Canada's Innovative Internationalization

By Wilkie, Dana | International Educator, September/October 2007 | Go to article overview

Canada's Innovative Internationalization

Wilkie, Dana, International Educator

Around the world, higher education institutions are making great efforts to globalize their campuses. Canada is taking postsecondary education to a higher level of internationalization-and it's happening on a wide scale.

WHEN SYLVIA DETAR FIRST LANDED AT THE AIRPORT IN VARANASI, INDIA, it took but moments for her to feel self conscious about her blonde hair, her light skin, and the camera and clothing that she was certain "epitomized money and imperialism."

As the Canadian music and geography student traveled the city's animal-and-vendor-packed streets, her gut reaction was to "downcast my eyes, hang my head, and act passively" to avoid the stares. She quickly found that her limited Hindi, Tamil, Punjabi, and Bengali stymied her interaction with the locals. At times, she was ashamed at feeling like royalty in this new country. At other times, she had to admit it was awfully convenient being able to stretch her Canadian dollar.

Perhaps for die first time in her life, DeTar was experiencing what many of her foreign contemporaries at Vancouver's Simon Fraser University probably encounter daily-the discomfort of being the "other," of being an anomaly in a sea of uniformity.

"One of the difficulties of being here is sticking out so much," DeTar wrote in her journal when she first embarked on a Simon Fraser field school program that examined the film and culture of contemporary India. "I can't help having coloring that looks like a dollar sign."

Canadian universities such as Simon Fraser have long been lauded for providing their students with the international experiences, knowledge, and skills they need to live, work, and communicate as professionals in today's global environment. Yet as the benefits of internationalization become increasingly evident-in new opportunities for scholarships, for faculty research, and for job prospects for graduates, as well as in the revenues international students bring to the budget table-the internationalization of the Canadian university has over recent decades evolved from near-luxury to near-necessity.

"Our world is rapidly changing and becoming increasingly global," says Rick Waugh, president and CEO of Scotiabank, a financial institution that grants awards to Canadian universities for their internationalization efforts. "Canada needs leaders who understand and appreciate this growing complexity. The possibilities and the rewards are limited only by our imaginations and our willingness to make the additional effort required to foster greater international understanding and cooperation."

According to the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC), the internationalization of university campuses and curricula is "a necessary, vital, and deliberate transformation of how we teach and learn, and it is essential to the future quality of higher education in Canada, indeed to the future of Canada."

In fact, the internationalization of Canadian universities has been the focus of at least three surveys by the AUCC during the past decade. The most recent, a 2000 report titled Progress and Promise, concluded that Canadian institutions are making "solid progress" toward internationalization-the most tangible signs being "the creation of new organizational structures and systems to provide leadership and support of internationalization; an increased awareness of the importance of student mobility and the development of more opportunities for study abroad; and the establishment of new partnerships, as well as expanded efforts to recruit international students to Canadian campuses."

The survey found that 94 percent of university presidents and vice presidents considered internationalization to be of "medium" or "high level" importance-an increase of 12 percent from a similar AUCC survey in 1993. Moreover, 84 percent of the surveyed institutions considered internationalization to be part of their university's long-term planning efforts-an increase of 17 percent from 2003. …

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