In Canada, More Than One Way to Globalize a Campus

Tyler Meade

Students gather during orientation at Thompson Rivers U., where they can combine studies and international experience to earn a "global citizenship distinction" credential.
September 01, 2010

As Canadian colleges wrestle with how to internationalize their undergraduate programs, a number of models have emerged. Among the most ambitious is a new global-competency program, which begins this fall at Thompson Rivers University. Through a combination of academics, service work, and study abroad, students can receive formal recognition for their internationally focused activities.

The new program at Thompson Rivers, in Kamloops, British Columbia, could also deal with a frequent challenge in Canadian higher education: While surveys show that most students want to become globally minded, many aren't aware of the programs their colleges offer toward that end.

Certainly, many colleges in Canada have jumped onto the globalization bandwagon. The latest statistics from a national survey show that more than half offer or are developing workshops for faculty members on how to internationalize their curricula. In the survey, done by the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, two-thirds of the respondents included an international or global focus in at least some of their programs, at all academic levels.

Thompson Rivers's model goes a step further. The comprehensive university, a four-hour drive northeast of Vancouver, has created a "global citizenship distinction." To earn it, a student must qualify in at least two of four categories: foreign language; international experience; on-campus courses with an intercultural or international focus; and off-campus courses, volunteering, or jobs with an intercultural or international focus.

"Over the years, we've thoroughly embraced the concept of internationalization," says Josh Keller, director of student recruitment. "So this seemed to be the next step."

The process has been a long one, however. It has taken time, imagination, and the cooperation of faculty members throughout all departments, he says.

'A Small Shift'

The first step came in 2006, when the university set out a number of campuswide goals, among them to make Thompson Rivers more globally focused. Two years later, the university set the explicit goal of internationalizing the curriculum.

Kyra Garson, intercultural consultant at the university's center for teaching and learning, was a key player in curriculum reform. She had been holding workshops for faculty members on how to bring international elements into their course work.

The workshops began informally, she says, when some faculty members asked for help with engaging their international students. Many of the challenges those students faced were cultural, such as being uncomfortable with speaking up in class or dealing with the sometimes informal relationships students have with their professors.

Around 500 faculty members have taken the intercultural training since 2006. Ms. Garson has written a handbook to help colleagues interested in internationalizing their programs, and provides them with online resources. "Sometimes all it takes is a small shift," she says, "even with courses that might seem hard to internationalize."

For example, she describes an accounting course in Canadian taxes that enrolled a number of international students. The instructor got students to provide educational workshops on taxes for residents of Kamloops. For the non-Canadians, the sessions introduced them to local people and customs in a way a class could not, she says. "It was an intercultural experience for many, including the community."

Sometimes there's no need to go off campus. Nursing instructors enlisted ESL and international students as resources for their students. "The nursing students interviewed them on death and dying customs in their countries during their course work on palliative care," Ms. Garson says.

The new global-competency program, she adds, could have happened only after the internationalization of the curriculum was well established.

'Be in the Global Game'

A recent report on study-abroad programs by the Canadian Bureau for International Education showed that 88 percent of Canadian students said they wanted to be "globally minded." One likely reason is the economy.

"There's a real appetite for graduates with cross-cultural knowledge in business," says Vianne Timmons, president of the University of Regina and board chair of the international-education bureau.

A survey of area employers conducted by the University of Calgary found that all respondents thought international experience was an asset to a student's employability.

"There's a huge demand now for people who understand other cultures or speak other languages and know how business operates abroad," says Jeff Brownlee, vice president for communications at the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, a trade association. "Canadian businesses and industry have to be in the global game. We were spoiled for generations because of our closeness geographically to the States, with basically the same language and culture. Now we need the international perspective, so graduates with that understanding or experience are sought after."

The Canadian-university association is helping some institutions figure out how well they do in training students to enter this global work force. It provides a number of online resources, including a review that helps institutions assess how internationally minded they are and where they need work.

Huron University College, a small, liberal-arts institution in London, Ontario, is undergoing that review, which involves self-assessments. Administrators say the process represents a check-in after more than a decade of effort to broaden the college's international focus.

In the mid-1990s, for example, a number of departments began recruiting international faculty members to strengthen the curriculum and provide global exposure to students. They also began hiring academics with international specialties, like an English professor with an expertise in world literature and economics professors with specialties in European and Asian economies.

"We're finding many of our courses are actually quite international already," says Maxine Dubuc, manager of Huron's international office, who is involved in the review process. "For example, we have a French-and-Asian-studies department, where French, Chinese, and Japanese languages are taught, and students study abroad through our partners to develop those skills.

"But in all subjects, internationalizing the curriculum goes beyond simply changing what's taught. Having a diverse student population deepens the international curriculum in the classroom."

The self-assessment process has stimulated discussion and interest from faculty members. There has also been a push from students for more international content.

Difficult and rewarding

Other colleges are taking a more focused approach, offering a single course or a handful of courses to undergraduates as part of their general education requirements.

Centennial College, a public community college in Toronto, and the University of Prince Edward Island require freshmen to take a course in global citizenship, although they take different approaches.

UPEI, as the small, comprehensive institution on Prince Edward Island is known, decided a few years ago to scrap its traditional freshman English-writing course and replace it with a mandatory course on global issues. It includes assigned readings and guest lecturers, who address combined classes. This fall the lecturers will discuss how globalization is affecting a broad range of subjects, including science, politics, and business.

"We've revamped it considerably since it started and created a standard text that we'll start using this fall," says Ron Srigley, the program's coordinator and a professor of religious studies. Anecdotally, he says, many students find the readings difficult—but many also find it rewarding. "I've had students tell me they feel like they're in a university now."

Centennial runs a much larger program, in part because it is nearly triple the size of UPEI. Its four campuses are quite diverse, like Toronto itself, and attract a large number of international students as well as people whose families recently immigrated to Canada. Ann Buller, the university's president, wanted to incorporate an appreciation of this diversity into every freshman's course load and to influence the students throughout their college experience.

"We teach cultural competencies," she says. "We talk about racism and encourage discussion of competing values. We tell them this is a safe zone—your rights are guaranteed. We don't want ghettos, particularly in language, because it's easy to go to people who talk your language. So we have to convince students to keep working and become part of the broader community here."

Through readings, discussions, and lectures, she says, the mandatory global-citizenship course examines the big and small ways people can make a positive impact in the world. It also looks at cultural and religious divisions and other issues.

Each of the course's 74 instructors must go through an intensive two-and-a-half week preparation, including instruction on how to bring up culturally sensitive issues. Students use a textbook, Global Citizenship: From Social Analysis to Social Action, that covers social issues like ethnic stereotyping and race and class problems. The book, developed by Centennial, has been revised several times in the past five years in order to keep up with current issues.

The college also uses a Web site,, where students are asked to discuss issues that come up during classes. Every student also has to maintain a portfolio to show his or her "learning development as global citizens" in all courses at the college.

Valuable in the Workplace

The experience of meeting people from different backgrounds — and potentially learning how to get along with people with differing views—will be valuable in the workplace, says Ms. Buller.

Businesses from "General Motors to the small shop on the corner," she says, want their employees to know how to work as a team, no matter where they all may come from.