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Canada calls for better focus on international student integration

Stakeholders from Canada’s international higher education sector were reminded that student mobility does not necessarily equate to intercultural competence, at CBIE’s 49th annual conference held in Niagara Falls this week.

Ensuring integration on campus is an essential goal of internationalisation. Photo: Laurie Noble/The PIE News

“There are many reasons why we should think beyond mobility. There are 190 million reasons why"

Throughout the thought-provoking conference, delegates and speakers discussed how internationalisation efforts can tend to focus too heavily on attracting international students.

“There’s a bit of a mythology that just by bringing all of this diversity to our campuses, everyone’s going to become globally and interculturally competent,” noted Kyra Garson, internationalisation consultant at Thompson Rivers University.

“There’s a mythology that just by bringing diversity to our campuses, everyone’s going to become globally and interculturally competent”

“We have plenty of evidence that without intentional preparation and focused facilitation of meaningful interactions, actually the opposite thing can happen, and we may actually be unintentionally creating more divisiveness.”

CBIE’s president, Karen McBride, cited findings in the association’s annual international student survey that less than half of the students interviewed reported having any Canadian friends.

She said the findings show that internationalisation is “so much more” than mobility, and pledged CBIE’s support for a holistic approach.

“International education should be an integral part the educational experience in Canada,” she told The PIE News. “If we want to make headways in truly addressing global challenges, we need to move beyond mobility to ensure that all students have a chance at an international education.”

Allan Goodman, president of the US-based Institute for International Education, concurred that for too many institutions, international students present a “missed opportunity” to foster intercultural understanding.

“Canada, Mexico and the US are fortunate because so many international students come to us,” he commented. “We’ve got to use them better – we’ve got to make sure that the Canadians, the Mexicans and the Americans who will not study abroad get to know the person from the Congo or China or Brazil or India sitting next to them in the classroom.”

Ensuring that international students don’t all live in the same residences is a first step to mitigating the “bubble effect” that can occur on campuses with a diverse international population, he suggested, as is more encouraging them to take part in extracurricular activities so that “we have more than just an international students’ day on our campus”.

When it comes to preparing domestic students for a globalised world, institutions should face up to the fact that not all students will be able to study abroad, urged Francisco Marmolejo, lead tertiary education specialist at the World Bank.

“We’ve got to make sure students get to know the person from the Congo or China or Brazil or India sitting next to them”

“There are many reasons why we should think beyond mobility,” he told attendees. “There are 190 million reasons why, and the 190 million are the number of students in the world in tertiary education that, like it or not, won’t benefit from the opportunity to go abroad and to experience physical mobility.”

Martha Navarro, director general for academic and scientific cooperation at Mexico’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, warned that failing to build internationalisation into the day-to-day running of education institutions means that only the wealthiest students will benefit.

“International projects continue to be either very elitist all over the world,” she said. “Many other activities and strategies have to be developed, and that has to be with the internationalising of the campuses.”

Participation by both international and domestic students in intercultural and community events, volunteering or student clubs can all help to achieve this, stakeholders suggested, and internationalising curricula is crucial.

“Many times, our academic structures limit the possibility of global engagements; many times, our faculty members are not properly prepared to do that,” Marmolejo said.

Internationalising curricula requires faculty to take “a global view in their disciplines and teaching approaches”, Lian Dumouchel, director of global engagement at TRU, told The PIE News.

This could include new pedagogies that facilitate critical learning, or teaching “literature that has more or a global view… to move out of their comfort zone and to engage more meaningfully with the broader world”, she added.

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