This snap of the Rideau Canal is way too blue. I hadn’t adjusted my iPhone to the bright sun. But a lot of Ottawa always strikes me as unreal. It really was a gorgeous spring day in the nation’s capital, taken just last week as I traversed Wellington to get to my meetings. Tourists were gawking at the gleaming monumentality of that site, with the National Arts Centre to the right (boasting upcoming performances by Alan Doyle and the Bare Naked Ladies) and the Convention Centre to my left. Tulips were flourishing. It was grand, a reminder of what spring feels like in most parts of the country.
Then again, I spent most of the time indoors. I was in Ottawa to attend the annual meetings of the leaders’ network of the Canadian Bureau for International Education. The theme, “Canada’s Global Engagement Challenge,” is a recurring one. I have written about this topic several times. It’s always good to charge one’s batteries at the CBIE network meetings, to be reminded of the importance of the internationalization agenda for our university — and the woeful inadequacy of our Canadian response to it.
(I am keenly aware that I am writing this at the moment when we could be looking for higher tuition rates for our international students in 2016, but I hope the modest increase won’t inhibit our efforts to internationalize our campus. Students, if you really want to be strategic about fee raises don’t waste your time railing about administrative salaries, a red herring and a total distraction from the real agenda: government’s cutting of Memorial‘s base funding. Guess, what, we’re on your side. Governments like it when the people are divided against themselves. See Harper et al. Don’t fall into that trap. Focus on the big picture, that is adequate resources and tuition equity, not the smaller one of salaries.)
Okay, so where was I? Our group heard from a number of high profile Canadians and the message was almost alarmingly consistent. Unlike Australia, which has pretty much cornered the market on internationalization, Canada has profoundly underestimated its importance to our social and economic health and vastly under funded initiatives to encourage it. I don’t know if a Trudeau or Mulcair government would do anything differently, but the record of this Conservative government is shamefully inadequate. More to the point, the private sector really doesn’t get the value of employing international students, and they are not encouraged to think any differently. In Germany, arguably the finest model of education-workplace integration, postsecondary education is seen as a necessary stepping stone to a higher paying job in industry. The idea, as someone put it, of stepping out of your degree to go work full-time is considered, well, unthinkable. Therefore, that sector has all manner of programs aimed at training students in the actual workplace while they also receive traditional classroom instruction in the subject area. The message I heard over and over in Ottawa is that the Canadian business sector just doesn’t get it. And our political leadership, or lack of, doesn’t help. German students don’t pay tuition, by the way, and that goes a long way to explaining the difference in cultural attitude towards the value of education, period. We do have a healthy cooperative program at Memorial, particularly in Engineering, but, again, the investment in such programs by German industry is sizably larger—to put it mildly. You’re not going to hear corporations in this country bragging about the number of qualified international students they have hired. Wouldn’t that be good to hear, though?
The other complementary piece we heard a lot about is the stubbornly low statistic of Canadian students who travel abroad for part or all of their education. As was noted, employers are actually looking for students who have real work and education experience in other countries, not to mention knowing languages other than English. For some reason, that qualitative advantage on one’s resume just hasn’t caught on here yet.
It’s not all gloomy and hopelessly provincial. Our meetings are sobering, but they help sharpen the mind and a commitment to strategic thinking about internationalization. Besides, it’s great to hang out with people who get it—and who, I might add, envy our low international tuition rates. Okay, enough about that for the moment.
As long as Canadians still question why we either bother to recruit students from away or encourage our own students to live in the wider world we have a lot of work to do.