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International partnerships lead to prosperity

By Paul Davidson

NOTE: Canada's universities are sharing their visions and priorities with readers through this column, in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada. This is the third in a series of five columns. Paul Davidson is president of the AUCC.

In today's interconnected world, we know that investing in international educational experiences – whether on our campuses in Canada or abroad – creates ongoing economic, social and cultural pay-offs. For example – international students contribute more than $6.5 billion directly to Canada's economy every year. Even more important, they enrich the learning experience for Canadian students.

I know first-hand about the benefits of international education. In my third year of university, I travelled to newly independent Zimbabwe. I lived in residence with peers who years earlier were fighting for their country's independence. I was taught by professors who had fled apartheid South Africa. That year changed my life and view of the world. It was an exhilarating learning experience that laid the foundation for my graduate work, and led to a wide range of career experiences. It also made me absolutely committed to ensuring more Canadian students have the opportunity for that kind of learning.

Canadian universities provide the ideal setting to nurture these 21st century skills. Universities are a gateway to a larger world – a world of new ideas, bold vision, innovation and broader horizons. A recent report by the Canadian Bureau for International Education found the single most common thing valued by Canadians about study abroad is the exposure students get to different cultures and languages. Canadians know study abroad helps students better understand the world around them, enhances their overall educational experience, increases job prospects and contributes to Canada's global competitiveness. When this same study asked employers, more than half said they would hire a student with international study abroad experiences over a candidate without those experiences.

Our future is increasingly shaped by fast-moving, global forces. To understand these challenges, Canada needs employees with knowledge of other countries, languages and cultures, and an ability to establish partnerships with international colleagues.

In November 2010, the largest delegation of Canadian university presidents to travel abroad undertook a seven-day mission in India. Fifteen university leaders worked to establish Canada as a preferred partner for higher education collaboration. This AUCC-led mission strengthened existing partnerships and explored new ways for Canadian and Indian universities to work together.
Next April, AUCC will lead an even larger delegation of university presidents to Brazil to encourage international research collaboration and greater student mobility between our two countries. Brazil is about to become the fifth largest economy in the world. As Brazil hosts the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016, Brazil will showcase its dynamic and bourgeoning economy.

Investments that Brazil is making now in infrastructure, human resource development and research and innovation are creating opportunities for business, governments and universities around the world.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff recently announced university scholarships for 75,000 Brazilian students to study abroad. Canada is ready to welcome these students. International faculty, researchers and students bring their culture and global perspectives to classrooms, labs and student residences – enriching the learning experience for all.

The time is right for Canada to build new, effective relationships with rapidly emerging economic powers, including Brazil. Canada's universities are ready to play a leading role in making this happen.