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In my opinion

Taking an ethical approach to internationalization

It involves more than recruiting international students to solve domestic economic concerns.


Internationalization has long been an important part of Canadian higher education, and in the 21st century we have become increasingly international in all of our activities. For over 20 years, Canadian universities have been seriously competing for international students and this has intensified as revenues from provincial governments have tightened and overall domestic enrolment projections fall. This increased effort in international recruitment has been accompanied by a steady chorus of complaints about the lack of a coherent national effort to promote Canada on the international education stage. Without a strong federal presence, promotional efforts by organizations like the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada and the Canadian Bureau for International Education can have only marginal impacts.

The absence of any federal strategy has been a major reason why Canada lags behind other developed nations in attracting international students. Despite this, many Canadian universities, colleges, institutes and school districts, with varying levels of support from their provincial governments, have been successful on the international stage. The latest internationalization report by AUCC bears witness to this success. And Canadian institutions benefit by being seen as providing a consistently high quality and safe learning environment where students from around the world can get an excellent international education experience, as CBIE’s annual internationalization performance report demonstrates.

International education is clearly on the agenda of the federal government, as demonstrated by the appointment of the Advisory Panel on Canada’s International Education Strategy and the subsequent announcement in 2014 of Canada’s International Education Strategy by Foreign Affairs, Trade, and Development Canada. The focus is very much on recruiting international students and using that talent towards meeting Canada’s economic needs for the future. The Internationalization Leaders Network (ILN), created by CBIE, had its first meeting in Montreal in fall of 2012, at the same time that the report of the advisory panel was published.

As a group of senior education leaders, the members of the ILN (composed of education leaders from CBIE member institutions, including presidents, provosts, vice-presidents, and associate vice-presidents) were struck by the multiplicity of voices and players joining the internationalization field, and the staggering array of motivations and expectations. While supporting the report’s conclusion that expanding the number of international students in Canada is critically important, the ILN participants determined that this needed to be done within the context of an ethical approach in order to ensure that Canada did not repeat the mistakes of some other countries in expanding their international education business at the expense of quality and concern for the well-being of all involved. The ILN members concluded that it was time to develop a set of ethical principles by which Canadian educational institutions could be guided as they expand their international presence and increase their recruitment of international students, enabling them to navigate a sea of varied and variable interests.

While much has been written, discussed and debated on what constitutes internationalization, it is generally accepted to be the process of integrating international, intercultural and global dimensions and perspectives into the purpose, functions and delivery of education, and as such it impacts upon the entire educational enterprise. Additionally internationalization aims to educate students to become global citizens with attributes such as openness to and understanding of other worldviews, empathy for people with different backgrounds and experience to one’s own, the capacity to value diversity, and respect for indigenous peoples and knowledge.

It is clear that internationalization involves more than the recruitment of international students to solve specific domestic economic concerns, and has broader and wider goals that involve mutually beneficial relationships between the host country and providing countries and their respective institutions. A Canadian statement of principles is both necessary and timely during an era of unprecedented globalization and international mobility, where the growth of international education is being driven by a mixture of cultural, educational, economic and philanthropic factors. The full text of the statement of principles can be found on the CBIE website, but the essence of the seven “Principles for Internationalization” is that internationalization should ideally be incorporated in the core mission of an institution; that it be student-centred, equitable and inclusive; that, while recognizing the importance of fiscal imperatives, they should not dictate the internationalization agenda; that there must be mutual benefit to all parties involved; and that internationalization is a vital means to achieving global-level civic engagement, social justice and social responsibility and, ultimately, the common good.

These principles, while universal in nature and application, are rooted in Canada’s national experience, including a stable, democratic, federal system of government and vastly diverse, multicultural society; and they are designed to help educational institutions expand their engagement in internationalization in a manner that is consistent with the highest values of Canadian education. Any university that wants to be ranked highly on a global scale must be fully engaged in internationalization, and that doesn’t mean simply recruiting international undergraduates. It also means taking a leading role in partnerships that involve international research, academic programs, and increased student mobility. By adopting and following these principles, Canadian institutions will be telling the world that we conduct our international educational activities at the highest level of ethical behaviour.

An ethical approach is essential if Canada is to be successful in its desire to become a leading destination for international students and a world-class player in international research and education.

Peter Ricketts is provost and vice-president (academic) at Carleton University and chair of the Internationalization Leaders’ Network. Jennifer Humphries is vice-president for membership, public policy and communications at the Canadian Bureau for International Education.

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