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Canada: emphasis on diversity, access, belonging and pathways needed post pandemic

Emerging from the turbulent pandemic years, a key focus for many in the international education sector is finding balance, according to the Canadian Bureau of International Education. Correspondingly, the theme for this year’s CBIE conference of finding balance, was reflected in the 60 plus session strands.

Another challenge presented at the conference was displaced students and faculty

Presenters offered strategies for a robust comeback, while also recognising “economic, social, ethical, and environmental considerations” in the field.

Over 1,000 delegates from across 40 countries participated in CBIE, which was held in person in Toronto this year for the first time since before the onset of the pandemic.

Gayathri Shukla, founder of inclusivity and diversity specialist Campfire Kinship, opened the conference by asserting the powerful impact of storytelling as a culturally-responsive leadership practice. Using empathy, curiosity, and respect as touchpoints, Shukla argued that leadership must move beyond just “awareness” and inspire “action” around issues of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.

These themes were woven throughout the breakout sessions of the conference. Presenting from The Philippines, J. Prospero de Vera, chairperson of the Commission on Higher Education urged delegates to embrace “initiatives that are equitable, sustainable, and accessible”, arguing that “education is part of a collective responsibility”.

Antonio Rivadeneira, regional manager at Camosun College, proffered that this responsibility begins before students arrive on campus.

He discussed fostering a sense of belonging for international students by providing pre-arrival community-building and transition supports to help them adapt to their new life in Canada. Camosun embraces social media strategies to help them achieves this at Camosun.

“You have to share real experiences with students. You want to create a vision. You want students to know what life will be like if they study at your college,” advised Rivadeneira.

However, increasing diversification and building a more sustainable and accessible future for international education in Canada is not without its challenges, say senior leaders across the Canadian sector.

In a panel discussion on hot topics in international student recruitment, Virginia Macchiavello, AVP of Transnational Strategies and Market Development at Centennial College, addressed the temporary change in the number of hours international students are allowed to work.

“As academics, we want [students] to study, not be constantly focused on working. I’m concerned. It will be interesting to see the impact,” Macchiavello stated.

“But there are some options,” she added. “Most importantly, is for us to determine options for those with financial issues. The system tends to recruit privileged students.”

“As academics, we want [students] to study, not be constantly focused on working”

Cynthia Ralickas, director of International Student Policy at Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada, addressed hot-button issues related to the post-graduation work permit program and permanent residency. She presented information and updates on the intent to increase permanent residency as well the challenges of meeting the high demand, as indicated by record numbers of applications.

Former Canadian international students who secured post-graduate work in the field of international education shared their perspectives of the student journey, pathways and employability in Canada.

They also noted that as the student body in Canada is rapidly becoming more diversified, so too must the university staff.

Another challenge presented at the conference was displaced students and faculty. There was a contingent of Ukrainian leaders from the ministry of education, along with faculty from Ukrainian universities who shared suggestions for opportunities for international cooperation.

The delegation was met with a standing ovation at the closing gala dinner, as delegates demonstrated solidarity with their Ukrainian colleagues.

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