A new vision for the internationalization of universities

Excerpt from UQAM Rector Robert Proulx, Ph.D. ’s speech to the Montreal Council for Foreign Relations, April 3rd, 2013: “A new vision for the internationalization of universities”

During my presentation, I would first like to address why we need to speak of a new vision for the internationalization of universities.

Afterwards I would like to refer to some examples from UQAM’s experience to illustrate what exactly this new vision is.
Finally, I will discuss the issues raised by this new vision at a moment when Quebec is reflecting about the future of its universities.

Why offer a “new vision” for the internationalization of universities?
Because the current discussion about internationalization and universities contains certain ambiguities that raise questions about the role of higher education in society.

As an example, here are the highlights of a recent report from the federal government:

  • There were over 100,000 foreign students studying in Canada in 2012: a record.
  • These students contributed more than 8 billion dollars to the Canadian economy (more than the exports of aluminium, helicopters, airplanes and spacecraft).
  • They represent an important potential source of skilled workers.
  • The report often suggests that universities should focus their recruitment efforts on areas and countries considered as priorities to increase the number of foreign students.

Of course, all agree that opening up to the world - especially to the so-called emerging countries - offers new development opportunities that are essential to implement. However, it raises the question as to the role of universities in this process.

In other words:

Should universities adapt their activities and compete among themselves to meet the new demands of the global economy and thereby increase their level of funding?

Or rather should they collaborate (with each other and their communities) to create a robust network, based on complementarity, and able to "make the knowledge of the world accessible to all of Quebec," while "making Quebec know-how available to the rest of the world"?

Accessibility is not a passive concept here. By collaborating, the partners mutually benefit. In fact, if the words "world" and "Quebec" are replaced with "Quebec and its regions", the result is the original mission of the Université du Québec and of UQAM in particular.

The generally accepted definition of the internationalization of universities is: "The inclusion of international components in universities’ teaching, research and community services."

This definition leads to three conclusions:

  • First, internationalization is a tool (and not an end in itself) that allows universities to better fulfill their mission by increasing the quality of activities in the three areas that define their existence.

Indeed, cultural diversity, the interdependence of nations and the possibilities offered by communications development, make it unthinkable to achieve the highest standards of quality in research and training without student and faculty exchanges, as well as joint educational and research programs which make up the essence of university internationalization.

  •  Secondly, as a tool, the process of internationalization must be subordinate to the development plans of the university and not the contrary. In this way, universities can associate with international partners on the basis of shared values ​​while maintaining their own identity.
  • Finally, in terms of strategy, this means that success is based on two essential ingredients:
  • Projects must originate from the base (i.e. professors and their students).
  • The overall strategy must result from the large-scale integration of all projects.

This is not new. Indeed, since their creation several centuries ago, universities have been based on the free flow of ideas throughout the academic community and their transmission during the education process associated with the discussions within.

Obviously, the modern university has had to respond to the challenges of mass education and question its "ivory tower." It has also had to develop means enabling it to find its place in society both locally and nationally.

In this university open to new forms of social responsibility that we have inherited, internationalization is the best path to enhance the ideas, people and society through mobility, and by testing knowledge and education models in a global context. That's what I call a new vision for the internationalization of the university.

To illustrate the logic behind this vision, allow me to tell you a brief story about ten red balloons.

In 2009, to celebrate 40th anniversary of the Internet, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) launched a competition.

Ten red weather balloons were distributed throughout the continental United States. Contestants had to locate these balloons and send the results to DARPA. The organizers thought it would take a day or two or even more before a participant would find all the balloons by using the capacity of the Internet to create social networks. It took the MIT Media Lab less than nine hours (8 hours 52 minutes to be precise), to correctly locate all the balloons.

But all the participants had access to the same technology. The difference was in the Media Lab team's approach, which encouraged cooperation rather than competition. The reward was distributed not only among the people who had located a balloon, but also among those who had assisted them. In addition, the amount of the reward was not paid to these people, but to social or charitable organizations of their choice. The Media Lab wanted to show that by using socially positive incentives, it is possible to bring a large number of people to collaborate in finding solutions to human problems.

The American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) recognized in the balloon experiment a metaphor to illustrate the merits of collaboration; but it also saw the perfect illustration of how the creation and the dissemination of knowledge are based on the development of networks.

In this spirit, AASCU created a collaborative network of educational institutions using technology to increase accessibility, motivate students, enhance their education and thereby rethink the traditional approaches to learning, education and program development.

UQAM has always opted for the collaborative approach, be it through its program development, research, community services or governance. Consequently it has often approached internationalization with a new vision.

During the short introductory video, you heard excerpts from interviews with some project heads, including:

  • Ms. Catherine Trudelle, professor Department of Geography and chair holder, Canada Research Chair on Socioterritorial Conflict and Local Governance;
  • Ms. Lucie Sauvé, professor Department of Didactics and director of the Canada Research Chair in Environmental Education (ERE);
  • Ms. Bonnie Campbell, professor Department of Political Sciences and director of the Centre interdisciplinaire de recherche en développement international et société

There are other centres and collaborative projects -- both big and small-- that exemplify the university that has embraced this new vision of internationalism.

  • The Centre for the Study of Biological Interactions between Health and the Environment (CINBIOSE) shares international expertise, notably with Chile in the field of ergonomics by creating new programs and supporting researchers and students.
  • The International Clinic for the Defence of Human Rights (CIDDHU) works for the protection of human rights on four continents.  Its activities, integrated with Law programs, are conducted by teams of students under the supervision of lawyers and Law professors, in collaboration with several non-governmental organizations.
  • The Chaire de logiciel libre (The Open Software Chair) brings together partners from France and Quebec who are involved in the social and solidarity economy to allow various organizations the possibility to manage their assets using software that are adapted to their needs without resorting to the use of expensive integrated software.
  • The Doctoral program in Muséologie, médiation, patrimoine-Profil international  (Museology, Mediation and Heritage-International program) jointly offered by UQAM and the University of Avignon and Pays de Vaucluse (UAPV) allows students to follow a fully integrated program in French leading to a double degree.
  • The Doctoral program in Philosophy is a result of a collaboration among researchers and research teams from UQAM, Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières(UQTR) and  Aix-Marseille University.
  • The UQAM-Paris Dauphine partnership in Management provides an exchange agreement that allows students to take courses at the partner institution during one year to complete their Bachelor’s or License and obtain a double degree.
  • The Geotop Research Centre in Geochemistry and Geodynamics, in partnership with the University of Bremen in Germany, established a consortium of several Canadian universities to develop a program in research on the impacts of climate change.
  • The Centre for Forest Research which includes 57 researchers from 11 universities in Quebec is the only group whose central mission is advanced education and research in forestry.

And now here are some examples of internationally-themed projects. 

  • Who doesn’t know about the Raoul-Dandurand Chair of Strategic and Diplomatic Studies? This Chair, which brings together universities, government agencies, international organizations and private sector organizations, helps develop research on strategic and diplomatic issues, in addition to being a meeting point between academia and the general public.
  • In addition, there is the Centre d’étude et de recherche sur le Brésil (Centre for Brazilian Studies and Research), a centre of multidisciplinary and inter-university research expertise, education and dissemination about Brazil. It brings together researchers from a dozen departments from UQAM and four other Quebec universities.
  • The goal of the Montreal Institute of International Studies, which brings together 13 internationally-oriented centres, chairs and research groups, is to support the open internationalization of all the activities of its partners. Through the multiplication of exchanges among research teams and scholars, the institute promotes the transnationalization of research practices, education and knowledge mobilization.

And finally, a project based on human solidarity:

The Consortium Inter Universitaire pour la Refondation du Système d'Éducation Haïtien (the Interuniversity Consortium for the Reconstruction of Haiti’s Education System) is a group of 18 Quebec, Canadian and Haitian universities working together to develop the Haitian education system following the earthquake of 2010.

All these projects are founded on collaboration, originate from the base and define growing interconnected networks.

To conclude, here are a few words regarding university policy.

A robust collaborative network is to the advantage of all social actors benefitting from the presence and activity of a university, whether they are governments, businesses or community organizations.

The proposed vision here is of a Quebec university network operating in a collaborative fashion, the best means for Québec society to be part of the democratic and innovative globalization of the 21st century.

What we need in Quebec is a policy that clearly builds on the internal educational and scientific dynamics of its universities and not on the often temporary external factors that define the university’s market:  a made-in-Quebec policy that strengthens our university system so that it can excel internationally while being open to the world thus benefitting from the collective strength of institutions working together.

Because research and education projects stem from the collaboration among researchers, we need policies that support institutions in the concerted development of their strengths.

Indeed, history shows that the most innovative and inventive actions would never have happened if teachers, students and citizens together did not ask themselves how to solve problems related to the creation, the application or dissemination of knowledge. The same can be said for institutions that can better support their members if they are involved in a collaborative network.

Being open to collaboration still presents some risks because it involves working in a network and trusting partners. However, wherever there are risks, there are also opportunities. But by working in collaboration, we all share the risks and benefit from increased opportunities.

At a moment when Quebec is concerned about the future of its universities and their funding, I invite us all to work together to create a first-class Quebec University network by promoting collaboration through policy and financial resources.

For more information (in French)