Canadian Bureau for International Education (CBIE) Round Table on Learning Abroad and Canada's Global Engagement Challenge
Rideau Hall, Monday, May 8, 2017
I’d like to welcome all of you to Rideau Hall for this important discussion on international education.
I know from personal and professional experience how wonderful and enlightening international study can be.
I was very fortunate to study across the pond in England, as well as south of the border. And every one of my five daughters has also studied overseas. It had a profound effect on all of us.
Four wonderful things happened to them when they went abroad to learn.
One: 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.
Two: 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.
Three: 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.
Four: 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.
Yet, despite its proven benefits, and despite the great interest in international education, less than three per cent of Canadian university students choose to study abroad.
What can be done to increase this number?
What can be done to remove the barriers which so many students struggle with?
That’s the challenge we’re here to tackle. It’s a significant one, but so important.
And it’s a challenge we continue to work on.
Several weeks ago, for instance, we met with representatives from a number of Canadian universities to talk about the subjects of student mobility and the Queen Elizabeth Scholars program.
Let me share with you some findings.
The common barriers to international study are familiar ones:
- Institutional, meaning course credit complications and inflexibility
- Cultural, in that students must confront change of culture, as well as peer influence
- And finally the personal aspect, which is fear of the unknown and separation from friends and family.
But where there are challenges, there are also solutions.
We discussed a number of ways student mobility can be strengthened.
First, it is recommended that we create a strong international education strategy and promote studying abroad nationally. I know CBIE is already a leader in this, particularly with the Learning Beyond Borders initiative. This meeting is another step in the right direction.
The second recommendation is for universities to be flexible in their curricula and to provide support systems for outbound students.
Third, encourage international connections and partnerships, with alumni involvement as well as direct peer-to-peer communication.
After all, putting our time and energy into boosting international study is more than a good investment for a student’s future, it’s a good investment for the future of our country as a whole.
We can also learn lessons from those countries and regions that have been successful. The example of ERASMUS was cited as a model in enhancing student mobility within the European Union.
There is much to do, and much that we can do. Let today’s conversation give us a roadmap to our destination: increased participation in our international studies programs.
I look forward to hearing from you today.