but only that. We each contain multitudes and can potentially do an infinite number of projects; a graduate thesis is (hopefully!) just one of many projects you will eventually tackle. The sooner you finish, the sooner you can learn from your mistakes and make the next project better. Also, sign up for the Vancouver Inspiration Pass!