Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Higher Education

Resource Centre or Experience Desk? Producing Spaces for Delivering Services to Indigenous and International Students at Universities in Ontario, Canada

Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Higher Education

Resource Centre or Experience Desk? Producing Spaces for Delivering Services to Indigenous and International Students at Universities in Ontario, Canada

Article excerpt


In Strengthening Ontario's Centres of Creativity, Innovation and Knowledge, the Ministry of Training Colleges and Universities (MTCU) of the Government of Ontario lays out a framework to guide the development of higher education. The ministry argues that innovation, creativity, and productivity will provide accessible and high-quality training and will meet the future needs of the province's creative economy: "Significant productivity improvements will be needed to protect the gains we have made in accessibility as we move forward with improving the quality of higher education and the student experience in Ontario" (Ontario MTCU, 2012, p. 8).

With universities around the world adapting to the challenges of an increasingly globalized knowledge-based economy, Ontario institutions have responded since the late 1990s with strategies to increase revenue from student tuition (Cameron, 2002; Cudmore, 2005). In a context of reduced provincial funding, a key challenge for Ontario universities is to remain competitive in recruiting incoming students while still meeting their mandate of accessibility, especially for historically under-represented groups. Using aggressive market expansion plans and corporate-style initiatives, these universities offer a learning experience based on high-quality training, experiential education, technologyassisted courses, and provincial credit transfers (Ontario MTCU, 2012).

Although neither Indigenous students nor international students are explicitly mentioned in the 2012 MTCU report, they have become groups of increasing importance in Ontario universities' recruitment and retention strategies. International students are a key demographic that pays higher tuition fees, fuels local economies while living in Canada, and is a potential source of skilled labour (Arthur & Flynn, 2013; Scott, Safdar, Trilokekar, & El Masari, 2015). A 2014 University of Guelph and York University joint study reveals that more than 328,000 international students were enrolled at universities across Canada in 2012, contributing CAD$3.5 billion in tuition revenue to the country's economy. The same study, funded by the MTCU, estimates that the province attracts the highest number of international students, with more than 43% of all international students in Canada, and that institutions face significant challenges in coping with their specific academic and non-academic needs (University of Guelph, 2014).

Meanwhile, Indigenous students are less numerous and have long been considered under-represented as well as an emerging priority for Canadian universities (Battiste, Bell, & Findlay, 2002; Pidgeon, Archibald, & Hawkey, 2014). While younger generations have "greater educational levels than older age groups," the educational achievement gap in Canada is wider than ever between Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations (White & Beavon, 2009, p. 3). Amid national discussions of post-secondary education institutions' responsibilities toward Indigenous peoples and a global movement of recognizing Indigenous rights, including a right to education, this new focus involves fundamental changes in how universities engage in and contribute to educating Indigenous students, despite sustained colonial power relations (Gayman, 2011; TRC of Canada, 2015).

In both instances, Ontario universities have developed internal mechanisms to support the recruitment and retention of Indigenous and international students. The preferred mechanism has been the establishment of dedicated information hubs-administratively organized clusters of interests and pools of resources within the university -to share information, produce knowledge, and serve as a first contact platform for specific student groups in navigating their academic experience (Knight, 2011). Whereas previous studies have focused on the different types of services offered by these information hubs in Canadian universities (Cameron, 2009; Popadiuk & Arthur, 2004; Poteet & Gomez, 2015; Rawana, Sieukaran, Nguyen, & Pitawanakwat, 2015; Robertson, Holleran, & Samuels, 2015), the intent of this study echoes Carrie Paechter's (2004) observation that "the spatial aspects of educational settings are often taken for granted and left un-interrogated" (p. …

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