Canada and China seek to exchange students, staff and ideas

Canada ramps up the campaign to improve its position on the world stage, writes Sarah Cunnane

September 2, 2010

The Canadian higher education sector must deal with its fragmented structure if it is to improve its position on the world stage, a university leader has said.

Carl G. Amrhein, provost and vice-president academic at the University of Alberta, said the current system was "confusing" for students and faculty from overseas.

"Provinces and sometimes individual universities within those provinces do things differently and this is confusing to the broad world," Dr Amrhein said.

"Some people do get it eventually, but some people, unfortunately, don't. One of the things Canada could do is to figure out a way, within our constitutional framework, to have a federal presence for higher education."

Dr Amrhein was speaking to Times Higher Education before a conference at Alberta on the relationship between the Canadian and Chinese higher education sectors.

The Canada-China Academic Forum on Quality and Relevance in Graduate Studies, which took place last week, discussed how the countries could work more closely together, as well as how they could increase their international profiles.

The forum coincided with the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between China and Canada and came a week after the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada called for more funding from the federal government to expand research and development links in a number of key countries, including China (see box, below).

Gary Goodyear, minister of state for science and technology, gave a speech at the event in which he said that enhanced collaboration between the two countries was "essential", adding that investment in research was key as "science drives commerce".

Citing government statistics showing that investment in science and technology was expected to hit a record C$10.7 billion (£6.5 billion) this year, he urged delegates from both countries to "continue to work together to increase our academic exchanges".

Shen Yang, deputy director-general in the department of international cooperation in China's Ministry of Education, said that China could improve its graduate provision.

"There is a lack of active adaptation to modernisation, an inaccurate understanding of the ways for cultivating high-level innovative talents, a loose connection between talent training and the transformation of the development pattern, and a shortage of internationalised concepts on talent training," he said.

Mr Shen provided four suggestions for the forum, including an increase in exchanges for graduate students and supervisors as well as setting up research collaborations which would lead to dual and joint degrees between Canadian and Chinese universities.

He concluded by citing a Chinese proverb, that "stones from other hills may serve to polish the jade", adding that he hoped that sharing ideas and collective wisdom would serve as a "development platform to direct the future" of both countries.

Rise and Shine: Canadian Universities lobby for increased public funding

Canadian universities have submitted detailed funding plans to government as they intensify their lobbying for continued public investment.

The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, which represents 95 colleges and universities, has submitted detailed proposals for the sector's funding to Canada's House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance.

It says that 2010 had been a "remarkable year" for the country, which has survived the economic downturn better than many other Western countries, but argues that all sectors will have to band together if Canada is to "continue to shine".

Making the case for funding in the federal budget next spring, the group points out that Canadian higher education is a C$30billion (£18.3 billion) enterprise.

A key issue addressed is research - the federal government cut $150 million from the research councils last year, and allocated only $32 million in this year's budget.

The AUCC also calls for more funding to boost the recruitment of international students.

In recent years, Canada has invested in its "Imagine Education in Canada" brand, and the federal government has passed immigration reforms designed to boost the sector, including making it easier for overseas students to apply for permanent residence.

However, the report asks the government to build on this with targeted marketing activities to "promote the excellence of Canada's universities" internationally.

Also highlighted is the lack of provision for the country's indigenous students.

The First Nations University of Canada, set up specifically for the indigenous population, has been mired in scandal in recent years, most recently in March when it was found that $400,000 of the institution's scholarship fund had been spent on general operations.

However, the AUCC says that the federal government should support the "demonstrated success" that the sector has had in increasing indigenous enrolment and completion.

The report concludes by stressing that well-funded and high-performing universities are "magnets" for creative thinkers and ideas, which will help stimulate economic growth.

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