50th Anniversary of the Canadian Bureau for International Education (CBIE)
Ottawa, Ontario, Monday, November 14, 2016
What a delight to be here with so many globally minded lovers of learning!
This is a great occasion for at least two reasons:
One, this is the 50th annual conference of the Canadian Bureau for International Education.
I’m very proud to serve as patron of this great organization, now marking its golden anniversary!
And two, this is International Education Week, a time to reflect and rededicate ourselves to going global in our approach to learning.
In fact, this gathering is timely in another respect, too: last week, I returned from an international visit to the Middle East, and the themes of learning and innovation formed an important part of our visit.
One of our stops was in the city of Haifa, Israel, where we visited the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology.
Many of you will know of Technion. It’s one of the world’s most innovative learning institutions, and visiting reminded me of the great things that can happen when we pursue our learning across international borders.
One of the secrets to Technion’s success—and to the success of all who study there—is a deep commitment to global learning.
Technion is the epicentre of Israel’s start-up scene, and every year, students, researchers and faculty come and go from all over the world.
I was pleased to learn about the many co-operation agreements Technion has with Canadian learning institutions. They include the universities of Waterloo, Montréal, Montréal-Polytechnique, Toronto, York, Concordia, McMaster and Alberta. The Ontario University Health Network is also working directly with scientists and clinicians at Technion. Student exchange programs exist with numerous other Canadian universities.
Great things are happening as a result.
For example, last year, the Hotchkiss Brain Institute and Campus Alberta Neuroscience hosted the Israel-Alberta Neuroscience Symposium in Banff, Alberta. Six neuroscientists from Technion and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem met with researchers from the universities of Alberta, Calgary and Lethbridge for this event.
What an image: the brightest minds from Israel and Canada meeting high up in the Rocky Mountains to learn about one of nature’s most wondrous creations: the human brain!
Of course, this is just one example of what becomes possible when we turn our gaze outward and study abroad or in Canada with our global partners.
They have so much to offer, and so do we.
Now let me say how delighted I am to see the launch of the CBIE’s national conversation on international education, Learning Beyond Borders, which was announced just last night. This is truly a welcome initiative.
In fact, we’re so excited about it, we’re going to host one of your discussions at Rideau Hall in early 2017! I’m looking forward to chairing a round table at that event.
It’s such an important conversation for Canadians to have, at all levels of learning.
This conversation needs to take place in our homes, our school boards, our K-12 schools, our language schools, our colleges, polytechnics, CEGEPs and universities.
Canada’s education system is one of its great strengths, but one specific area where we have much room for improvement is encouraging and helping post-secondary students spend at least some time abroad during their studies.
According to Universities Canada, just over three per cent of Canadian undergraduates study abroad during their degree, citing factors such as cost, curricula and lack of interest in or understanding of the benefits of international study as reasons why this number is so low.
Compare our 3 per cent number with that of our Australian counterparts, 17 per cent of whom now study abroad at some point.
Or think of Germany, where more than 30 per cent of students go abroad during their studies. And the goal is to increase this to 50 per cent!
Together, these and other countries are promoting the benefits of studying abroad, creating opportunities and developing options for students that take account of barriers such as cost and time.
It’s important that Canada does the same.
Well, for students and young people, the benefits are enormous.
I sometimes illustrate this with the example of my five daughters, who began their international study experiences at the age of 12.
Four wonderful things happened to them when they went abroad to learn.
First, their natural curiosity was stimulated. That simple question “Why?”—which we’re all born asking—was prompted by the exposure to new people, cultures and languages.
Second, their tolerance for diversity was strengthened. Having no choice but to face the unfamiliar, they learned to appreciate and respect change and people who were different from them in custom and belief.
Third, their judgment was improved. They became aware of the limitations of their knowledge, and thus grew hesitant to jump to conclusions. They grew in wisdom.
And fourth, something very human: they became more empathetic. Not only were they better able to feel the pain of another’s discomfort, but they also learned to place themselves in another person’s shoes.
Now, I know I’m probably demonstrating some bias here as a proud father, but the kinds of challenges and experiences one has while living and studying abroad can help people to develop these qualities of curiosity, tolerance, judgment and empathy.
For universities, the benefits of students spending some time abroad are significant. Apart from the learning students bring back with them, international study is a two-way street.
Currently, Canada is not a top-tier global destination for foreign students. More Canadian students abroad will help to raise our profile and build global networks, which can only help us attract more international students and talent in what is known as a virtuous circle.
Our country stands to gain from more Canadian students going abroad, as well as from more international students coming to Canada. A global outlook is essential for navigating the complexities of today’s world.
And if you’re an employer looking to hire, just imagine the benefits of having a bigger pool of globally aware, culturally fluent potential employees to choose from.
Business leaders continuously highlight the importance of soft skills in the workplace: interpersonal skills, cross-cultural competency, adaptability, self-awareness, communication skills. These are precisely the skills one builds when studying and living abroad.
I also mentioned talent.
I believe one area of real promise for Canada lies in nurturing, attracting and retaining talented people—Canadian and non-Canadian alike. We can transform Canada into a global talent hub, and one way we do that is by positioning ourselves as a nation of globally minded learners.
Let me end on the theme of hope, and how learning beyond borders can also help us build a more caring, co-operative world. I know that CBIE is founded on a similar hope of strengthening international ties and friendship.
In fact, the roots of this organization pre-date its founding 50 years ago, when some inspired University of Toronto students, including Professor Thomas Symons and Dr. Alan Earp, established an organization under the banner “Friendly Relations with Overseas Students.”
Building international friendships is itself a compelling rationale for greater global engagement. And what better time to dedicate ourselves to this than on the eve of the 150th anniversary of Confederation, when we decided to come together as Canadians?
Let me close by thanking CBIE for supporting Canadian learning institutions that wish to become involved in this effort.
My message to all of you is: take advantage of the expertise in this room. By working together on this grand challenge, you can accomplish more than through individual efforts alone.
Lastly, my sincere thanks to all who make this happen: the volunteers, employees, board members and learning practitioners who have helped CBIE thrive for 50 years.
I wish you all an enlightening conference and conversation.