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Universities Canada urges support for outbound study in run-up to election

As the federal election approaches, Universities Canada has called on the country’s next government to “encourage a culture of mobility” among Canadian students.

Parliament Hill, Ottawa. Photo: Flickr/Doug Kerr.Parliament Hill, Ottawa. Photo: Flickr/Doug Kerr.

In 2012-13, just 3.1% of full-time Canadian undergraduates undertook a short-term international placement, while just 2.6% had a for-credit experience abroad

Investing in a “bold programme of support” for short-term domestic and international student mobility is one of the key recommendations outlined in a policy brief released by the organisation before the October 19 election.

“Studying and working abroad transforms Canadian students into global citizens, helping them develop inter-cultural awareness, adaptability and problem-solving skills”

The brief, entitled ‘Crossing borders, opening minds’, describes a student leaving their home province as a “transformative experience” which “too few Canadian students” have.

“Studying and working abroad transforms Canadian students into global citizens, helping them develop inter-cultural awareness, adaptability and problem-solving skills,” the document states.

Universities Canada, which represents 97 public and private not-for-profit universities and colleges, has not laid out a specific mobility programme that students should follow.

Instead it has suggested that interprovincial and international experiences would be for-credit parts of academic programmes and could include a broad range of experiences including exchanges, research, field schools and community service.

“We are working with our membership and other stakeholders to both advance support for the idea of increased student mobility, and to discuss the best mechanisms for developing such a programme,” a spokesperson told The PIE News.

“Ultimately, we’d like to see more students study in different parts of Canada and in a broader set of countries.”

In 2012-13, just 3.1% of full-time Canadian undergraduates undertook a short-term international placement, while just 2.6% had a for-credit experience abroad, and there has been little change in these figures over the past eight years.

This is despite 92% of Canadian universities having exchange agreements with foreign institutions, and 97% offering international experiences such as academic coursework, field schools, work-terms and community service learning, according to Universities Canada.

Low outbound student numbers were also addressed by a campaign launched by CBIE last year, in which they were called the “Achilles’ heel in Canada’s aspirations for greater global engagement and competitiveness”.

“Ultimately, we’d like to see more students study in different parts of Canada and in a broader set of countries”

The main barrier to study abroad appears to be financial – although 78% of Canadian higher institutions provide some financial support for study abroad programs, 91% listed lack of funds as one of the top three reasons for low student mobility rates.

An emphasis on new study destinations should be an integral part of the government’s mobility strategy, the brief says, highlighting the differences between student study destinations and student source market.

The most popular study destinations for Canadians are currently the UK, Australia, France, Germany and the US. This contrasts starkly with the list of priority markets identified in the 2014 federal International Education Strategy: Brazil, China, India, Mexico, North Africa and the Middle East.

The brief adds that in order to make study abroad available to more students, provisions must be made for non-traditional learners.

It highlights indigenous students, first-generation Canadians, students who are the first in their family to pursue postsecondary education, and those who work alongside their studies as examples of students who face “significant barriers” to mobility.

The document is one of four policy briefs released by the organisation in the run-up to the election. The remaining three documents address jobs and skills, closing the gap on indigenous education, and research and innovation.

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