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Bringing Brazil closer to home

Sonja Knutson at the International Centre.

By Geoff Ash

Memorial will soon be strengthening its presence in Brazil, thanks to a mission being led by Sonja Knutson, acting director of the International Centre.

From Sept. 25-30, 22 participants from across Atlantic Canada will travel to Brazil to attend the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade's (DFAIT) Imagine Education in/au Canada fair, and meet with organizations and institutions throughout the country.

The mission will essentially have two parts, explains Ms. Knutson.
"Approximately half the participants will be in the DFAIT Canada Pavilion for the fair, meeting students and parents at an Atlantic Canada-branded booth. The other half will be looking to connect with other institutions or industries that would perhaps need specific training."

The fair, with approximately 4,000 visitors, allows the Atlantic Canadian representatives to reach out to potential students, as well as educational agents and institutional representatives. The 2011 edition of the fair had 68 participants from Canada, but none from Atlantic Canada. The event will be in three cities – Sao Paulo, Brasilia and Recife.

The project will be largely funded by the Canada-Atlantic Provinces Agreement on International Business Development (IBDA), a component of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA).

Ms. Knutson chairs International Education Newfoundland and Labrador (IENL), where the inspiration for the mission began.

"We realized that Nova Scotia, through EduNova, was doing a lot of work in terms of internationalization and projects abroad for the entire Atlantic region, largely through funding from IBDA, but focused mostly on undergraduate student enrolment," she said. "So we decided to do something ourselves to help raise the profile of Newfoundland and Labrador as an active player in internationalization in the region."

IENL consists of stakeholders in international education in Newfoundland, including members from Memorial, College of the North Atlantic, ACOA, the Department of Innovation, Business and Rural Development, the
Department of Advanced Education and Skills, Keyin College, Carpenters Millwrights College and the Centre for Nursing Studies.

With its long coastline, there are obvious linkages between Brazil and our province in areas such as fisheries, offshore research/industry and shipbuilding. But that's just the beginning, says Ms. Knutson.

"Brazil has significant government and private sector funding to send hundreds of science and engineering students out to Canada as fully-funded scholars, similar to a program we currently have in place with Libya, through the Canadian Bureau for International Education. The issue is that eligible students submit their top three choices of institutions, so we need to raise our profile and find new ways to be top of mind for Brazilian students."

And with the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Summer Games both to be held in Brazil, Ms. Knutson adds that there is an identified need for training in tourism, as well as English and French language training.

While attracting new international students creates a spinoff of benefits for an institution, its city, and its province, Ms. Knutson hopes the mission will also yield some immediate developments.

"Attracting new students is always less of a certainty, and it takes time to cultivate relationships and awareness – we can count the number of Brazilian students currently enrolled at Memorial on one hand. However, we are hoping to attract interest in our expertise in training and consultancy in sectors that Brazil and Atlantic Canada have in common, and to lay the groundwork for future contracts."

The project will build on momentum already started with Brazil by previous provincial and regional missions, she adds.

"We made some really good connections at the latest NAFSA (Association of International Educators) conference and expo in Houston, and already have some interest in partnerships for graduate student mobility."

This mission will advance Memorial's rapidly increasing reputation for managing internationalization initiatives, with no sign of slowing down, says Ms. Knutson, who has already been approached about planning similar missions to China, Korea, and Japan with IENL.