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Canadians urged to increase short-term study abroad

Career anxiety, inertia and safety and financial concerns all present barriers for Canadian students to study overseas, but providing short-term study abroad opportunities could be key to increasing outbound numbers, educators were told at CBIE’s annual conference last month.

Ken Steele speaking at CBIE's annual conference last month. Photo: The PIE News.

“This is a marketing issue. We’re trying to ask people to buy something they don’t understand"

At the conference in Niagara Falls, Canadian higher education expert and futurist Ken Steele explained in the plenary address Canadian students face not only financial worries but also “a rising tide of career anxiety”.

“We also know from study after study that most students look at study abroad as a luxury, as a kind of tourism opportunity”

Students are constantly told that they must always consider their employability, he said.

However, he explained that: “We also know from study after study that most students look at study abroad as a luxury, as a kind of tourism opportunity: taking a year off rather than actually working or learning.”

“That sense that they’re taking time off from their studies scares them; we need to change that perception,” he said.

In order to tackle this view, institutions must think carefully about the way they sell study abroad to students, he urged.

“This is a marketing issue,” he said. “We’re trying to ask people to buy something they don’t understand.”

At the moment, despite Canada attracting 336,497 international students in 2014, only around 3% of its HE students studied abroad, and many educators see increasing that number as an uphill battle.

Steele also noted that many of the ‘pull’ factors that attract international students to Canada are the same as those that keep domestic students from learning overseas.

His theory is borne out in the findings of the 2015 International Student Survey, in which international students said their top three reasons for wanting to come to Canada are the quality of its education; its tolerant and non-discriminatory environment; and its reputation for being a safe country.

Efforts to make students more aware of study abroad opportunities are also crucial, urged Steele.

However, he added that institutions may need to adjust the opportunities they have on offer, given that many students may be daunted by the idea of spending a full year overseas.

Giving students the opportunity to experience short, one- or two-weeks trips abroad or summer programmes may help to alleviate their fears and show students the value in study abroad, he said, and even domestic, ‘study-abroad lite’ programmes which are gaining popularity in the US could help to encourage students to step outside of their comfort zone.

“If you consider that not as the end goal but maybe as a first step to loosening the student up to the idea of a full-blown study abroad exchange, maybe it’s not such a bad idea,” he suggested.

Ken Steele also spoke to The PIE News about offering short-term study abroad opportunities:

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