The Canadian government plans to spend C$148 million (£91 million) over the next five years to help more university students study abroad in countries of political and economic strategic value to the nation.
Canada sees its effort as being inspired by Australia’s five-year-old New Colombo Plan that now supports around 10,000 students a year attending higher education in emerging countries across the Indo-Pacific region.
Australia’s programme is a global model for overcoming the tendency of university students from Canada (and other anglophone countries) to choose English-speaking countries for their study abroad experiences, said Paul Davidson, the president of Universities Canada.
“It’s very much tied to our trade diversification strategy, tied to our foreign policy, and recognising the value and power of using study abroad to do that,” Mr Davidson said of his government’s initiative.
Canada’s study abroad expansion, estimated to serve 11,000 undergraduates over the next five years, was the highlight of a higher education package outlined last week by James Carr, the minister of international trade diversification in the Trudeau administration.
The other two elements, described by Mr Carr in a speech at the University of Alberta, consisted of plans to speed up visa processing systems and to increase the diversity of students coming to Canada.
Money for the study abroad initiative will provide Canadian students, chosen though an open competition, with scholarships of either C$5,000 or C$10,000 apiece. More than half of the winners will be students who typically would not go abroad because of financial barriers or other reasons, Mr Davidson said.
The Canadian government said the initiative was driven in part by data showing that only about 11 per cent of its university students currently participated in a study abroad programme during their undergraduate years, well below levels in countries that include France, Germany, Australia and the US.
The new initiative will help address those percentages, Mr Davidson said, although its primary goal is less about making study abroad more affordable – the main barrier to students going abroad – and more about fitting study abroad to national strategic priorities.
“It’s about how this ties into Canada’s economic future,” he said. “We’re trying to build and grow in the fastest-growing economies in the world, and so we need students with experience in those countries.”
Priority countries identified by Canadian officials include Colombia, Brazil, France, Indonesia, Mexico, Morocco, Philippines, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine and Vietnam.
It is not immediately clear that Canadian university students share the priorities embodied in the plan. Adam Brown, vice-president of the University of Alberta students’ union, left Mr Carr’s address wondering if the money might be better spent more directly on the needs of financially struggling students.
Global experience is important, Mr Brown told the student magazine, The Gateway. “At the same time”, he said, “there are other problems with affordability and accessibility in post-secondary education that also need to be addressed.”
In addition to providing the scholarship money, Mr Davidson said, the new Canadian initiative – to be managed by Universities Canada and Colleges and Institutes Canada – would help students choose new countries by forging new relationships with overseas institutions and by negotiating agreements on credit transfers.
“Our hope and expectation”, he said of the Canadian initiative, “is that it will follow the trajectory of Australia, that started as a pilot, became permanent, and got funded at scale, and has become a model for the world.”
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