Omer Aziz ArtSci ’12
How will the world look in 2050? Questions such as this one occupy the daily lives of many international relations students and consultants, yet rarely does such forward-thinking shape the one area that will determine the Canadian economy of tomorrow: education.
“Globalization” — the omnipresent buzzword of our generation — has already transformed national economies and international politics, but within Canada, it has yet to fully impact higher education. As the globalization of education intensifies, Canada is being left behind in what has become a global pursuit of talent and innovation. Take Queen’s as a microcosm. Canada ranks a respectable 10th in global education rankings by The Economist Intelligence Unit and Queen’s undoubtedly fares better than its peers in annual Globe and Mail report cards. However, Queen’s has merely a single exchange program in China and a single program in India.There are a handful of courses on, say, Chinese history and the Middle East as regions with increasing clout.
Such a minimal presence in the regions that will shape the future and too little diversity in course offerings is a distressing trend that needs addressing. Based on my conversations with students who have gone to emerging countries for exchange or would like to, insufficient demand is hardly the reason for this lack of internationalism. A more plausible reason is that budgetary and strategic priorities at both the governmental and the administration level have been misplaced while long-term planning has been effectively jettisoned.
The current financial model is a central part of the problem.
Highly regulated fee-structures and policy inertia have led to an ossified system at a time when Canada needs policy innovation and flexibility. Professor Kim Richard Nossal of Queen’s told me in a recent exchange that entrenched interests ranging from governments and professors to students and parents wish to see the status-quo maintained for their own reasons, thereby hamstringing quality education policy to the detriment of students.
Canada will survive the budget cuts to the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and Ontario may muddle through with a flawed education model.Without more universities and provincial governments investing in globalized education to create international opportunities for graduates, Canada won’t be able to keep pace with competitors decades down the road.
Today, almost three million students study outside of their native countries — a 57 per cent increase over the past decade. There are over 140 satellite campuses around the globe, up 43 per cent in just three years. Globalized education is a phenomenon already upon us, yet only 12 per cent of Canadian students receive international exposure during their undergraduate years, compared to 20 per cent of American students and 33 per cent of German students.
The evidence suggests Canada is falling behind. The country needs more scholarships for study abroad programs, more incentives to lure top foreign-students to come to our shores, and less bureaucracy for highly skilled students wishing to stay here. Twenty-five university presidents met with Canadian parliamentarians last year to discuss this very topic. Their message: we need more Canadaian students going on exchange and more international students coming here.
Partial solutions to such a systemic problem include deregulating fees, to be offset by greater bursaries and scholarships based on socioeconomic status; establishing research centers abroad; developing more partnerships in emerging economies; and funding more exchange programs. A nationwide program supported by businesses, governments, and universities to fund exchanges should be the ultimate goal.
Government alone can’t solve this problem, though it is the logical place to start.
Investing in globalized education means investing in Canadian students and in the Canadian economy. According to the Canadian Bureau for International Education, 91 per cent of employers said they value candidates with international exposure. Foreign students generate over 80,000 jobs in Canada and $8 billion in spending.
The long-term advantages are even greater as the 21st-century knowledge economy will require a 21st-century workforce.
Canada may become an energy superpower this century, but we should aim to become a knowledge superpower as well.
Other universities have a head start in this race for global talent. This year, Yale will open a college in collaboration with the National University of Singapore, placing itself at the heart of Asia’s most competitive economy. New York University opened its much-heralded Abu Dhabi campus in 2010. Columbia has research centers in Jordan, China, India and France.
A combination of effective fundraising, support from host governments — themselves craving Western educational institutions — and gifts from donors have mitigated the financial impediments to global expansion for these universities.
Rana Sarkar, ArtSci ’93 and most recently President of the Canada India Business Council, told me that funding and network development are crucial to a targeted “going global” strategy. These have been missing from Canada’s playbook in general and Queen’s in particular.
With going global, there also needs to be a strategy put in place to turn Canada into an international magnet for talent. Let’s start by building more innovation hubs. America has the Silicon Valley-Stanford-Wall Street nexus of innovation, education, and financing. Bangalore has become a regional hub for India’s IT sector. In January, the Brookings Institution in Washington published a paper advocating for the creation of 25 innovation hubs as the surest path to full employment in the US.
Regional hubs at the intersection of business, government, and universities will help Canada out-compete and out-innovate other countries and will create an environment more favourable to innovative ideas and inventions.
So, to answer the question of how the world will look in 2050: very different than how it looks today, by every metric. Considering how often students are lectured to “plan ahead,” perhaps our university presidents, business leaders and government officials should get planning.
Omer was a summer associate in the Global Public Sector division of Deloitte.
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