The following op-ed was published in Embassy, September 10, 2014.
By the Hon. Perrin Beatty, president and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and Paul Davidson, president of Universities Canada
For all its connectedness, today’s global marketplace requires much navigation. Understanding the nuances of international commerce, politics, culture and language has become increasingly important to Canada’s economy. Whether it’s to pitch a new product, analyze trade patterns, or navigate licensing, the business need for globally aware graduates of higher education has never been greater.
Increasingly, Canada has those graduates. And in the federal government’s International Education Strategy, we see a critical commitment to internationalize the education of more Canadians and recruit more students from abroad who may meet our talent needs. This strategy has the potential to strengthen Canada’s hand in the competition for global talent, while improving our research linkages around the world.
The first comprehensive plan of its kind, the International Education Strategy is designed to bolster Canada’s international reputation for excellence in higher education and research. It aims to double the number of international students in Canada by 2022 and lays out a blueprint for enhancing Canada’s education brand abroad, particularly in six priority markets: Brazil, India, China, Vietnam, Mexico and North Africa/the Middle East, including Turkey.
The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce welcomed the strategy as a positive step toward making Canada more innovative in a fiercely competitive global marketplace. As we develop and implement the best mechanisms needed to make a solid impact, we are ready to add our input and expertise.
Recognition of the importance of international education is growing. As a relatively young country of immigrants, Canadians know how doors can open when there is a common understanding among communities. That understanding comes from a well-educated workforce with global perspective and experience. The federal government’s Global Markets Action Plan, a global commerce strategy acknowledges that by targeting education as a priority sector and the attraction of talent as a goal.
Students today who have chosen to include studies beyond our borders as part of their education have broadened their view and seen the potential of the world. As graduates and new employees, they will know what it looks and feels like to work in another country.
Far from a luxury, industry needs students to have global experiences, to gain a cultural awareness that can’t come from a textbook, and to equip themselves with languages driving commerce in growing overseas markets.
Sending Canadian students abroad is one side of the coin. The other side is opening our doors to students from abroad. Beyond the diverse perspectives and experiences these individuals bring to Canada, international students could be a source for talent acquisition for Canada’s future labour market, helping us to address skills shortages and slowing labour force growth.
International research is an equally valuable focus of the strategy, fostering partnerships for Canada’s top scientists to collaborate with the best minds in the world and help us attract top foreign talent. With new funding for international research, the Canada First Research Excellence Fund is a tangible recognition of the connection between a vibrant, innovative and competitive Canadian economy and a world-class research system that always sets its sights higher.
Our universities are the subject of global attention for everything from innovation in nanotechnology to understanding the human genome. The attention is well-earned. Canadian university faculty members are among the most collaborative in the world.
As we work out the details that will make this new strategy as effective as it can be, all parties must be at the table – government, business and higher education. Now is the time to move Canada’s International Education Strategy forward. Now is the time to get it right. The consequences of doing anything less are too high. The global marketplace is contending. We cannot be outpaced.
As representatives of business and universities, we have separate memberships and our own organizational goals. But our paths cross as we work as representatives of Canada. Whether it’s connecting on a trade mission or working with governments, the bigger picture emerges in our shared desire to keep Canada competitive and prosperous. We want graduates of higher education to have the global skills imperative for our changing world, and the International Education Strategy will help accomplish this.
It’s time for Canada to invest in making the vision of the International Education Strategy become a reality. As partners in education and business, we’re on board.
Paul Davidson is president of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada.
Perrin Beatty is president and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.
About Universities Canada
Universities Canada is the voice of Canada’s universities at home and abroad, advancing higher education, research and innovation for the benefit of all Canadians.