Canada’s global engagement challenge

Karen McBride explains why encouraging students to study abroad is of such importance to Canada’s universities

September 14, 2016
Student with suitcase

Canada faces a significant challenge: getting more of our students to take advantage of international education opportunities in other countries and preparing them to become global citizens in the range of ways that the term implies.

Why is this so important?

For Canada – a major trading nation whose continued prosperity hinges on cross-border mobility of people, goods and services – ensuring that we have a critical mass of professionals who have first-hand experience in the world and are well prepared to navigate the risks and maximise the benefits of global markets is critical.

Learning abroad is an unparalleled way to develop international knowledge and intercultural skills. In a recent Canadian Bureau for International Education (CBIE) survey, 1,300 Canadian students who had participated in learning abroad reported that the experience had led to significantly greater learning outcomes in the following areas: knowledge of historical, cultural traditions and achievements of host countries (91 per cent); openness to a different way of thinking (87 per cent); cultural awareness and understanding (86 per cent); knowledge of world events (83 per cent); and foreign language skills (75 per cent).

It’s no secret that the world we inhabit is fraught with challenges of a global nature. Young people in Canada – as in other countries – need to be prepared to participate and contribute as global citizens, working across borders for mutual benefit.

The Canadian federal government’s International Education Strategy sets an ambitious target of doubling the number of international students in Canada to 450,000 by 2022.

This, however, is only one pillar of a comprehensive international education approach. Equally important is the outbound mobility of Canadian students if we are to capture the full range of positive impacts of international education for Canada’s economic prosperity.

Funding is key. Although there are other barriers to learning abroad (such as rigidity of curriculum or lack of awareness of its benefits), in a recent CBIE survey of more than 7,000 Canadian students, where 86 per cent of respondents said that they were interested in participating in a learning-abroad experience, 80 per cent indicated that they would require financial assistance to do so.

We need to make learning abroad financially feasible for students, from Canada and from elsewhere. It must be seen as an integral part of a high-quality education for today’s day and age.

The CBIE is committed to raising the profile and underscoring the urgency of Canada’s Global Engagement Challenge in its national context. And we trust that our partners will add their voices to the call for providing our young people with the knowledge, skills and attitudes that they will need to lead us in our increasingly complex world.

Karen McBride is president and CEO of the Canadian Bureau for International Education. Higher education trends in Canada will be discussed at several EAIE conference sessions.

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