Sweetening Canada’s offer in the race for global talent: a new immigration class eases the route to permanent residency for foreign students

International students are the focus of front-page news in Canada this week with the launch of the long-anticipated new immigration scheme, the “Canadian Experience Class.”

Intended to fast-track foreign students and skilled workers currently in Canada from temporary migrant to permanent resident status (and potentially to Canadian citizens), this new program continues a series of recent changes implemented by Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) seeking to enhance Canada’s economic competitiveness through the attraction and retention of highly educated migrants. Details of the program are outlined here in the Canada Gazette.

Like the existing immigration points-based system, this new program evaluates applicants on a range of criteria. However unlike the traditional economic class route, this stream makes work or study experience in Canada a key factor in gaining admission. Now international students, along with workers in select skilled occupations and professions that have studied or worked for two years in Canada, may apply to become landed immigrants from within the country, no longer needing to leave to join the (backlogged) overseas queues after their studies.

As quoted in the Globe and Mail (Aug 13, 2008: a1), a CIC spokeswoman explained the change is part of revamping Canada’s immigration approach to compete with “rival destinations such as Australia and the United Kingdom.” This framing is significant for several reasons.

First, CIC’s language acknowledges a shift in immigration policy logic from one based on broad nation building to one based on keeping pace with other countries competing to gain advantage in their ability to attract migrants for the knowledge economy. As political scientist Ayelet Shachar (2006) has argued, the policy framework of many immigrant-receiving countries is no longer driven primarily to meet domestic needs, but to keep up with the offer on hand from other countries also trying to become the next “IQ magnet” in the ever-spiralling global race for ‘talent’. The rationale is that if international students can become permanent residents immediately after their studies, then this may have the desired effect of increasing the likelihood that many will remain post-graduation and contribute to the Canadian economy, as well as making Canada a more appealing educational destination for young migrants at the outset.

Second, from a national perspective, international student mobility has historically served a multifaceted role as both an element of international political relations (think of programs such as the Fulbright and Commonwealth Scholarships), and as an increasingly lucrative industry.

In recent years, however, many governments have also begun to place greater emphasis on the innovation and labour market potential inherent in mobile students and researchers. Canada’s new scheme – along with the recent announcement that post-graduation work permits for students would be extended to a three-year duration – indicate the heightened interest placed by the Canadian government on the potential longer-term economic contributions that foreign students can make.

So what to make of these developments?

On one hand, they certainly fit with contemporary theories in economic development planning that emphasize the importance of developing a diverse, educated and skilled labour force as a necessary context for sustained economic vitality, and the ability for universities to feed into this process at a local scale. International graduates can make particularly valued contributions to such strategies through their different academic and cultural traditions as well as transnational research and social networks. Advocates of international students will likely also laud this new initiative for enabling those already in Canada who have established ties and made intellectual, economic, and social contributions to remain with greater security, if they so choose.

On the other hand, however, there are several concerns and potential consequences worth considering.

First, this new class does not address – and may further exacerbate – existing problems of excessively long waiting lists for overseas immigration applicants.

Second, and even more disquieting, this new ‘class’ promotes unequal access to the protection and rights attributed to Canadian permanent residents by excluding lower-skilled labourers who also make important contributions to the Canadian economy and society and who comprise the majority of temporary permit holders.  It is important to ask whether Canada wants to advance a system with differential paths to citizenship based largely on the fluctuating economic valuation of certain types of knowledge.

Lastly, it also seems probable that this new fast-track scheme will become an admissions strategy for young migrants able to afford the expense of studying as an international student in Canada. While the financial picture for international students is complex, varying from high tuition fees for most undergraduate studies to receiving scholarships for funded graduate students, the financial accessibility to this potential route to citizenship complicates the already unclear picture wherein international students are desired for their future ambassadorial roles, for their financial contributions to individual institutions, and/or for their potential economic input as desired young researchers and future ‘knowledge workers’.

Time will tell if these various objectives can succeed in co-mingling or if tensions and contradictions in the diverse strategies involving the spheres of higher education, research, immigration, and economic development will emerge.


Shachar, A. 2006. The race for talent: Highly skilled migrants and competitive immigration regimes. New York University Law Review, 8(April): 148-206.

Kate Geddie

Cultivating scientific creativity in the city: what role for science festivals?

Editor’s note: many cities, regions and countries aspire to become ‘centers of excellence’ in science and technology for economic prosperity. Scientists strive to make breakthroughs and businesspeople seek to bring them into the marketplace. However, members of the public often have a hard time comprehending the associated scientific jargon, or merely recognizing what is going on behind the walls where scientists conduct their research.

In order to solve the problem associated with ‘science literacy’, some city-regions are now attempting to bridge between the science community and the general public by designing outreach programs. One of the most well known of such bridge programs is the Cambridge Science Festival (partly captured in the photo by Kris Olds to the right) in the US state of Massachusetts.

The Greater Toronto Area (GTA), Canada’s “powerhouse of research and innovation“, held its first science festival, titled Science Rendezvous, on May 10, 2008. This entry is designed to convey some features of the event, and is written from the perspective of a South Korean PhD student (Jae-Youl Lee), based at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, though kindly hosted for six months by the University of Toronto’s Munk Centre for International Studies (with field work helpfully supported via the Government of Canada’s Canadian Studies program). Jae-Youl’s report, which is based upon a day’s worth of field notes, pays particular attention to the ways through which Science Rendezvous, as a cultural event, helps people understand the current whereabouts of science in the City of Toronto.


Science Rendezvous: Toronto’s New Science Festival

Hosting an annual science festival is becoming increasingly popular around the world – see, for example, the Edinburgh International Science Festival (Scotland), the Australian Science Festival, Pittsburgh’s SciTech Spectacular (United States), and two Cambridge Science Festivals (one in England and the other in the Boston area). While some festivals have existed for more than a decade (e.g., Edinburgh, Australia, and Cambridge in England), others were recently launched (e.g., Cambridge in the US). Most of the science festivals are organized by a consortium of various levels of government, universities and research institutions, but some such as Australian Science Festival are led by private entities which collect fees. In any case, science festivals are usually composed of public lectures and demonstrations, panel discussions, guided tours, exhibitions, hand-on experiments, etc.

Before launching a science festival, learning from existing events is a common practice. For example, the pioneers of Australia Science Festival were inspired by its Scottish counterpart in the late 1980s (for details, see here). Similarly, Dr. Dwayne Miller, professor of chemistry and physics at University of Toronto (UT), proposed Science Rendezvous after he experienced Lange Nacht der Wissenschaften in Berlin (Germany) three years ago. Dr. Miller told the Globe and Mail (April 26. 2008), a media partner to the Rendezvous, that “I was amazed to see the way in which the locals were getting into [science]”. The experience led him to organize Toronto’s science festival in partnership with not only UT’s collaborators, but also the university’s main local competitors (Ryerson University and York University). On the day of Science Rendezvous, citizens of all ages were invited to a dozen locations (including universities, research institutions, hospitals, shopping malls and even pubs) throughout the metropolitan area.

Science Rendezvous in Discovery District

The City of Toronto officially designated a downtown area bounded by Bloor Street, Bay Street, Dundas Street West, and Spadina Avenue as Toronto’s Discovery District in June 2002 (see this map). Biomedical and related sciences were chosen as the District’s strategic sector, and the City has implemented supporting policies in cooperation with provincial and federal governments, business communities, universities, and research institutions. The key project is the building of MaRS Centre, with Phase I of MaRS opened in September 2005.

As a part of Science Rendezvous, a select number of biomedical research labs at the MaRS Centre were accessible to the public in guided tours. Dr. William Wei briefly introduced the main function of MaRS in the beginning of a tour, in which he showed the use of 3-D display technology in new drug development. In a nutshell, the MaRS Centre was built to overcome a widely known problem in the biomedical industry: it normally takes for twelve to fifteen years to complete all the phases of preclinical and clinical tests to get a drug approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but a pharmaceutical patent expires in twenty years (for details, also read Profile 2008: Pharmaceutical Industry compiled by PhRMA, or Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America). In other words, the owner of a pharmaceutical patent enjoys its commercial benefit for only five to eight years before generic drug makers can use it for free. The Centre’s key concept of ‘convergence’, in which biomedical scientists, businesspeople, investors, and legal services providers locate together, is believed to shorten the time of drug approval so that MaRS tenants can get commercial benefits for a longer period.

The tours at MaRS Centre generated an additional dimension of convergence – they sought to be one with the public. Diverse visitors endeavored to achieve their own goals in the tours. For example, people in my tour group included parents with kids, a science journalist considering his new office in the Discovery District, a doctoral student in biomedical science from University of Waterloo in search of her future career, an accountant accompanied by his wife who works for Ontario government, etc.

The tour provided great opportunities for socializing as well as learning. Not only were a couple of kids in white medical lab coats happy at seeing cells through a microscope at Dr. Li Zhang’s cellar biology laboratory, but adult people were also enthusiastic. To some participants, the tours provided a venue for doing job-related activities. For example, a female employee working for corporate relations division at UT Scarborough was busying exchanging business cards with MaRS people at every presentation. It was her role to help undergraduate students at the school get hired at this state-of-the-art facility.

Right across the University Avenue, Mount Sinai Hospital also prepared programs for visitors (see this map again). Like MaRS, the Hospital had guided tours to upper-floor research labs, where the DNA of non-human organisms such as fruit flies was researched to advance our knowledge about cancer. Unlike MaRS, the Hospital opened booths for volunteers’ demonstrations and visitors’ hands-on experiments. At the booths, visitors learned how to extract DNA from a banana, tested their own knowledge about genetics, watched forensics demonstrations, etc.

Café Scientifique

Besides places of seeing and doing science, Science Rendezvous also offered places of talking about science. The Café Scientifique at The Rivoli, a pub in Queens West area, was such a place. The Café was not a special event prepared for the Rendezvous. Instead, the Café have been a monthly event in Toronto. Ontario Science Centre organizes the regular meeting. Begun in Leeds (United Kingdom) in 1998, the Café Scientifique is spreading around the world (link here if you want to find one near you, and here for Canadian offerings). At any Café Scientifique, all the participants are encouraged to discuss current issues related to science and technology over coffee, beer, or wine. As the organizer of Toronto’s Café Scientifique emphasizes, “it’s not a lecture! It’s a place for group discussion and audience involvement is the most important ingredient”. However, the Café usually begins with expert presentations.

Following the conventional procedure of holding a Café Scientifique, four panel debaters were invited to present their opinions on the topic of the day. The issue was the relationship between science and media. All the experts showed concerns over misleading and selective media reports about scientific discoveries. In particular, they pointed out, the media exaggerates the commercial benefit of science discoveries such as stem-cell research, pays far more attention to reporting ‘new’ discovery than helping people get out of science illiteracy, and neglects reporting perspectives different from (or, opposed to) the dominant view. For example, Shelly Ungar, sociology professor at University of Toronto Mississauga, pointed out the ‘silencing’ of politically and socially unacceptable scientific findings such as one that found out ‘passive smoking may not kill’. Similarly commenting on the view on climate change, Stephen Strauss argued, the fundamentally different methodology between science and media (i.e. experimental modeling vs. narrative style) is the main reason for the distortion and selectiveness common in the media report. When the expert presentations were all finished, the moderator of the Café encouraged the audience to participate in small group discussions about the issue.

TO Live with Science Culture

Toronto’s Mayor David Miller proclaims in the Agenda for Prosperity (p.2) that “we must put creativity at the heart of Toronto’s economic development strategy.” The Agenda’s supporting document Creative City Planning Framework (p.24) spells out two ways through which creativity can drive the City’s economy. The first is to develop an array of specific sectors such as cultural industries (for details, see Imagine a Toronto) and high-tech industries. The second is to normalize creativity as an everyday practice among citizens. In other words, encouraging citizens to behave more creatively is also believed to drive the City’s economy.

At Science Rendezvous, activities associated with the sciences were mobilized as a medium to cultivate creativity and awareness amongst Torontorians. As I described above, they were seeing, doing, listening to, and talking about, sciences throughout the City. As Dr. Ron Pearlman, biologist at York University put it, they wanted to make the Rendezvous “more of a cultural activity” (Globe and Mail, April 26, 2008) such that experiencing and enjoying sciences as such became part of the cultural life of the City.

It remains to be seen whether a more creative culture generates economic value and to what extent the benefits spread over the society. Nevertheless, in my observations, Science Rendezvous seemed to help people understand the current whereabouts of the sciences, which will surely affect their lives in the future. Visitors to the places where I moved through during Science Rendezvous certainly have their own answers to questions such as why the MaRS Centre is necessary, what scientists at the Centre do, how studying fruit flies helps in the treatment cancers, and why people should be cautious while reading media reports about the sciences.

Jae-Youl Lee

Residential and liberal arts colleges as ammunition in ‘The Global War on Taylorism’?

I continue to be surprised, partly via my intense use of Google Alerts for updates on global higher ed issues, how much thought provoking stuff there is out there betwixt and between ample supplies of detritus.

One of my alerts, today, linked through to a fascinating on-line article titled ‘The Global War on Taylorism’.

Taylorism, for those of you who have not heard of it, is a concept named after Frederick W. Taylor, a mechanical engineer who has been deemed the ‘father of scientific management’. He was the author of the Principles of Scientific Management (1911), which outlines an approach for enhancing economic efficiency via more strategic management practices. Taylorism and the associated concept of Fordism (and Post-Fordism), often go hand in hand. While originally associated with the retooling and scaling up of manufacturing processes, Taylorism has been applied to many other sectors and realms of life, for good and for bad.

While this is not the space for an exposition of Taylorism, or any number of associated concepts, as applied to the management of higher education, it is worth linking through to ‘The Global War on Taylorism’ in the Collegiate Way. The Collegiate Way is run by the evolutionary biologist Dr. Robert J. O’Hara.

This article has been highlighted as we at GlobalHigherEd have been noting the increased interest in establishing new residential colleges, and liberal arts colleges, in a variety of countries that are dominated by standardized public mass higher education institutions. An interest in more nurturing and reflective educational spaces is also emerging in societies (see, for example Hong Hong’s Lee Woo Sing College; Singapore’s new residential colleges, and the city-state’s proposed liberal arts college) where there is pressure to quickly cultivate more creative and critically thinking citizen-subjects. Residential and liberal arts colleges contrast, strikingly so, with mass private for-profit education (the Apollo/Phoenix model), and distance education more generally.

As the Collegiate Way frames it:

[r]esidential colleges originated at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge in Great Britain, and they have long been a feature of higher education in Commonwealth countries. The first American universities to establish residential colleges were Harvard and Yale in the 1930s, and in recent years they have spread to institutions as varied as Murray State University in Kentucky, the University of Miami in Florida, Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton University in New Jersey, the University of Central Arkansas, Acadia University in Nova Scotia, the University of the Americas in Mexico, and Jacobs University in Bremen, Germany.

This push could be construed as part of the anti-Taylorist agenda, or (more cynically) as a money making venture, or service differentiation vehicle, to create a new niche in the global higher ed world – analogous to the boutique offerings available 1-2 blocks on either side of Boulevard Saint-Germain in Paris. In reality there will be many shades of grey, and many complexions, with respect to the motives and effectiveness of new residential and liberal arts colleges around the world.

In any case, as the Collegiate Way puts it, a long-term struggle is underway to distort and destabilize existing practices, either through the creation of new higher ed institutions (e.g., Quest University, in Squamish B.C., Canada, which was favourably profiled this week in the Chronicle of Higher Education), or through the insertion of new learning spaces within existing institutions (e.g., Chadbourne Residential College, University of Wisconsin-Madison).

In the end, perhaps:

[t]he Global War on Taylorism will be a long, generational struggle. But in no theater can it be more righteously fought than in education. And in education it should be righteously fought, because students are not fractional Full-time Equivalents or ethno-economic vectors in Complex Systems Theory. They are individuals. Let us, as individuals, rouse and guide their powers of genius. Let us teach them beauty and truth, art and science, and the unquiet minds that have sought beauty and truth throughout history. Let us teach them to be, not parts but persons, not automatons but agents, not types but worlds.

Kris Olds

Internationalization and Canadian federalism

glenjones.jpgEditor’s note: This guest entry has been kindly prepared by Glen A. Jones, Professor of Higher Education, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), University of Toronto. Glen specializes in the study of Canadian higher education policy and governance. He has just returned from visiting Shanghai where his book Higher Education in Canada: Different Systems, Different Perspectives has been translated and published in Chinese by Fujian Education Press. Canada is a fascinating case for there is no formal national higher education system (indeed there is little to “denationalize”, as per our earlier entry on interregionalism), but the reality and rhetoric of globalization are unsettling the relatively stable and fragmented Canadian “system”, and bringing forth new pressures for action at a range of inter-linked scales. This said, and as highlighted below, Canada is moving forward very haltingly. For those interested in the changing nature of the Canadian system in relation to globalization some key institutions to monitor include the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC), the Canadian Bureau for International Education (CBIE), the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC), Human Resources and Social Development Canada, the National Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). Students at OISE also publish the open access journal Higher Education Perspectives. Finally, Paul Wells at Macleans generates some insightful stories, though not all of his writings deal with higher education. [Editor: Kris Olds]


Canada’s approach to internationalization has been quite unique, in large part because there has been no meaningful national approach or federal government strategy in this area. Looking at internationalization as a policy area provides an interesting way of illustrating Canada’s highly decentralized higher education system.

mapcanada.jpgCanada is a federation of ten provinces and three territories (see the political map above), and under the Canadian constitution the responsibility for education was assigned to the provinces. Viewing education as a local responsibility is common to most federal systems, but few have maintained such complete local authority over higher education. In Australia the federal government has assumed the central responsibility for higher education, and in Germany there is a complex arrangement of shared responsibility between the central government and the lander. Canada’s approach is even more decentralized than the United States; there has never been a federal department of education or a national higher education act in Canada.

can1.jpgCanada’s federal government has been involved in the higher education sector in a wide range of ways, in fact it was the federal government that provided the financial support for Canada’s expansion from elite to mass higher education following the second World War. However, the federal government’s involvement in the sector was almost immediately contested by the provinces, and in the context of Canada’s constitutional debates and the rise of Quebec nationalism in the 1960s and 1970s, federal support for higher education shifted to a system of unconditional transfers to the provinces. The provinces can use these funds in any way they choose, including choosing to not spend these transfers on postsecondary education. The federal government has assumed a central role in a number of policy sectors that are directly related to universities, such as student financial assistance and research funding, but higher education policy is the responsibility of the provinces.

This arrangement presents some very interesting challenges for the internationalization of Canadian higher education. While higher education is the responsibility of the provinces, foreign policy and international trade are in the hands of the federal government. There are tremendous coordination challenges associated with discussions of international student recruitment, international scholarship agreements, and even the terms and conditions of visas for international students. There is no national strategy for internationalization, and Canada’s national efforts to market or “brand” Canada in the recruitment of international students have been pitiful [e.g., compared to New Zealand]. It is the provinces, rather than the federal government, which have taken major steps towards local internationalization strategies and encouraging student mobility, especially the provinces of Quebec, British Columbia, and, most recently, Ontario. Like all areas of higher education policy, the Canadian approach has been decentralized, fragmented, and largely uncoordinated.

For the most part, internationalization has been left in the hands of individual universities. The absence of a national strategy or approach means that there are few government resources available to support internationalization initiatives, there is virtually no national infrastructure for recruitment or student mobility programming, and there is little coordination among the various federal departments that have some responsibility in this policy area. On the other hand, the absence of national policy in this area has also meant that the universities have had considerable flexibility to determine their own priorities and develop their own initiatives. Unlike their Australian peers, Canadian universities have not been pressured to view international students as a mechanism for revenue generation. There has been considerable space for local discussions of internationalization, including discussions of internationalizing the curriculum, and the place of international student recruitment and development activities within institutional priorities. These local conversations are frequently linked to discussions of inclusive curriculum as institutions respond to the increasing diversity of the Canadian student population.

Canada’s approach to internationalization, therefore, has been highly decentralized. Several Canadian provinces have developed student mobility programs, and most Canadian universities have developed institutional strategies and approaches for internationalization, but there is no evidence to suggest that Canada is on the way to having something approaching a national strategy or major federal government supported initiatives or program in this important area.

Glen A. Jones

Private Canadian education firm buys community college and expands existing links with China

yvr.jpgAs recently reported in the Vancouver Sun, a large Vancouver-based private company called CIBT Education Group has bought Sprott Shaw Community College – the oldest and largest private community college in Western Canada. Established in 1994, CIBT Education Group runs a number of post-secondary schools in China, providing both academic programmes and vocational training.

Sprott Shaw Community College, originating in Vancouver, has grown over the last years to include 20 locations across the province of British Columbia, training 4, 500 students each year with the aim of preparing them for successful employment. CIBT Education Group intends to export Sprott Shaw Community College’s vocational programmes to China. According to Toby Chu, Vice Chairman, President and CEO of CIBT, “over 250 million workers from rural China are gradually migrating to the coastal and urban cities of China in search of better paying jobs to improve their standard of living. These workers will require extensive vocational re-training or career enhancing skills in order to secure better paying jobs in China’s modern and rapidly advancing economy. With 104 years of operating experience and over 140 additional career, vocational and degree granting programs available to us, this expansive network of supporting infrastructure, teaching resources, knowledge and experience provided in this transaction with Sprott-Shaw Community College adds tremendous value to CIBT Schools in China and our overall business.” CIBT managers based in China will ‘repackage’ Sprott Shaw’s programmes for a specifically Chinese market.

cibtsumm.jpgAs has been observed before on GlobalHigherEd, China offers a huge potential market in higher and further education. CIBT Education Groups notes in a recent Executive Summary that with 320 million students in 1.35 million schools China has the largest education system in the world. However, it is unable to meet the demand in higher education (with only 1.3% of the population currently enrolled in university compared to 5.4% of the population in the US). According to CIBT, an additional 20 million people are seeking vocational training.

At the same time as providing educational places in China, the programmes proposed by CIBT will also initiate flows of Chinese students into the Canadian education system. CIBT runs four-year courses, of which students spend two years ‘overseas’. This new initiative will direct students to British Columbia for two years of their four-year course. The practice of sending Chinese students to overseas institutions is already established by CIBT. The company has ‘credit transfer agreements’ with universities in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and the UK, which enable Chinese students to transfer credits earned at CIBT institutions in China to these overseas ‘academic partners’ – thereby receiving a valuable overseas degree at the end of their course.

This is a further example of Canadian firms seeking to ‘do business’ in China. In 2007, CIBT was named in a report by the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada as a case study of Canadian companies that have developed successful ‘Asian strategies’. CIBT has also established partnerships with large private education providers in the US, such as Western International University and WyoTech. In the next two years, the Group plans to build 40 new Education Centres in 40 different Chinese cities located within existing colleges or universities. It also has plans to acquire other state-owned colleges and to transform them into ‘private business colleges’.

Johanna Waters

The ripple effects of the global fossil fuel boom: a view from inside the University of Calgary

Editor’s note: the global boom in fossil fuel production is generating uneven development processes that are reverberating through higher education systems. For example, the boom has fueled the breathtaking expansion of indigenous and foreign university campuses in the Middle East (e.g., King Abdullah University of Science & Technology (KAUST), Qatar Education City, NYU Abu Dhabi). Canada, the US’ largest supplier of oil (a fact off the radar screen in the current geopolitical climate) is also witnessing a vast economic transformation as an “empire from a tub of goo” (the Alberta oil sands) emerges. The national Globe and Mail newspaper is current running a series of stories on this historically unprecedented development process. This transformation has been praised and criticized from a social and environmental perspective. It is, though, also interesting to see how economic development proceeds (esp., increased revenue) are impacting the Albertan higher education system. Today’s guest entry is by a professor of anthropology (Alan Smart) at the University of Calgary. Professor Smart is an economic anthropologist who mainly works in China. We’ve commissioned this piece after reading an interesting Globe and Mail article (“Will Alberta’s energy boom revolutionize higher education?” January 2, 2008). Given our knowledge of Professor Smart’s ethnographic skills we felt that he had the capacity to develop an informed and grounded commentary regarding the inevitably uneven impacts of this transformation in his own university and province. We also recommend that you look at this commentary by Martha Piper (a former senior university official in Alberta and British Columbia).


When I read Elizabeth Church’s glowing account in the Globe and Mail (“Will Alberta’s energy boom revolutionize higher education?” January 2, 2008) of the post-secondary sector in Alberta and its prospects, I immediately thought, “that’s exciting, I wish I was there instead of in a university where we continue to suffer from budget cuts and lack of direction”. But then I realized that I was there, the University of Calgary to be specific, in the heart of Alberta’s economic boom, but the experience of the liberal arts faculties bears no resemblance to the gushing prose such as “People will look back at this time and marvel” (Dr. Samarasekera, President, University of Alberta). Many of us at U of Calgary are already marvelling: at how there can be such disarray, budgetary crisis, and abysmal morale in a place where so much money is sloshing around. To be fair, the reports from U of Alberta sound much better than at U of Calgary: Dr. Samarasekera apparently recognizes the importance of liberal arts in the university.

uc2.jpgThe shocking thing is that in almost twenty years at the U of Calgary, I do not recall a period when morale among faculty was lower than it is at present, and that includes during the 23% cuts over 4 years in the early 1990s. The only faculties that seem to be benefiting from our President’s vision are Medicine and Engineering. Some might argue that this is a sign of the corporatization of the university. It might indeed be, but only in the sense that the university concentrates on things that the dominant business community would like to see done, not in the sense that the university is acting like a profit-seeking enterprise. If it were, we might expect to see investment in profit centres at the expense of other units, but it tends to operate the other way around. The Faculty of Social Sciences, with the largest number of students on campus, has a budget that is basically equal to the tuitions paid by its students, even though Alberta policy is that tuitions should not be higher than 25% of the operating budget. Obviously, given this, Social Sciences (and the other core arts and sciences to a somewhat lesser extent) are being treated as a cash cow for Faculties that cannot cover their own costs. One could point to the substantial research funds brought in by Medicine in particular, but this has little positive effect on the university’s financial situation since grant overhead payments are very low in Canada, unlike the situation in the United States. In any case, the usual pattern when a medical researcher has a breakthrough or receives a major grant is that they get offers from other institutions and turn to the administration to say that they couldn’t justify staying without a new lab, additional colleagues, postdocs, graduate students, etc. This doesn’t produce any real advantage to the administration’s budget, unlike the large number of bums on seats in the arts and sciences faculties. Especially when those bums on seats are being taught by sessionals. A sessional being paid $5,250 for a one-semester course with 400 students paying $500 each for that course generates a profit of $194,750, or a return on investment of 37 times. What profit-oriented business would turn down returns like that? Yet, because tuition goes to the central administration without any direct return to the department or faculty offering the course, such courses provide no benefit to the unit offering the course, despite intense student demand. If this is a corporate model, it would seem to be a very dysfunctional corporate model. But I think that it follows a different logic, one based on status. Presidents like to brag about their neurology or cancer treatment or energy research centres, and transferring resources into sexy high profile fields makes it possible for them to swagger when they get together with other Presidents or potential donors, and hopefully step up to a better job before the house of cards collapses around them.

The Province of Alberta must bear its share of blame. Funding per student in Alberta compares quite well with other provinces, apparently. But the lack of understanding and mistrust of universities by the Conservative Party has been so great that most new funds have been tied to particular new programs, projects and buildings that the Provincial Conservatives and their supporting interest groups see as useful. The proportion of university grants that don’t have strings attached dropped precipitously after the election of Ralph Klein. And the problem is that these grants bribe us to do expensive and unsustainable things. There is never quite enough money to do them, so subsequently money has to be channelled from sustainable things to finish off the shiny new building or keep the sexy new program afloat. If we could simply allocate all the money we get from the province and tuitions to the most sustainable and sensible things, we would be in pretty good shape. The amazing thing is that most of these are the things that universities (at least those without massive endowments) should be doing, providing a well-rounded education in the liberal arts and sciences, with a smaller set of appendages in the professions doing the far more expensive but ‘sexier’ things. Instead of being seen as essential, the body of the U of Calgary is being gutted to support a host of showcase programs and projects much larger than the modest financial reality can support. Thus, the ‘fiscal conservatives’ in the ruling Conservative Party of Alberta and the downtown business community (who dominate our Board of Governors) have seduced and bribed us into a fiscally disastrous route. And the answer? Ever more of the same. Marvellous, indeed.

Alan Smart

Where is Europe’s higher education media?

Welcome to 2008, the start of GlobalHigherEd‘s first full year of life.

The Beerkens’ Blog recently let us know that Eric Beerkens is moving on, out of academia, and into the policy world in The Hague. His blog, which will hopefully be maintained despite his new job, is one of the few around that is adopting a broad-based, analytical, and snappy view on changes to the world of higher education, with an eye to underlying forces, differential impacts, contradictions, and periodically humourous dimensions of the change process. There are innumerable journal articles, chapters, books, policy reports, and so on, being produced about the globalization of higher education. And there are numerous fora, networks (e.g., NESSE), and think tanks buzzing about. But there is a need for freely accessible straight to the screen spaces of knowledge production about ongoing development processes. None of these replaces the other; it is the strange brew that is produced through the mix that matters.

I was in Brussels last month and spoke on a plenary panel at conference organized by the European Education Policy Network. Our charge was to discuss “Interactions between Academic Research and the Policy World”. I spoke about two very different types of institutions that have the capacity to deepen the strong ties, and create the weak ties, that help academics and policy makers engage on a more productive basis.

The first was Canada’s Metropolis Project, an exemplary research and outreach vehicle that bridges the worlds of policy makers and academics regarding the impact of immigration on cities. I won’t go into any detail here on this issue.

The second was the higher education media, at least the ‘quality’ outlets, which policy makers use to locate more accessible summaries of relevant research, to keep up-to-date on debates and new developments, and to use as a vehicle for the release of topical information. I spoke about some of the differences I have noticed in Europe (where I am on sabbatical) versus the USA (where I live), and Canada (where I am from), with respect to the nature of the higher education media.

In North America, especially the United States, there is a rich diversity of higher education media sources, including:

If we treat Europe and the Bologna Process-fueled European Higher Education Area as a legible regional system, emergent as it is, and on par with the North America, we have:

  • Daily: none
  • Weekly: none
  • Biweekly: European University Association (EUA) newsletter
  • Monthly: Academic Cooperation Association (ACA) newsletter
  • Irregular: higher ed sections in local and national magazines and newspapers; blogs


The Times Higher Education’s coverage of European-scale development processes is frankly pathetic, though perhaps the reworked version (to be released on 10 January) will be better [July 2010 note: it is better]. I am sure there are other media sources as well – let me know what they are and I’ll update this section of today’s entry.


Does the relative limits of higher ed media diversity in Europe matter? I would argue, despite some critical comments from two former journalists (both English) in the audience last month, that the lacunae of media resources is worth taking note of and redressing. The discursive fields regarding European higher education are not as diverse, multi-directional, multi-layered, and especially multi-temporal, as is the case in North America. To be sure European debates are informed and vibrant but there is something to be said for having freely accessible (unlike the subscription only ACA newsletter) and non-stakeholder (e.g., the EUA newsletter) outlets that profile ongoing developments and provide a setting for analyses, opinion pieces, debates, job advertisements, and so on. The voices represented in European debates about higher education reform also lack the insights of informed journalists such as Scott Jaschik (in the US) who established Inside Higher Ed in 2005 with some other former employees of the Chronicle of Higher Education. Jaschik and his colleagues clearly realized the importance of generating knowledge and stirring up debate via insightful analyses that are freely accessible (including to policy makers and especially students) via the web. Free access via the web also facilitates access via search engines such as Google which are hindered by the defacto subscription filter created by outlets like the Chronicle of Higher Education and Times Higher Education. It is important to also note that Inside Higher Ed‘s capacity to be so active, yet free, is underlain by a very mobile labour market linked to thousands of universities and associated organizations that seek to openly advertise their faculty and staff vacancies.

Blogs have their place, of course, as does tracking official sources including the European Commission‘s informative ERA-Watch. And so does detailed historical research that comes out in book form. But as we enter 2008, a mere two years ahead of 2010 (the target date of the “completion” of the European Higher Education Area), it is surprising that there are no vibrant European higher education media outlets, especially outlets that reflect the temporal rhythms of a development process that is genuinely breathtaking in its speed and effect (and is indeed now generating deep ripple effects in other parts of the world). Report release notices, newsletters, and blogs (including the Beerkens’ Blog, GlobalHigherEd, and others) all play a role in creating the “carnival of ideas” that shed light on the globalization of higher education, including Europe’s evolving place in it. But the European carnival of ideas is a distinctly sleepy one at the present moment. Plus c’est la meme chose, plus ça change?

Kris Olds

Offshore schools as ‘feeders’ to the Canadian higher education system

bcmoe.jpgIn Canada, one of the most innovative internationalising initiatives with direct implications for the international higher education sector has involved the establishment of certified ‘offshore schools’. The last ten years has seen the development and consolidation of an Offshore School Certification Program, established by the British Columbia (BC) Ministry of Education. This programme began in 1997 with the Dalian Maple Leaf International School. This was initially set up as a pilot project with only a small number of students. Today the school has approximately 2,300 students and there are ten BC certified offshore schools; nine in China and one in Egypt. Suggestive of the ‘rescaling’ of national education, the Offshore School Certification Program enables students to receive a BC Ministry of Education certified education without leaving home. The programme is taught in English by BC-certified teachers, and its graduates are issued with a British Columbia High School Graduation Certificate.

Public-private-partnerships are increasingly important in international education. Reflecting this, there are three key players in the offshore school program: the Ministry of Education, the offshore school itself, and the so-called ‘consultant’ or ‘service provider’. Each has a different role to play in the process. The BC Ministry’s role is to establish certification requirements, conduct inspections of schools requesting certification, certify their educational programmes, distribute and mark Grade 12 provincial exams and issue transcripts and diplomas to graduates. The school’s role is to establish and operate a programme that meets the criteria of the BC Ministry of Education, provide for annual on-site inspections by the Ministry and pay all the programme and inspection fees. The consultant’s role includes administrative guidance to the overseas school, development of policy and curricular, facilitating the purchase of educational materials and the recruitment of teachers from Canada. The consultant will also give the school direct guidance in completing required Ministry documents. The Ministry carries a list of ‘approved’ private consultants. These private consultants can include what is called a ‘public school board company’. As a representative (J.B.) of the Ministry told me during an interview in Victoria, BC:

The school act was changed… [in 2002] to enable a school district to establish a company. There are six or seven in BC that have done that. They’ve established a for-profit company, but it’s a unique company where the profits can only flow to the school district. So under that company they could approach schools in China saying ‘we would be able to offer this service, this is what it would cost you’…And they formulate their own contract between [themselves and] the schools.

Each prospective school undergoes a certification process, involving an application, an informal visit to establish ‘candidate status’ (at a cost to the school CA$2,500), followed by a formal inspection by a larger team of people to establish ‘certification status’ (costing CA$3,500 in addition to all the inspection costs). The school must also pay the Ministry for annual inspections required to maintain its certification status as well as an additional $350 per student per year enrolled in the BC programme.

Significantly for higher education, British Columbia and Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) signed an Agreement for Canada-British Columbia Cooperation on Immigration on April 5, 2004. This operates as an insurance policy for CIC, addressing the problem of fraudulent applications for study permits at higher education level, involving false reporting of English and academic ability and financial circumstances. The province will write a letter on behalf of students in its ‘overseas program’, which will then become part of their student visa application. As J. B. described it:

We’ve got a win-win. I can give you [Citizenship and Immigration Canada] more reliable indicators in each of those areas at no cost to your embassy staff [and] no time – they don’t have to check a thing. Because we’ve worked with these kids for three years, with BC certified teachers, I will be able to certify for you as BC Minister for Education more reliable indicators than you’ve ever been able to get…

The Ministry is confident that it can guarantee not only the academic aptitude of its overseas students but also their English ability and their ‘financial commitment’ to paying (what can amount to substantial) international tuition fees. Consequently, these offshore schools serve as direct feeders into the Canadian HE system. In 2002, the Dalian Maple Leaf International School graduated 101 students and 96 percent were successful in obtaining a visa to study in Canada, compared to 55 percent of applications for China as a whole. The latest available data for 2004 put the figure for acceptance rates for Dalian Maple Leaf International School graduates at 100 percent, while the size of the graduating class has clearly grown.


One of the clear intentions of this program is to ‘school’ Chinese students in a Canadian education at an early age, after which the ‘natural’ choice for a higher education destination becomes Canada. As this suggests, the globalisation of higher education is tied, in complex ways, to the internationalisation of primary and secondary levels of education.

Johanna Waters

Editor’s note: the blogosphere has a variety of entries and photographs, primarily from young contract teachers, regarding Dalian Maple Leaf International School. Some samples can be accessed here, here, and here.

Canada lags in competition for talented foreign graduates

GlobalHigherEd has made several entries over the past month on changing trends in international student mobility, including one that situates the Canadian experience, and one that ponders what impacts the fast rising Canadian $ (the Loonie) might generate. A report released last week by the Canadian Bureau of International Education (CBIE) makes explicit a emerging strategy in relation to student mobility: retaining international students upon completion of their studies to contribute to the needs of the local and/or national labour market.

cbiereport.jpgIn a new report titled Northern Lights: International Graduates of Canadian Institutions and the National Workforce, the CBIE presents results of a survey with over 900 international students upon the completion of their studies in Canadian universities. The findings suggest that international students are “anxious and cynical” about employment opportunities in Canada upon graduation. Despite the recent introduction of work permit programs enabling international students to remain in Canada for one or two years after their studies (permits are limited to one year for students having studied or seeking work in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal), only 1/3 of students felt they would participate in such schemes, whereas another 1/3 expected to return home, and 1/3 were considering seeking employment elsewhere.

In assessing these findings, the authors take a clear strategic policy stance. Framing these results within a looming labour shortage due to the imminent retirement of Canada’s aging baby boomers, the report’s authors argue that retaining international students post-graduation is a complementary initiative to existing Canadian labour market development strategies, such as the skilled immigrant worker program and encouraging continued workforce participation among the aging population. The existing challenges are identified as an ever-heightening national competition for talent with greater opportunities for graduates abroad, as well as unnecessary complications to enter the Canadian and reluctance among employers. In conclusion, the CBIE directly calls for the Canadian government to both strengthen Canada’s weakening position as an international education destination and then to enhance retention rates of graduates through improved information dissemination among officials, institutions, and students.

The multiple benefits accrued by nations attracting large numbers of international students have long been recognized. In recent years, the positive benefit has been primarily discussed in terms of the direct short-term financial contribution provided by high foreign student fees to national higher education sectors. This report’s emphasis, notably coming from a non-governmental membership organization representing Canadian institutions from the K-12 to postgraduate levels, as well as public and private sectors, with research collaboration from Queen’s University and with funding from the Canadian Council of Learning, suggests a shift in interest towards the longer-term potential gain that international students might provide as potential knowledge workers in the global competition for talent. It seems national strategies of brain drain or brain circulation may be replaced with the brain ‘train and retain’ of international graduates.

Kate Geddie

EU Blue Cards: not a blank cheque for migrant labour – says Barroso

berlin1.jpgThe global competition for skilled labor looks like getting a new dimension – the EU is planning to issue “blue cards” to allow highly skilled non-Europeans to work in the EU. On Tuesday 23 October José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, announced plans to harmonize admission procedures for highly qualified workers. As President Barroso put it:

With the EU Blue Card we send a clear signal: Highly skilled people from all over the world are welcome in the European Union. Let me be clear: I am not announcing today that we are opening the doors to 20 million high-skilled workers! The Blue Card is not a “blank cheque”. It is not a right to admission, but a demand-driven approach and a common European procedure.

The Blue Card will also mean increased mobility for high-skilled immigrants and their families inside the EU.

Member States will have broad flexibility to determine their labour market needs and decide on the number of high-skilled workers they would like to welcome.

With regard to developing countries we are very much aware of the need to avoid negative “brain drain” effects. Therefore, the proposal promotes ethical recruitment standards to limit – if not ban – active recruitment by Member States in developing countries in some sensitive sectors. It also contains measures to facilitate so-called “circular migration”. Europe stands ready to cooperate with developing countries in this area.

Further details are also available in this press release, with media and blog coverage available via these pre-programmed Google searches. As noted the proposed scheme would have a common single application procedure across the 27 Member States and a common set of rights for non-EU nationals including the right to stay for two years and move within the EU to another Member State for an extension of one more year.

The urgency of the introduction of the blue card is framed in terms of competition with the US/Canada/Australia – the US alone attracts more than half of all skilled labor while only 5 per cent currently comes to the EU. This explanation needs to be seen in relation to two issues which the GlobalHigherEd blog has been following: the competition to attract and retain researchers and the current overproduction of Maths, Science and Technology graduates. Can the attractiveness of the EU as a whole compete with the pull of R&D/Industrial capacity in the US and the logic of English as the global language? Related to this obviously is the recent enlargement to 27 Member States where there are ongoing issues around the mobility of labor within the EU? We will continue to look beneath the claims of policy initiatives to see the underlying contradictions in approaches. The ongoing question of the construction of a common European labor market and boosting the attractiveness of EU higher ed institutions may be at least as important here as the supposed skilled labor shortages.

Futurology demographics seem to be at the heart of the explanation of the need to intensify the recruitment of non-EU labour – according to the Commission the EU will have a shortage of 20 million workers in the next 20 years, with one third of the EU population over the age of 65. Interestingly though, there is no specification of the kinds of skill shortages that far down the line – the current concern is that the EU currently receives 85 % of global unskilled labour.

Barroso and the Commission continue to try to handle the contradictions of EU brain attractiveness strategies by the preferred model of:

  • fixed term contracts;
  • limitations on recruitment from developing countries in sensitive sectors; and,
  • the potentially highly tendentious notion of ‘circular migration’.

High skilled labour is effectively on a perpetual carousel of entry to and exit from the labour market with equal rights while in the EU which get lost at the point of departure from the EU zone only to reappear on re-entry, perhaps?

According to Reuters the successful applicants for a blue card would only need to be paid twice the minimum wage in the employing Member State – and this requirement would be lifted if the applicant were to be a graduate from an EU higher education institution. Two things are of interest here then – the blue card could be a way to retain anyone with a higher education qualification and there are implications for the continuing downward pressure on wage rates for the university educated. It will be interesting to see how this one plays out in relation to the attractiveness of EU universities if a blue card is the implied pay-off for successful graduation.

Peter D. Jones

Will shifting currency exchange rate differentials (2005-2007) redirect flows of foreign students?

I’ve had a great sabbatical in Paris so far, though the wretched state of the US$ is not pleasant. No one is giving me any sympathy, this said, as Paris is Paris…

As I checked today’s Euro-US$ exchange rate, it reminded me of two interesting graphics in the OECD’s Education at a Glance 2007 report. Take a look at these graphics, plus one I produced on the excellent Pacific Exchange Rate Service website. Ponder the effects of the changes in currency exchange differentials in five important receiving countries (with respect to foreign students) – Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and the US – that charge relatively high tuition fees for these students. Unfortunately Box C3.3 does not peg the UK, but I’ve included it anyways in the currency exchange rate graph to see where the GBP has moved between 1 January 2005 (the date I selected as it falls in the middle of the period the OECD data refers to) and today.

Of course choosing where to study abroad is a complicated matter, and money is not the only issue. But it is worth asking what effects, if any, is the sliding (collapsing?) US$ is having on making the US more attractive for foreign students, and/or making Australia, Canada and New Zealand less appealing destinations. The Aus$ hit record highs this week, and the FT noted on Monday that it might reach parity with the US$ in the near future. The Canadian loonie is now worth more that the US$…something we Canucks have a hard time believing. And the NZ$ is moving in the same trend line as the Aus$. In any case structural changes like these matter (see “US exports hit record on weak dollar“), including to the overall geography of service exports. Given the time lags associated with the application and acceptance process, though, it won’t be until 2010 that some of these effects will be felt.

Kris Olds

8 July 2008 update: new currency exchange differential graph inserted below the original one.