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Increasing funding for international study programs increases accessibility

By Danielle Grant, November 21, 2017 —

There is a stereotype of post-secondary students who participate in study-abroad programs: spoiled twenty-somethings gallivanting around Europe getting to know different vodkas rather than actually studying. This stereotype can be the foundation for some great jokes, mocking that friend who spent a term in France and now has a prominent sommelier side to their personality. But it ignores the value of global education for Canadian students.

The 2017 “Global Education For Canadians” report from the University of Ottawa and the University of Toronto calls for increased funding for global education because of its benefits for students and society. Global education provides students with enhanced problem-solving, creativity, communication and adaptability skills, with a focus on experiential learning. Global education also diversifies our workplaces, strengthens research networks and can be a gateway to emerging economic markets. The report stresses that Canada is lagging because it lacks a federal strategy for study-abroad initiatives, while the U.S., Australia and the European Union invest heavily in these programs. Increasing Canadian’s global education should be multifaceted, with the reduction of financial burdens on students being prioritized. The proposal urges the Canadian government to invest in global education initiatives to encourage students to enhance their undergraduate programs and to ensure equal opportunities are available for all Canadian students.

Students who have studied abroad understand the value of international education and are more likely to support increased participation. However, like other proposals asking for federal funding, predictable argumentative discussions emerge before the proposal can even be read. The two most common comments are that a global education initiative would “spoil the already elite” and the more underwhelming attempt at an argument  — “Not with my tax dollars.”

The notion that studying abroad is a luxury that should be reserved for students studying on their wealthy parent’s dime is founded on an outdated understanding of the value of studying abroad. Becoming global students is important for Canadian graduates to remain competitive. Canada has the highest enrolment and education attainment rates among the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. But access to education still varies between economic backgrounds. The report calls for targeted strategies to focus financial supports on students who would otherwise be unable to study abroad. This isn’t a call to fund already privileged students. It’s recognizing that global education is valuable for all Canadian students and financial status should not limit participation in these programs.

Graduates need the skills that global education provides to ensure they’re qualified for leadership positions. Otherwise we will be surpassed by other graduates who are better equipped. Canada’s continued apathy means our students are already falling behind.

Articles published in the Gauntlet‘s opinion section do not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet editorial board.

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