By Enobong Ukpong, February 4 2021—
The onset of COVID-19 may have seen a decline in global movement as we sat at home and countries closed their borders. Yet, the University of Calgary’s International Department recently launched the Global Engagement Plan (GEP), an update on the university’s internationalization strategy. Dr. Janaka Ruwanpura, vice-provost international and associate vice-president research, spoke to the plan and what it could mean for students.
As Ruwanpura detailed, the Global Engagement Plan’s origins began with the International Strategy in 2013.
“In 47 years of history of the University of Calgary, that was the very first institutional international strategy that was built from the bottom up,” he said.
It was initially intended to last for five years, but they felt it was successful enough to continue. In Sept. 2019, a review was conducted. Several university leaders across the country offered recommendations, consultations were had and thus formed a new plan: GEP 2025.
“It’s a build-up from the International Strategy,” explained Ruwanpura.
The GEP has nearly the same goals as the International Strategy — increase the diversity of the campus community, improve global and intercultural capacity and enhance global partnerships. Ruwanpura sees this as one of the plan’s benefits, the ability to carry over the expertise of the former plan with more focus.
So how would students benefit from this plan? We’re likely looking at an increase in study abroad opportunities according to Ruwanpara.
“We want to give 50 per cent of our students before they graduate to have at least one meaningful international experience, either abroad or at home,” said Ruwanpara. “We want to want to make sure they think beyond Calgary.”
As of now, only a little over 25 per cent of students graduate with international learning experiences abroad. An example of an international experience could be an exchange program, which would allow students to see the comparison of the educational content between countries and compare cultures as well.
We will also be seeing an increase in diversity on campus. The GEP has an undergraduate target of 15 per cent international students and a graduate student target of 30 per cent international students by 2022.
“You are an international student, you bring your culture, and you bring your values to this campus,” said Ruwanpara. “Diversity is all about how we amalgamate different cultures, different societies, different ethnicities and different groups together to respect each other and then work together in a respectable manner.”
Of course, with COVID-19, getting international experience abroad is out of the question. Moreover, faculty members could not travel abroad for collaborative research opportunities. Ruwanpara says the university adapted and created opportunities for people to virtually connect with one another.
He also mentioned taking advantage of the multicultural nature of Calgary.
“We are looking at partnering with organizations like Immigrant Services Calgary […], participation with some of the diasporic communities in Calgary so that we can provide opportunities for students to mingle and develop some collaborative relationships which give them great experiences.”
Events like the YYC Global Community Challenge, where students from different universities and countries work together to solve a problem, can also provide an avenue for international collaboration. And judging by the success of last fall’s Challenge, it is still possible to do during a pandemic.
To Ruwanpura, the challenge is maintaining the position as an award-winning institution in internationalization. The International team has won the most accolades on campus. Most notably, the International Strategy received the 2017 Institutional Award for Global Learning, Research and Engagement.
Despite the rising expectations and the hurdles put in place by COVID-19, he’s still optimistic about meeting the GEP targets.
“That’s one of my weaknesses — highly optimistic,” he laughed.
For more information, you can view the Global Engagement Plan here.