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With its growing economy putting it on the map, Brazil has become a country to watch and with which to forge new partnerships. Because of this new economic surge, about 30 university presidents from across Canada recently took a trip to the South American country on what they called an "international education mission." They crisscrossed the BRIC nation's south for a week this past month, making their way to São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Brasilia and Campinas, all with the goal of building more partnerships in research, innovation and higher education, making Canadian universities more appealing to Brazilian students, and strengthening research collaboration between universities in Canada and Brazil.

Alfred Jaeger, Associate Professor of Organizational Behaviour at McGill University's Desautels Faculty of Management, who has spent extensive time in Brazil working and educating since his first trip down south for a summer job at 23, spoke to The Globe and Mail about what these new partnerships mean for business education in Canada.

You've been trying to propel the internationalization of business students at McGill forward. How do you see this partnership between Canada and Brazil helping that effort?

It's another place to go on exchange and potentially work. Brazil was always a fun country to go to. It was always a country with a lot of potential. But only in the past five years — or maybe 10, max — has it become a country of more economic importance. It's a large producer of automobiles, it's a large producer of soybeans, it's a large producer of agricultural products, and so it's an important player on the scene. It's also now self-sufficient in oil and will probably be an oil exporter.

In education — we [Canada]are 15 per cent of the size of Brazil — so there are a lot of potential Brazilians who might want to come here to study. And their universities are good, but they don't have the history and the quality and the broad base of available programs.

Do you see any other types of potential partnerships here?

There are some already ongoing that I'm familiar with. There's the so-called "sandwich PhD program." It's not a lot of people, but I know it happens in business. It may happen in other fields. A Brazilian will do a PhD in Brazil and then find an adviser in Canada and spend a year here. So they do the first part of their studies in Brazil, they come here for a year, and then they write their thesis back in Brazil. That's why it's called a sandwich. That's ongoing and a few schools have signed up to work with Brazilians on that. You develop goodwill, you develop relationships, and things grow out of that.

How do you think the university presidents' recent trip to Brazil is going to make things any different than what's already going on between the two countries?

I think Brazil has been off the radar. I've been going to Brazil since 1973, and it's a big country, it's off the radar, it's pretty far away. It's a 10-hour flight from Toronto to the south of Brazil, and you can't really fly to the north of Brazil. So here's this huge country with a lot of people who are potentially eager to do business with you. So you get the university presidents to say, "Oh wow, look at this." São Paulo is a city of 20-plus million, it's chock full of cars, it looks modern. In some ways it's more modern than Canada, in other ways, it's less. I think it opens their eyes to the potential and it helps to have the top administrators in universities be aware.

What else needs to happen for this partnership in business education to work?

I think there need to be stronger ties between specific institutions. We have this program of students going back and forth that I've been involved with for over 12 years, and in a typical year we have 20 students from each side going both ways. They develop personal ties, become more familiar with each other's countries and have a very good experience.

Special to The Globe and Mail