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The Globalization of Education

February 2, 2011

The Globe and Mail has launched a sophisticated series looking at the globalization of education and Canada’s ability to compete. Part of its monthly “Leading Thinkers” series, this month’s edition features video interviews with (among others) UBC president Stephen Toope, Yuen Pau Woo of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, and Governor General (and former principal of McGill and president of Waterloo) David Johnston.

Interestingly, both Yuen Pau Woo and David Johnston offer explanations for why we should teach and train foreign students who, upon graduating, leave Canada and return home. They argue that foreign students trained here ultimately become leaders in their home countries, but retain emotional and personal ties to Canada. They represent a “Canadian diaspora” – projecting a positive image of Canada abroad and providing real advantages for trade and politics.

There is some political resistance at home, suggesting we should be supporting our own students first,  but it misses the point. Globalization has affected the competition for talent in education and research as much as any other sector of the economy. And some countries, notably Australia and the UK, have recognized that associating yourself with the next generation’s best and brightest is a smart investment.

In an excerpt from his book “The Great Brain Race”, author Ben Wildavsky describes the global competition for graduates of India’s elite Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) as an example of how pitched the battle can become. Here, an innovative program from MITACS called Globalink has brought more than 100 undergraduate IIT students to Canada to perform short-term research projects on campuses across the country. Whether these students stay in Canada for graduate studies and beyond is less important than the lasting connections between Canada and the IIT students.

Kudos to the Globe for presenting a thoughtful and impressive series.

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