Thursday, December 16, 2010

Douglas is a leader in international education

Our Douglas International team was recently honored with a President’s Award for Team Excellence. That gives me a nice opportunity to highlight our success and leadership in international education. And I also want to share some observations from my trip to China in October.

Our leadership in international education is truly impressive. On average at Canadian Colleges, 5.85% of the student body is composed of international students. At Douglas College, we have about 800 international students at our Lower Mainland campuses, plus another 1,000 students studying in our joint degree programs at Shanghai Institute of Foreign Trade (SIFT) and at Heilongjiang Institute of Science and Technology (HIST). Most of these students are studying full time, and so close to 20% of our student population is composed of international students.

Moreover, most Canadian institutions running programs in other countries do not have joint degree programs like ours, where students can complete their degree at their home institution. Instead, they run a recruitment-focused 2+2 model, or a variant of that model, where students need to study in Canada for a year or more in order to complete the degree.

I was in Shanghai in October to present a paper [PDF] on how internationalization in education unfolds in three phases:

The first is recruitment of international students.

The second phase is introduction of student mobility programs and study abroad opportunities.

The third phase is full integration and participation of international perspectives (which includes the first two phases).

The presentation sparked a lively conversation with our friends at SIFT, who observed that many institutions are stuck in phase one. SIFT is well ahead of the game and engaging in Phase 3, and over the past 14 years, Douglas College has been a huge part of their internationalization efforts.

It’s truly amazing what the leadership at SIFT is attempting to do. Let us not for one moment assume that China is an underdeveloped country simply trying to clone western ways. They are in fact leapfrogging us, which is delightful to see.

If you are fortunate enough to visit China, you might be surprised by how much the reality differs from the stereotypes held by many Canadians. I saw first hand how China is placing a huge priority on post-secondary education. They are clearly developing a rock-solid economy and average wages are on the rise. At the same time, China is engaging in important social and political reforms.

Here in Canada, international education contributes $6.8 billion to the national economy, and BC’s share of that is worth over $2 billion. International education is one of BC’s largest export industries!

Douglas College is currently working with Mayor Stewart of Coquitlam and with Mayor Wright of New Westminster to quantify the value of international education to the economies of those cities. Both mayors see potential to increase that contribution.

It's wonderful that international education contributes so much to the economy. And it also contributes significantly to the College, allowing us to offer more courses and more services to our domestic students.

But the main reason to make internationalization a key theme in our strategic plan [PDF] is not economic. Rather, the main value of internationalization lies in creating greater understanding of other cultures and perspectives. I believe that greater understanding between cultures is essential for global harmony and prosperity. That is the true value of internationalization and the work in this area will better prepare our students for global citizenship.

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