A Road to Nowhere? Ontario’s International Postsecondary Education Strategy

By Diane Simpson

On Thursday the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development launched their International Postsecondary Education Strategy 2018 – Educating Global Citizens, Realizing the Benefits of International Postsecondary Education.  The strategy comes after two years of consultation with students, institutions, community and industry members to build a plan that speaks to the diverse needs of institutions across the province.

At the launch reception the minister’s message was clear: this is about attracting more international students to Ontario, while providing some intercultural opportunities for domestic students.

The Strategy

The strategy itself reads a bit differently and is founded on three laudable principles – creating global citizens, contributing to Ontario’s communities and economy, and striving for sustainability.  It recognizes much of the work already taking place at institutions across the province: student mobility, international partnerships, and internationalization of on-campus services. And serves as a call to institutions to do better in these areas and learn from those institutions who are system leaders.

Alex Usher’s blog in April on the shortcomings of national international education strategies ring true for this strategy –  it provides a truncated list of what is already happening with some reference to increased targets and funding for mobility, transition between international student status and immigration, and ensuring everyone gets a piece of the pie to promote sustainability.

But the strategy is problematic, even as a typical international education strategy.  The principles and goals are not reflective of the vision which sets the aspiration of Ontario becoming “a world-class destination for international students, supporting a strong economy and the enrichment of education for all students, communities and the province”.

Where are the global citizens in this vision?  The strategy seems to struggle with the ongoing dichotomies existing between international students, domestic students and the internationalization of higher education.  These issues were raised at the recent symposium, Internationalization in Higher Education: New Trends and Future Directions for Ontario.

From this perspective there are three key areas of concern with the strategy.

Measuring success and cleaning up terminology

There is little mention of specific targets or measurable outcomes in the strategy, which is not surprising.  But in order to track any kind of impact specific targets will need to be established and clarity given to terms especially for tracking outbound mobility.

This is a long-standing and on-going issue not only in the province but across the country.  Shared definitions are needed to ensure in-program mobility is understood and tracked in a consistent way across the province.  If this alone is achieved, it will put Ontario ahead of other provinces.

Working as one system of post-secondary education

A post-secondary strategy requires all institutions to work together to achieve the objectives set out in the plan. Ontario’s binary system has long limited mobility between college and university programs within the province, to go beyond borders for academic credit continues to be problematic for students.

For international students beginning a program at a college in the more remote areas of Ontario, are there attractive mobility pathways to further credentials in other parts of the province? Systems that have achieved greater international mobility of students have gone through extensive curriculum mapping to ease mobility for students. We are far from this in Ontario.

The ongoing distinction between International versus domestic students

We need to recognize the diversity that exists on our campuses and within our student populations – especially in the GTA. When you walk around campus you cannot determine who is an international student and who is a domestic student – a distinction that is based solely on status in Canada.  Many of our “domestic” students come into college or university direct from an international education system, they face many of the same challenges that international students face.  Many of our international students are keen to and do participate in study abroad and mobility programs as a part of their post-secondary experience.

Minister Hunter rightly pointed out that students are at the forefront of the strategy.  International students do not spend their time in college or university as ‘international’ students, but rather as students connected to a specific program or discipline. Connecting with and integrating to a community on campus is key to student success. Hence, let’s focus on how all of our students can become global citizens through intercultural learning opportunities, mobility programs, and positive contributions to local, regional and global economies.

What to Expect?

Educating Global CitizensOverall the strategy, while touching on many key aspects of international education, is light on substance and doesn’t read as a comprehensive strategy with clear goals and targets. It includes a lot of what institutions are already doing with some take-aways for the government to work on – health an wellness of international students, immigration and working with industry.

Like many international education strategies there are no clear timelines, targets or measurables to substantiate the goals. With a provincial election starting this week, this may end up being a promising start to something that is never realized.

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