Feridun Hamdullahpur is president and vice-chancellor of the University of Waterloo.
As economic winds blow to the East, educating global talent has never been more important.
By 2030, China and India will overtake the United States as the world’s top economies, while Indonesia and Turkey round out the top five.
This reordering of economic powers, forecast recently in a major study by global banking firm Standard Chartered PLC, means Western countries such as Canada will need to take immediate action to remain strong, innovative and economically relevant. This is sure to be an issue on the minds of many as the World Economic Forum takes place this week in Davos, where I am joining business, cultural and political leaders aiming to improve the world against a backdrop of trade tensions and protectionism.
The sort of action that is needed will only happen if we have the right talent with the right experience. While governments and business will play important roles in this endeavour, the postsecondary education sector is best poised to play a leadership role.
Through international education experience and research partnerships, as well as relationships that transcend relatively short geopolitical storms, universities of all sizes have the opportunity to reach out to the companies and educational institutions from every part of the world – not only to create long-lasting relationships, but to help achieve mutual goals in a decidedly divisive era.
We should be offering our students more opportunities to work in Beijing and Mumbai as easily as we do in Toronto and New York during their studies. Building partnerships through exchanges and co-operative education work placements will broaden the perspective of our students to see the impact they can make on a global scale and to make connections in markets that are continuously on the rise.
Combining global experiences and the skills to hit the ground running the moment our students earn their degrees allows them to quickly transfer this advantage to future employers. We’ve seen the power of this at the University of Waterloo. After developing the world’s largest co-op program and partnering with more than 6,900 employers, we’ve learned that students who take part in these co-op work placements build valuable relationships and on-the-job skills. This makes our students completely career-ready after graduation because they have upwards of two years of business experience before receiving a degree. Adding an international lens and developing broader cultural understanding through these co-op experiences are priceless attributes when joining a global-facing work force.
In fact, the European Commission’s most recent Erasmus Impact Study, which examines the effects of international education and employability, found that the unemployment rate of students who studied abroad was 23-per-cent lower than those who had remained in their home country. As the postsecondary sector looks outward, it must also look within at how it develops these opportunities.
Beyond building the needed partnerships in the East, it is imperative to refocus how we speak to our students internally. We must take the lead and actively offer and stress the importance of international opportunities and experiences, as a new necessity in a modern and well-rounded university education.
As the world grapples with the disruptive implications of artificial intelligence and next-generation computing, society is still sorting out how to fully leverage and modulate the power of the digital advancements, such as personal computers, smartphones and social media. The possibilities of these technologies to bring people around the world closer together to build, create and interact on a global scale remain relatively unexplored.
Regardless of the nationalistic and protectionist policies that are emerging in some countries, the future is a global one. Education continues to be a conduit that connects nations and people together in numerous ways.
Universities should be at the forefront of bridging the gap and society should embrace the connections to the next generation of global, economic engines. If we don’t, our nations in the West are sure to fall behind one business venture, one research discovery and one person at a time.