Magazine article Inroads: A Journal of Opinion

Cross-Border Education: Launching a Joint International MA in Canadian-American Studies

Magazine article Inroads: A Journal of Opinion

Cross-Border Education: Launching a Joint International MA in Canadian-American Studies

Article excerpt

Thousands of international students annually come to the United States to study, but few American students participate in international study programs. Recently the Institute of International Education (HE) announced a program to dramatically increase that number. The New York-based institute, which provides a variety of services to promote international education, has committed some $2 million toward achieving that goal.

The HE recognizes that educational programs should prepare students for an engaged life in an increasingly globalized world, and sees the incorporation of significant international experience in programs of study as a key factor in the United States becoming more globally competitive. It is encouraging colleges and universities to look for ways to help students pay for international study. The institute's latest report decried the fact that students who now have any international educational experience--fewer than 10 per cent of all U.S. students--largely come from private colleges and universities; these opportunities are rarely available to low-income students.

At first thought, it would seem that institutions located near the Canada-U.S. border would enjoy certain advantages in this respect, since for them the "international" is at least locally accessible. In this favoured environment, cross-border programs are affordable and relatively easily planned. Logically, these universities should find it relatively easy to develop and implement international experiences for their students.

Yet in practice, those determined to build official programs straddling the two countries face formidable obstacles as the institutions deal with an international border and the different jurisdictions that delineate it. These range from the problems of developing a joint curriculum to navigating the different requirements imposed by university educational boards to assuring that students have the correct visa to allow them to cross the border easily.

An international joint MA degree in Canadian-American Studies was launched in the fall of 2013. It is delivered in equal proportions in Canada by Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario, and in the United States by the University at Buffalo (UB), part of the 65-campus State University of New York system. As one of the founders of this initiative, I experienced the challenges and the rewards of developing such a program. This was indeed was a pioneering experiment in program design, as it is the first Canada-U.S. international joint degree that has been offered by any SUNY campus or by Brock.

The background

The Brock and Buffalo campuses are separated by about 45 kilometres, with the Niagara River that marks the international boundary being almost equidistant from the two campuses. Canadians and Americans share many similar values and cultures, and are extraordinarily interdependent economically. Canada is the U.S.'s largest trading partner, its largest foreign supplier of energy products and its largest customer, purchasing $233 billion worth of goods in 2012. In turn, the United States receives 70 per cent of all of Canada's exports. The traffic on the six bridges (four automotive and two rail) that span the Niagara make this stretch of border the second most important gateway for the roughly $1.5 billion in trade that moves daily between the two countries. These bridges are among the busiest border crossings in terms of movement of people and goods.

As close as Canada and the United States may be in a wide variety of dimensions (our borders have been peaceful since the War of 1812), there are important differences that occasionally generate friction in the relationship, as well as a lack of understanding on both sides of the border. This points to the need for partnerships such as the Buffalo-Brock Program to help both Canadians and Americans gain a deeper understanding of our similarities and our differences. …

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