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Due to the transnational nature of today’s urgent challenges, addressing issues such as climate change, geopolitical strife, economic competition and health crises requires international collaboration.

At the same time, leaders in many countries are turning to more protectionist policies for reasons related to national security, social cohesion and support for businesses at home. “The experience during the pandemic served to illustrate where Canada is vulnerable,” says Pari Johnston, president and CEO of Colleges and Institutes Canada. “It also reinforced the need to partner with countries around the world to tackle shared challenges.”

Canada has strong international connections, bilateral and multilateral trade agreements and many other collaborations, she explains. “It’s also a country that relies on welcoming newcomers in large numbers to support our societal fabric, our economy and our future growth.”

This complex environment requires balancing a global outlook with local impact, and Canada’s colleges and institutes are up to the task, Ms. Johnston says. “Colleges and institutes are an important force for good and play a key role in enabling success in the face of change. They work to ensure their students, faculty, staff, partners and communities are prepared to face ongoing and emerging challenges. Colleges and institutes do this by providing leading-edge programs designed to meet labour market needs even as they shift in a competitive environment.”

One major shift relates to the “changing nature of work,” she notes. As workplace cultures are evolving, including with teams who collaborate across geographic locations and disciplines, “workers now require new skills, including the ability to adapt, be creative, solve problems, innovate and work well with others, which calls for intercultural competencies.”

Such competencies can be gained and deepened through international experience, to which colleges and institutes are providing students access through the Global Skills Opportunity (GSO) program, an initiative that began in 2019 in partnership with Universities Canada and with support from the federal government.

As a mobility program for Canadian college and university students, GSO relies on – and helps to strengthen – connections with international partners. In Canada, a focus on non-traditional participants and non-traditional destinations “means we’re reaching a student population that would normally not have these opportunities,” says Ms. Johnston. “It also means we’re reaching new partners in places beyond the U.S. and Western Europe, for example, in the Indo-Pacific, Africa and South America, regions that will be important future partners for Canada.”

The impact has been substantial, with 6,600 students having participated in diverse study, work and internship experiences in over 100 countries, she says. “About 75 per cent of participating students come from under-represented demographics, including from low-income households, racialized backgrounds, Indigenous communities or groups experiencing disability.”

To underline the value of the program, Ms. Johnston cites examples of Indigenous students from Camosun College connecting with Maori traditions in New Zealand, justice studies students from Saskatchewan Polytechnic meeting their counterparts in Ireland, and dental students from Durham College creating memories in Costa Rica.

" Colleges and institutes are an important force for good and play a key role in enabling success in the face of change.

Pari Johnston
President and CEO of Colleges and Institutes Canada (CICan)

GSO graduates return home and “apply the skills they’ve learned in their communities,” says Ms. Johnston. “As our future business, community and government leaders, their international experience will allow them to thrive in an increasingly globalized environment, whether they work with businesses that are part of global supply chains, for example, or create homes or services for newcomers.

“Canada needs a permanent stream of globally competitive talent,” she adds. “That means permanent funding for programs like GSO that not only benefit students and employers but also help learning institutions increase their capacity to deliver safe, enriching and accessible international study- and work-abroad opportunities now and in the future.”

Study- and work-abroad opportunities are only one component of “the internationalization agenda of colleges and institutes, which is multi-dimensional,” Ms. Johnston explains. “Another part is welcoming international students to our institutions, where they can gain skills that help them succeed either in their home countries or here in Canada.”

International students come with their own cultural backgrounds and perspectives, and this creates an enriched environment of learning and exchange in classrooms and communities, she notes. “They are also our future ambassadors and business partners. And if they choose to stay in Canada, they will be among our most successful and hardest working entrepreneurs and innovators.”

International students contribute more than $22-billion a year to the economy and play a vital role in meeting labour market needs and driving economic growth, particularly in high-demand sectors like construction and manufacturing, food services, technology and health care. As Ms. Johnson notes, Canada’s publicly supported colleges and institutes sincerely appreciate international students and recognize their institutional responsibility to welcome and support them.

“It’s part of our responsibility to uphold Canada’s education brand as a go-to destination for post-secondary education and to ensure support for these students remains strong and robust,” she says. “That includes quality resources to support their education, social integration and mental health. We also need coherent study permit policies to support skilled students coming to train at our institutions, something now put at great risk with the introduction of a new federal cap on the number of international students coming to Canada.”

In that way, internationalization efforts at Canadian educational institutions go hand in hand with a steadfast commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion, Ms. Johnston adds. “By working to improve outcomes for students, partners and communities, both at home and abroad, colleges and institutes make a key contribution to a ‘future-proof Canada.’”

Advertising feature produced by Randall Anthony Communications with Colleges and Institutes Canada. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.

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