Canada’s universities ‘up international component’ but need ‘a coherent strategy’

Canadian universities have long received significant inflows of foreign students, while a relatively smaller number have ventured abroad for their degrees. Over the last decade a variety of organizations (especially the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC) and the Canadian Bureau for International Education (CBIE)) have sought to profile the theme of ‘internationalization’ in Canada, with debates often framed by concern blended with envy (pre-9/11) and then a more measured response (post 9/11) with respect to what is happening south of the border in the ever important USA. While significant progress has been made in attracting foreign students, the Canadian approach is not nearly as aggressive as that of Australia (see an earlier posting on Australia for an example of what more aggressive state does on this front).

On 13 September the AUCC released findings regarding a 2006 survey about the ‘internationalization of higher education’ in Canada. The survey results are summarized here in the media release, while more detailed factsheets are available on themes related to: (a) Canadian universities and international student mobility; (b) Internationalization of the curriculum; (c) Knowledge exports by Canadian universities; (d) Canadian university engagement in international development cooperation.

In the context of numerous state-led initiatives underway in other countries, or the assertive actions of private universities in the USA, the AUCC ends off with words of warning:

“Canadian universities continue to broaden their internationalization activities because it furthers their goal of providing a high quality education that ensures graduates develop critical skills they need in the global knowledge economy,” said AUCC president Claire Morris. “Despite encouraging signs, some persistent challenges remain, such as scarce finances and the need for a coherent strategy. It is clear that we need to commit more resources to expanding internationalization in Canadian universities further to help keep our country competitive over the long term.”


The results underline Canada’s progress on the international stage in some key areas but also the need for more support to take Canadian universities’ efforts to the next level. For example, while there was an increase in Canadian student mobility between 2000 and 2006, Canada’s performance pales in comparison to many similar OECD countries. Only 2.2 per cent or about 18,000 full-time students participated in a form of study abroad for credit in 2006. Although this was an increase from about one percent six years ago, one European Union program alone, called Erasmus, has helped more than 1.2 million students on that continent study abroad since 1987.

This survey, then, is yet another marker of the scaling up of the global higher ed competitive impulse, but also the fundamentally important role of the state in the development process.

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