Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Welcoming international students is good for Douglas, good for local students

At Douglas College, we welcome Premier Christy Clark's plan to increase the number of international students studying in B.C.

Her proposal brings important issues to the forefront of public consciousness, but it has also stirred up some misconceptions about international education.

Some suggest that international students are free-riding on taxpayer-funded education infrastructure. A more serious claim is that international students take classroom seats away from local students, and that post-secondary institutions feel pressure to allow this to happen since international students are profitable.

None of this is true at Douglas College.

Our international students pay full freight for the services and infrastructure they use. And they do not take seats away from local students. In fact, the opposite is true: they allow us to expand our offerings to Canadian students.

The provincial government does not subsidize international students’ education in B.C. At Douglas, international students pay five times what domestic students pay. This year, those fees allow Douglas to create spaces for an additional 375 full-time domestic students. Those fees also allow us to hire an additional 55 faculty members as well as additional support staff. International students also pay their fair share of services such as libraries, and they even contribute to capital costs.

These data come from an internal audit of the contribution of international students, which we have shared with the provincial government.

This academic year – 2011/2012 – Douglas College will welcome approximately 1,000 international students, representing over 50 countries. That’s up 17% from last year, and up 75% from just three years ago. International students now represent about 10% of our total student body, and their experiences and perspectives enhance our classrooms.

But welcoming international students to B.C. is only part of a modern concept of internationalized education. At Douglas, we are also expanding opportunities for our own students and faculty to have international experiences, through partnerships with institutions and agencies abroad. We are delivering programs overseas. And we are adding international dimensions to our teaching as well as to our research and service functions at our local campuses.

This year, about 120 Douglas College students will participate in field schools, exchanges, internships and practicums in Uganda, Zambia, Australia, Belize, the U.S., Wales, Japan, Korea, Switzerland and China. More of these incredible, life-changing opportunities are being added every year as we work toward our longer-term goal to give every student an opportunity to participate in an international experience.

Douglas College has been delivering business programs in China since 1998. With our largest partner, the Shanghai Institute of Foreign Trade (SIFT), we have graduated 1,186 students so far. Today’s cohort can earn a Bachelor of Economics and Management from SIFT, as well as Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration (Financial Services) from Douglas. These students are helping meet the growing demand for international financial management specialists in China's fast-growing economy.

These partnerships create valuable international teaching, research and expertise-sharing opportunities for our faculty members, who bring those experiences back to enrich our local classrooms.

I look forward to introducing Premier Clark to our partners in China during her trip to Asia in November.

All these activities are part of a conscious effort to prepare our students – the next generation of political, social, cultural and economic participants — to live and work in a culturally diverse world. This is especially important for B.C. where immigration from other countries accounts for approximately 68% of our population growth and where hundreds of thousands of jobs are directly related to trade.

International students are certainly positive for B.C.'s economy. But international education is not about harvesting premium student fees. It's about transforming education by enriching our understanding of ourselves and others who share the planet. As our students learn to appreciate how people from different nations and cultures see the world, they gain insights into interactions between individuals and nations. This inter-cultural understanding promotes the spread of human rights and democracy.

We believe that international education is essential to the core mission of post-secondary institutions to develop rational and empathetic individuals who can contribute to a respectful and peaceful global society, both locally and globally. --Scott

On the same topic, check out this Oct. 4, 2011 story from the Tri-City News.

[Oct. 13 update: a version of my blog post was published in the Vancouver Sun today.]

[Oct. 18 update: more in the Vancouver Sun. See "Bringing the world to B.C.'s postsecondary schools"]

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