In nearly every university in North America, faculty and administrators have recognized the importance of globalization. Our futures, in a continent where demographic trends point to a smaller pool of students of traditional college or university age, depend increasingly on international enrolments. Our students will live and work in a globalized society. We must give students the tools, understanding and experience they require to succeed in this changing context. It is thus imperative that universities speedily evolve and go beyond traditional student exchanges, year-abroad opportunities, inter-cultural events and the designation of a residence as “international house.”
We need to establish international reputations. And, we need to deploy resources to attract students who are capable of succeeding to our programs. We also must send more students abroad, because their success and that of our national economy are at stake.
Universities and their recruitment staff sometimes worry about the lack of a Canadian brand for higher education; however, thanks to Universities Canada and the support of our governments and embassies abroad, progress is being made. We must find more ways to work together to achieve the goal of globalizing our institutions.
We must also overcome three impediments. The first is financial. The Fulbright foundation and other agencies contribute significantly but students’ need exceeds these resources. Governments, businesses and alumni who have benefited from such programs as well as universities have to make support for travel a priority. This involves a culture shift. Travel must not be seen as an extravagance but rather as an essential part of postsecondary education. Short courses, paid internships abroad, global entrepreneurship programs can all be helpful. We need to make such opportunities part of the normal program.
The second impediment is linguistic. We need to encourage students, the younger the better, to learn languages. When language requirements disappeared, so did enrolments and courses at universities. We must discredit the myth that learning languages is difficult or that acquiring a language can be replaced by hand-held translation devices. Talented faculty members are helping students learn languages and new technology is permitting them to speak with their fellow students around the world – making language-learning more pleasant. Students need to understand and embrace the importance of language study.
The third significant issue is structural and relates to program requirements. How can we integrate globalization into the curriculum and the lives of students, some of whom are not able to travel? An old notion has recently resurfaced: required courses. Like the swing of a pendulum, curricular design tends to move from greater to lesser freedom of choice. Professional accreditation and the push to graduate in a timely fashion have reduced the options for students. It would be possible to globalize the curriculum, if every program situated topics in a global context. Courses on and research into Canadian issues can benefit from global wisdom and perspective. If there are Doctors and Engineers Without Borders, there can be social workers and philosophers without borders as well. International business could be an aspect of many programs, not just a major in a business program. Universities have begun offering joint degrees. That’s good, but what if universities exchanged not only individual students but also entire classes? What if they joined networks offering a program built from courses taught at each university in the network? That would push students to travel or use technology.
If every university dedicated resources to working with a local community to revitalize that community, and if every university had partner institutions abroad, then students could work on social entrepreneurship together, making projects joint and international. There are no limits to the creativity of our university communities. This energy must be unleashed by establishing the context and the incentives to move ahead. Rewards for curricular innovation and global community engagement will speak volumes.
In times of economic stress, worthwhile goals may be set aside. In this case, the rewards are much greater than the risks. We must make globalization part of our institutional culture and budgets and we must actively seek the support of our communities and our governments. This is an essential and appropriate investment for the future.
Roseann O’Reilly Runte is president of Carleton University.