January 17th, 2014
Several related themes are floating around these days in the Post-Secondary Education universe: immigration, internationalization, advanced-skills employment training. These themes are all being driven by the fact of a relatively low Canadian population growth, a vexed immigration system, and the growing sense that we aren’t innovative, creative, or competitive enough globally.
This week the Canadian Government announced its long-awaited internationalization strategy. The Trade Minister with the conveniently memorable name of Ed Fast spoke to the goal of doubling the number of international students in the country by 2022—up to about 450,000. You don’t need glasses to read between the lines of all the hype, though. Most of the funding committed to achieving this goal had already been announced if not yet fully committed in 2013. And so there is a fair bit of scepticism about the gap between the government’s promises and the support on the table to help universities achieve the goal.
We all know that the USA, Australia, and the UK take the lion’s share of international students, but it’s also fair to say that Canada is punching above its weight. We are a small country without a national education department, let alone a strategy, and so we’re all out here in the provinces doing what we can. In Beijing in November at the PhD recruitment workshop, the line of students queuing up to talk to the Australians far outran anyone else’s table. Australia has long been way ahead of things, shrewdly investing nationally in recruitment and exchange and rapidly developing nothing less than an entire industry of international education. Ed Fast’s government announcement doesn’t even come close.
I’m hopeful for our local scene, though. Memorial does not have to cap the number of international students we are admitting, the way many Ontario universities need to for funding reasons. We don’t have to displace local or Canadian students because we have room to grow for all of these cohorts. A good experience here as graduate students, an appreciation of the local culture, weather notwithstanding, and a sense of well-being in adjusting to a new and difference place are key to success. Even more promising is our potential to integrate willing and eligible internationals into the workplace, to have them settle permanently and make a life in a new place, contributing to economy and the society in meaningful ways. I see evidence of this all the time, and it’s hugely satisfying.
I am glad that the Canadian Government is at least giving lip service to the internationalization initiative. It’s way overdue, however thin the actual product or the promise of support. At least it shows some leadership in the right direction. In the meantime, we’ll keep chugging along, building our reputation as a welcoming, life-enhancing place to be.