Mining the benefits of internationalization

Announcement at VIU of BC International Educat...
Announcement at VIU of BC International Education Strategy (Photo credit: Vancouver Island University)
Abu Kamara Issue No:253

International education is increasingly becoming a priority for governments around the world. As a result, most are implementing aggressive international student-friendly immigration policies to stay competitive in a pugnacious global international education market.

In a recent report, the Advisory Panel on Canada’s International Education, a government-backed initiative, identified international education as an important factor in Canada’s future prosperity. More than simply an international education strategy, the report represents the first time the Canadian government has invested significant resources in the development of a comprehensive, cross-sector and cross-province international education strategy.

In addition to highlighting the role of the federal government in the development of Canada’s international education capabilities, such as establishing an international education promotion initiative and increasing the number of study permits issued to international students, the report identifies provincial governments and the private sector as important actors in Canada’s bid for a bigger piece of the global international education market. For example, the report notes that the province of Ontario established the Ontario Trillium Scholarship programme in 2010, which provides $20 million in scholarship funding to doctoral international students.

Besides the contributions of provinces and territories, the report names private sector job opportunities and internships for international students as crucial for Canada’s overall internationalisation efforts. In all, the report identifies cross-sector, public/private partnerships as important for accessing important resources that could be leveraged to help Canada recruit, develop, support, and integrate international students.

International growth machines

In many ways, the sort of cross-sector, public/private partnerships identified in the report – those that encourage gatekeepers from the private sector, government and university to work together in the internationalisation of Canada – can be described as 'internationalisation growth machines'. This is primarily because the behaviours of the elites that comprise such partnerships are mainly motivated by growth and a general belief in the necessity and benefits of internationalisation.

Such informal partnerships among local university, business and government leaders deploy narratives that identify internationalisation as a growth mechanism that could be employed for addressing Canada’s demographic challenges, and for meeting its need for skilled human capital in an expanding global knowledge economy.

Some local leaders in Canada are already forming internationalisation growth machines as a way of overcoming local demographic and economic challenges. For instance, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, local university leaders are working with local businesses and government leaders to integrate international graduates into the local labour market.

Serving as the incubator of such partnerships, the greater Halifax partnership, a local economic development organisation that is jointly funded by three levels of government and the business sector, has initiated several projects that aim to unite local gatekeepers from the university, business and government sectors on mutually beneficial projects. The most recent example of a greater Halifax cross-sector internationalisation measure is the international student connector programme.

The programme leverages resources from universities, business and local government to connect international student graduates to local employment possibilities. The introduction of the international student connector programme should come as no surprise, given that a 2009 Nova Scotia government report noted that international students contributed over US$173 million to the local economy.

Local internationalisation growth machines, informal partnerships between university, government and the private sector leaders, like those encouraged by the greater Halifax partnership, seem to represent creative local solutions to demographic and economic challenges.

The benefits of international students

While not the main focus of internationalisation growth machine elites, the growth discourses they produce and deploy to generate support for various internationalisation initiatives – discourses such as those that highlight the economic and ‘creative’ contributions of international students in Canada – may prove to be powerful counter-narratives against discourses that ‘pathologise’ international students, overemphasising their weaknesses while only minimally acknowledging or even completely ignoring their strengths and contributions.

As the competition for skilled human capital increases, as demographic challenges become more pronounced, as the global demand for higher education increases, and as the amount of resources required for building and maintaining international education-related infrastructures expand, internationalisation growth machines will likely become more common.

As this happens, the information flow between sector leaders will likely improve and this will eventually lead to a narrowing of the remaining gaps among sector leaders. Two university-level initiatives in Canada that point at a growing willingness by university leaders to reach out to the private sector and government leaders include, respectively, the establishment of university industry liaison offices, and the creation of specific university positions to strengthen government and community engagement.

In the midst of federal government education funding cutbacks, which is increasing global competition for skilled human capital, internationalisation growth machines seem for some local leaders to represent a creative way of accessing resources that could help them address local challenges and stay competitive in the international education market.

In so doing, they may just be ushering in the future of international education, a future that will most likely be dominated by super internationalisation growth machines, taking the model to an international level. However, regulating these will not be easy.

Abu Kamara is a PhD candidate at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia in Canada, with interests in internationalisation, international students, intercultural education and identity politics.
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