In the run-up to the Canadian Federal Election that takes place next month, Universities Canada is urging the government to increase the international mobility of students in the country.

Universities Canada, the self-proclaimed “national voice for Canadian universities”, is a membership organisation representing 97 public and private not-for-profit universities and degree-level colleges. As the political ballot approaches, the organisation has prompted the country’s next government to “encourage a culture of mobility” among Canadian students.

In a pledge titled, “Election 2015: Crossing Borders, Opening Minds”, Universities Canada highlight that if the government were to invest in a “bold programme of support” for short-term domestic and international student mobility as part of the October 19th election, university graduates would leave with a heightened global perspective which would lead to greater graduate prospects.

The brief states: “Studying and working abroad transforms Canadian students into global citizens, helping them develop intercultural awareness, adaptability and problem-solving skills.It also gives them a hiring edge with today’s employers.

Leaving one’s home province to study can also be a transformative experience, increasing students’ understanding of the diverse cultures, histories and values that make up our country.”

The document states that learning overseas deepens the students’ awareness of the diversity within global communities, which strengthens bonds between students, faculty and campuses not only within Canada, but right across the world; yet the lack of mobility amongst Canadian students risks the country falling behind its international competitors.

“Too few Canadian students, however, benefit from the mobility experience that can prepare them to enter a globalised labour market,” the brief explains, “Improving the international and interprovincial mobility of university students is a crucial step in developing our next generation of leaders and sharpening Canada’s competitive edge.”

According to Universities Canada, eighty-two per cent of employers that hire recruits with international and intercultural experiences say employees with cross-cultural knowledge and an understanding of the global marketplace enhance their company’s competitiveness.

Yet in 2012-13, just 3.1 per cent (about 25,000) of full-time undergraduates in Canada had a short-term international experience, while only 2.6 per cent had a for-credit experience abroad. Universities Canada points out that these figures have remained steady over the past eight years.

Universities Canada has not laid out a specific mobility plan for students to follow, but the organisation proposed that interprovincial and international experiences could be integrated as for-credit parts of academic programmes, and could include a broad range of experiences including exchanges, research, field schools and community service.

A spokesperson from the organisation told The PIE News: “We are working with our membership and other stakeholders to both advance support for the idea of increased student mobility, and to discuss the best mechanisms for developing such a programme.

“Ultimately, we’d like to see more students study in different parts of Canada and in a broader set of countries.”

Currently, 97 per cent of Canadian universities offer their students international experiences, and 92 per cent have reciprocal exchange agreements with foreign partner institutions, but only one in ten young Canadians cross their provincial border to complete their degree programme.

The reason so few Canadian students are seeking education abroad appears to be largely financial, since 91 per cent of universities say that lack of funding or financial support is one of the top three reasons for low student mobility rates, with more than 50 per cent citing it as the top reason, despite 78 per cent of institutions providing funding to support student participation in study abroad programs.

Last year, the Canadian Bureau for International Education (CBIE) called for the government to revise its approach to international education and “mobilise a critical mass of our next generation”, and low numbers of outbound students were described as the “‘Achilles’ heel in Canada’s aspirations for greater global engagement and competitiveness.”

The CBIE suggested that by 2015, the Canadian government should allocate a minimum of 10,000 scholarships worth CAN$1,000 to support student mobility, and called for a push to increase the number of outbound Canadians up to 15 per cent of total students, but no noticeable change has occurred.

Universities Canada notes that improving mobility for Canadian students is a tough and ongoing challenge, but that Canada’s approach to mobility must put greater emphasis on new study destinations, as well as provisions for non-traditional learners who face unique barriers when it comes to studying away from home.

The brief states: “Canadian students prefer to gain international experience in major western European and English-speaking nations, rather than countries such as China, Brazil and India which are strategic priority countries for Canada.

“Encouraging students to develop experience and linguistic skills in these emerging economies is essential to growing a globally competitive Canadian economy.”

The document forms part of a series of briefs released by the organisation in the run-up to the election; the other documents address jobs and skills, reducing the gap on indigenous education, and research and innovation.

Image via Shutterstock.

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