Opinion: Our students aren’t equipped to deal with globalization

Today, our graduates are competing with their peers all over the world for the jobs of tomorrow. At the current rate of growth, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development estimates that there will 200 million 25- to 34-year-olds with a higher education degree by 2020. Canadians will only account for two per cent of that population. For our students, global peers will soon become both competitors and colleagues. To be relevant 21st century educators, we must equip students with the skills they need to be able to collaborate and compete in a global workforce.

Introducing students to global perspectives by opening campus doors to international students is a critical step toward that end. And while greater study abroad opportunities are another mechanism to ensure international experience, that can be cost-prohibitive for many students, especially those who are economically disadvantaged. Just two per cent of Canadian students studied abroad last year, a number that has remained constant for decades despite student-mobility initiatives being promoted at every university in Canada.

Universities are driven by the mission to educate and prepare students for the future, so it is therefore imperative that we create classrooms that are more reflective of today’s competitive and globalized work environment.

The millennial generation has grown up in a time like no other — where technology is opening our borders at an ever-quickening pace. These students are beginning to demand and deserve a more diverse university experience. Realizing that students stay the same age while we administrators only grow older, Navitas recently conducted a poll of 18- to 25-year-olds to better understand perceptions and expectations of internationalization, and over 90 per cent of those surveyed felt it was important to be exposed to world views that are different than theirs.

Even more important, two out of three hiring managers say Canada is at risk of being left behind dynamic global economies like China, India and Brazil unless young Canadians learn to think more globally. This is driving student demand — the overwhelming majority of 18- to 25-year-olds polled believed that employers’ interest in international experience made exposure to other cultures more appealing and urgent.

The good news is that there is already high demand among international students to study outside of their home countries. According to the latest data from the Canadian Bureau for International Education, there were 336,000 international students studying in Canada in the 2014-15 school year, and that number has been growing year-over-year. Yet, those international students are densely concentrated at only a handful of institutions, resulting in a deficit of experience for the vast majority of our domestic students. After 10 years of partnership, former Fraser International College students now account for over 3,500 of the total international enrollments at Simon Fraser University, which is roughly one per cent of the total number of international students in the country. There are well over 200 colleges and universities across the country, so the fact that one program at one school should represent even one per cent means that our higher education systems are not doing enough to make this a priority.

Universities cannot know what jobs may be available, or what skills students may need ten, or even five, years down the road, but certainly we can predict that the trend of borderless economies will continue. If higher education in our country is going to keep pace and stay relevant, every classroom needs to reflect this new global reality.

[This story from Christa Ovenell was published in the Vancouver Sun.]