Worldviews Conference 2013 – Commentary on the Rise of International Students

Last week the University of Toronto hosted the 2013 Worldviews Conference from June 19-21.  The topic of this year’s conference focused on the global trends of higher education and the role of the media in portraying topics such as the popularity (and unpopularity) of MOOCs, international education, academic freedom, and student activism.  For me, it was a unique opportunity to engage with journalists who cover some of the hottest topics in higher education, and to attend the keynote addresses led by prominent thinkers, like Sir John Daniel, Chad Gaffield, and Andrew Keen, just to name a few.

Certainly, international education and the increasing number of international students enrolling in North American and European post-secondary institutions was a topic of much discussion. At one session, titled “International students and campus integration: Institutional strategies and media interpretations,” panelists discussed the importance of developing strategic programs and services to support incoming international students. The panelists, which included Jane Ngobia, Teboho Moja, Shaun Curtis, and Maria Mathai, focused on the importance of intentionality from host institutions to assure that international students are supported, integrated, and validated at every step of their international experience. To support international students, administrators need to have a vision and mission that supports these students’ success. 

Panelists spoke passionately about the benefits of hosting larger and larger cohorts of international students, benefits that surpass any economic advantage. International students bring a wealth of experiences and knowledge that enrich the campuses and the experiences of students, faculty and staff, and the broader community.

We have heard similar views from participants in the Supporting Student Success research study, who have seen a growing influx of international students on their campuses. Administrators spoke about the importance of ongoing training for faculty and staff to better support and understand the needs of international students as well as the need for increased programs and services to support international students. We heard of various initiatives — from assigning Learning Strategists to work exclusively with international students, to the development of International Centres to deliver comprehensive support services to students.

One keen observation made by one of the panelists at the conference was the lack of attention paid to “our” students studying abroad and becoming international students in other countries. The focus on international education has mostly focused on students coming to North American and European institutions to study, with the majority of these students coming from India and countries in Asia. Typically, when our students go abroad to study we think of these experiences as experiential learning or simply studying abroad opportunities. However, many students spend a considerable amount of time studying in a foreign country, completing a full semester, summer, or entire years. As an international student myself, I will complete my entire doctoral degree away from my country of citizenship. However, this phenomenon of North American and European students studying abroad has not been as prominent in the realm of international education, at least not in the same way that researchers have focused on the experiences of international students coming from countries such as China and India. Of course, we need to consider that more focus has been put on international students coming to our institutions because these numbers have exploded in the last decade, with more students seeking credentials from North American and European institutions. However, it is important to consider the experiences and challenges of our students becoming international students and examine the challenges that they face and the support and services they receive abroad and how they make meaning of the learning experience they had abroad once they return home.

We have been fortunate to attend and present at many great conferences this summer. You can look for more of our conference reflections in the coming weeks. Check out Act II of Passion!: Re-living #CACUSS2013 later this week






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