By Fatema Hossain and Hiroyoshi Hiratsuka

The internationalization of higher education has become embedded in policy and institutional-level discourse not only in Canada but around the world. Many universities are formulating and implementing internationalization strategies with diverse aims ranging from enhancing institutional reputations and competitiveness, deeper engagement in cross-border services and trade, improving students’ preparedness for the global job market, and to support the diversification of their student and faculty body.

The University of Toronto is amongst the institutions embracing the discourse of internationalization, and at the first CIHE Speakers Series of 2017 on January 19, Dr. Edward (Ted) Sargent, Vice President, International shared his vision for formulating an internationalization strategy for the university.

slide1After a formal welcome by OISE Dean Glen Jones, Dr. Sargent described what he and his office envision for the University of Toronto’s internationalization strategy, and provided a series of goals that he believes should be the university’s priorities. In his presentation, Dr. Sargent envisioned U of T’s research and teaching contributing to solving global issues, such as exploring new ways to generate and store energy from not only solar power but also from CO2.

He also envisions encouraging mobility through existing research and teaching partnerships. Dr. Sargent would like to expand opportunities for faculty and students to research and study outside of Canada in order to gain intercultural learning experiences. U of T’s internationalization strategy, he believes, will enhance the university’s global reputation and competitiveness for its research, education, and social services while meeting companies’ demand for a globally prepared workforce.

During the discussion that followed Dr. Sargent’s presentation, three interesting and important themes emerged.

Firstly, when Dr. Sargent spoke about increasing students’ and faculty members’ opportunities for cross-cultural experience across the campuses, we wondered whether the university is doing enough to leverage the current level of cultural diversity at U of T. Here, the distinction between ‘domestic’ and ‘international’ students can often feel artificial when many students have recently arrived in Canada but are divided on the basis of their current immigration status. With more than half of the population of Toronto being born outside of Canada, students who have been brought up locally are more likely to have a rich and varied cultural and ethnic background than the ‘domestic’ label implies.

Diversity does not just come from the university’s local community. Dr Sargent noted that U of T has received 70% more applicants from the US was linked implicitly to the university’s recruitment efforts. Yet there are broader factors at play, not least the current political situation in America. There are also economic considerations given the lower value of the Canadian dollar against its US counterpart, and cultural factors, with Canada often being viewed as a model for tolerance and inclusivity. For American students, Canada may represent an opportunity to study away from home but in a familiar environment.

slide1Finally, Dr. Sargent opened up the possibilities of U of T cooperating with other universities in ways that could go well beyond department-to-department collaboration. These can often form the starting point for cooperation, such as in the example of mutual working between the Physics department and University of Tokyo. Rather than limiting the partnership, the suggestion was that deeper links be built with the partner university. The decentralized nature of the U of T does mean, however, that an important first step is to ascertain just what links are already in existence across the many parts of the university before seeking to build on these.

Look out for further opportunities to engage with U of T’s internationalization strategizing in the near future.