Spring 2006 - Volume 9 Number 2
|Improving International Education for Canadians the time is now
The recent report card from the Canadian Council on Learning gave Canadians a grade of 73% for their progress in learning. The authors argue that we need to do better as Canada is increasingly falling behind other OECD countries when it comes to providing post-secondary students with opportunities to internationalize their education. The authors suggest that the recent federal budget could be the catalyst to change this.
In the Spring of 2006, Canadians concerned about education received some encouraging news. The Canadian Council on Learning, an independent, federally funded organization, released its first ever report card on education in Canada. The report gave Canadians a 73% for participation in lifelong learning, a solid B grade. But we need to do much, much better, particularly in post-secondary education.
In particular, Canada needs to ensure more post-secondary students are studying abroad. Look around any Canadian college or university campus these days. Students from all over the globe are studying at our campuses. The world is coming to Canada. But are our students following suit?
According to the Canadian Bureau for International Education (CBIE, 2005), about 66,576 international students were studying at Canadian colleges and universities in 2001-02. The number of Canadian post-secondary students studying abroad was less than half this number, and of those that were abroad, 77% were studying in the United States. Furthermore, international student enrollments in Canada increased 27.5% from 1999/00 to 2001/02 while the increase in Canadians studying abroad from 1999/00 to 2000/01 was a mere 4.7%.
This is not surprising as Canada has historically placed far less emphasis on funding international education opportunities for its citizens than other OECD countries. On a per capita basis, Canada spends about $0.80 on international scholarship and exchange programs while Australia spends the equivalent of $9.07, the United States spends $4.70 and Germany spends $3.02 (AUCC, 2004).
Despite Canada’s poor funding for international scholarships and exchange programs, few would dispute the importance of an internationalized education. In fact, an increasingly globalized and knowledge-based economy makes it critical for Canadians to have the knowledge, skills and cross-cultural competencies required to actively engage the global community. How can you compete with the world if you have never lived outside North America? How can you develop any sense of the world economy if the Caribbean is the most esoteric destination with which you can connect? How can you develop empathy and understanding of other cultures without experiencing them? Although the number of new Canadians who bring perspectives from elsewhere is helpful, this does not replace the need for international experiences among those born in Canada. Clearly, global literacy is today’s key to lifelong learning and success. Without it, Canadians and Canada will be left behind.
Many countries are increasing their commitments to study abroad opportunities for their citizens. The United States Senate has declared 2006 the Year of Study Abroad. Further, the bi-partisan congressional Commission on the Abraham Lincoln Study Abroad Fellowship Program has called for federal funding to help enable one million American post-secondary students study abroad annually by 2016-17. That equals about half the number of undergraduate degrees awarded each year in the United States. The Commission, which was appointed by Congress and President George W. Bush, recommends that annual federal funding for international fellowships begin at $50 million and reach $125 million by 2011. The enthusiasm this has generated in the United States is palpable. Imagine the effect?
For American college and university students, this means studying abroad will become the norm. The congressional Commission expects that this will translate into improvements in economic competitiveness, national security and the United States global role. Where is Canada? Canadians often decry the perceived parochial nature of education in the United States. Not so if the Lincoln Commission achieves even one quarter of its plan.
Now is a perfect time for the federal government to step up and create a strategic, pan-Canadian plan that supports international education opportunities for post-secondary students. The federal government’s 2006 budget could be the catalyst. Budget documents reference the goal of clarifying provincial and federal roles in post-secondary education and commit the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development to hold consultations over the next year to develop proposals for long-term federal support for post-secondary education priorities.
The federal government needs to make funding for study abroad opportunities one of the priorities for Canadian post-secondary education. Without it, the next report card may be a C or lower. Mr. Harper, this is the opportunity to make a key difference for generations to come.References
Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada. (February 2004). Achieving Canadian Excellence in and for the World: Leveraging Canada’s Higher Education and Research. International Affairs, p.2.
Canadian Bureau for International Education. (2005). The National Report on International Students in Canada 2002. Ottawa: CBIE.
Michael Hatton, Ph.D. is Vice President Academic of Humber College in Toronto and an Associate Member of the Graduate Faculty at the University of Toronto. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kent Schroeder is International Project Director of the Business School at Humber College. He can be reached at email@example.com.
The views expressed by the authors are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of The College Quarterly or of Seneca College.
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