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Editor's Voice | Internationalization of post-secondary education

The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC)'s mission, as quoted on their website, is to foster and promote the interests of higher education and university research. The AUCC is a non-governmental, not-for-profit member-based organization that conducts surveys and research to find solutions to the economic and social challenges facing Canada. The organization attempts to develop public policy and shares information of post-secondary education in Canada in order to increase the quality of education. The organization also supports post-secondary institutions in their journey to internationalize their education. 

Sponsored by Scotiabank, the AUCC conducted a 2006 survey on internationalization at Canadian universities and hosted an awards ceremony in 2007 recognizing Canadian universities that have developed outstanding internationalization initiatives. The event's aim was to discuss the survey's findings with regards to institutional strategies in bettering the internationalization of education.

Internationalization, as defined by the AUCC, is understood as the process of integrating an international and intercultural dimension to the teaching/learning, research, and service functions of a university.

The discussion had close to 100 senior university reps identifying how their universities handled internationalization and provided tips and strategies for other institutions to better their education with an international focus. It is a fact that internationalization is now an integral part of Canadian [universities] and the main rationale for integrating an international dimension [is to prepare graduates who are internationally knowledgeable. Other goals include building partnerships with major institutions abroad, promoting advancement and diversity in course curriculum and programs, ensuring that research and scholarships cover both national and international issues, and to also respond to Canada's labour market needs.

The study and discussion explored several factors and their challenges when considering internationalization and each factor is discussed.

Organizational factors

Universities are encouraging their students to study abroad through university partnerships, student exchanges, or research collaboration. The way that universities set these agreements up is by first addressing them within their strategic or long-term plans and creating new jobs specifically dealing with internationalization.

Canadians studying abroad

Universities have recognized that there is strong interest coming from the students to study abroad, but they also realize that, in order to compete in today's globalized economy, Canadians with international and intercultural skills are necessary. However, financial barriers and credit transfer and recognition are hurdles that many Canadian students face when opting for international study.

Although a student's prior financial obligations makes studying abroad a hard sell, universities have been able to address the issue of curriculum exchange and credit transfer by requiring study abroad part of their programs, or offering an international experience credit with other courses. Further, because of time constraints in earning a degree, some universities are encouraging study or volunteer opportunities outside of the school year. With regards to credit equivalency, some institutions are only partnering with foreign schools that have passed formal accreditation systems.

There are additional safety, health and liability concerns when travelling abroad. Each university has their own program in place with regards to their students' safety abroad, but the AUCC discussion raised the concern for a greater coordination of existing mechanisms for emergency protocols and how important it is for students in the same country to be able to stay in contact with one another.

Other than an obvious language barrier, students aren't usually aware of the opportunities that their university provides them until a professor tells them and links international study to the curriculum. AUCC's study attempts to answer the question, what constitutes a significant international experience and the discussion resulted in the program including both for-credit and non-credit activities, such as co-ops, volunteering opportunities, independent studies, cultural tours, and other non-curricular activities.

Read part two: The challenges of internationalizing Canada's post-secondary curriculum.

Angelina Attisano is the assistant web editor with jobpostings.ca. She graduated with a degree in communication studies from Laurentian University, as well as an advertising diploma from Georgian College. She enjoys reading and writing, and also spending time with her friends and family. In the future, she sees herself working in public relations or event planning.

Photos: dell640/Thinkstock