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Federal government prioritizes international education with $148-million strategy

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Mỹ Anh Phan

Recognizing the importance of international education to Canada’s future prosperity, the federal government plans to reduce financial barriers for studying abroad.

The government’s plan to invest $148 million over five years, followed by an additional $8 million per year, is aimed at encouraging students to gain the skills needed to succeed in the global economy.

Over five years, $95 million is budgeted for the Outbound Student Mobility Pilot to support up to 11,000 undergraduate students to study abroad. The program provides financial assistance ranging from $5,000 to $10,000 per year. Half of these funds are designated to promote international mobility opportunities to underrepresented students, which includes Indigenous students and students with disabilities.

On Mar. 19, the University of Saskatchewan made a statement praising the federal International Education Strategy 2019-2024 for aligning with the university’s own global aspirations. 

How much the U of S will directly benefit from the new education strategy is yet to be decided. Alison Pickrell, assistant vice-provost of strategic enrolment management, says she was excited to see the prioritization of underrepresented students. This plan aligns with the goals of the U of S International Blueprint to increase the number of Indigenous students studying abroad.

“Our hope would be that some of the funding would give us an opportunity to provide additional support to our Indigenous students,” Pickrell said.

Pickrell says that the upcoming consultations between Canadian universities and the government this fall will decide how the program will exactly support students. 

The International Education Strategy is based on three main objectives: supporting Canadian students to gain new skills from studying abroad, diversifying the countries where international students come from and increasing support of the international education sector across the country.

Pirita Mattola, manager of the International Students and Study Abroad Centre, says that fiscal constraints are the biggest barrier preventing students from studying abroad. She hopes to see different types of study abroad opportunities being considered for additional funding. Mattola says that increasing funding for short term programs, experiential learning and international research can help students gain transferable soft skills that employers look for.

ISSAC is about to launch a series of consultations with the U of S colleges to better understand which study abroad and work integrated learning opportunities appeal to different degree programs, according to Mattola.

“We’re hoping to work with each college to identify their priorities in these areas and to maximize student participation in each of those types of activities,” Mattola said. “Their programming is so different that what might fit well in one college might not fit well in a different college.”

Another aspect of the Outbound Student Mobility Pilot is diversifying the countries that students choose to study in, which is away from solely English-speaking “traditional education destinations.” Mattola says that ISSAC has been and will continue encouraging students to “think outside the box” when considering where to study abroad.

“We’re working closely with colleges as well to help identify destinations that may be good academic settings for students, or interesting destinations where they can take complementary opportunities that add something extra to their degree,” Mattola said.

Another of the International Education Strategy’s main objectives is attracting international students from a “wider diversity of countries.” It also recognizes the current concentration of international students in large Canadian cities and hopes to grow the international education sector by increasing enrolment across a greater variety of regions.

Pickrell says these priorities will support the Enrolment 2025 strategic document brought forward to the U of S Senate on Oct. 26. The plan has targets of increasing enrolment of undergraduate international students from 7 per cent to 10 per cent of the student body over the next five years.

“Part of achieving those goals is to look at where international students might come from and ensure that we have diversity,” Pickrell said.  

Noah Callaghan/ Staff Writer

Graphic: Mỹ Anh Phan

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