Our global reach: Thoughts on the next stages of internationalization at OCAD U

Lots of bikes line the streets in Copenhagen

Bike-o-rama! Just outside the Copenhagen Business School

I’ve had the opportunity recently to represent OCAD University at two events focused on global cooperation in higher education. The first was the conference of the European Association for International Education (EAIE) — a remarkable event that brought together over 4,000 international educators from all over the world to Copenhagen, Denmark for four days of learning, networking and partnership building. The second was a full day at Synergy 2011, a conference hosted by the Canadian India Education Council here in Toronto. Together, these events have helped crystallize some of my thinking about operationalizing OCAD U’s ambitious internationalization strategy, as laid out in both the Strategic Plan and the new Academic Plan (pdf).

First of all, here’s a little map of all of the aspects of the internationalization plan at OCAD U as I see them:

Diagram showing 8 different aspects of internationalization plan

My focus is on the elements in the boxes on the right side, but all aspects are interconnected so I’ve been gathering some insights on the full spectrum of internationalization initiatives. Rather than provide a session by session account of what I’ve learned (easy for me but probably boring for you), here’s a synthesis of the key insights, trends and directions in international collaboration in higher education and how they apply to OCAD University.

1. It’s a big world out there. And there’s lots of noise. So to be effective in attracting students from all over the world, institutions of higher education are learning to be strategic and creative. Use of social media for student recruitment is on the rise. Though Facebook is losing users in North America, it is still by far the medium of choice for young people world wide, with some notable exceptions like China. But in a world of increasing competition where virtually everyone is clamouring for attention, success in student recruitment is still based on relationships — be those peer-to-peer marketing through international alumni, Skype and chat sessions, or through the power of tools like Facebook to create buzz through the ubiquitous “like” button. Traditional brochures with pictures of pretty women sitting under trees are being increasingly replaced with edgy campaigns, materials in different languages (primarily for parents, not the students) and even humour. Take this little gem from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology: NTNU Adverisement

Luckily, OCAD U is not alone in Canada in this challenge of attracting the most promising young talent. The Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) has developed a national brand for marketing higher education in Canada. The Imagine Canada brand is in full swing with print materials, a new website, and a full display that tours the world.

2. Beyond the traditional one semester exchange. While the standard student exchange agreement is still the mainstay of international education, many more exciting new models for institutional partnership are emerging. The most talked about is the double degree. Normally offered at the masters level, a double degree typically includes a year at your home institution, a year at a partner institution abroad, culminating in the granting of two degrees – one from each institution. These programs take an incredible amount of planning and careful negotiation to get off the ground but, once established, represent a level of depth in integrating ideas and approaches from two cultures that is rarely achieved in a semester-long exchange. This type of partnership appears to work well when there is already a history of collaboration, deep curricular synergy and shared research interests.

3. Plan for the worst and hope for the best. Risk management in study abroad continues to be a focus for those working in international education, particularly in the wake of major disasters (eg. Japan) or political unrest (eg. Egypt). But as students become more mobile and as new regions of the world open up to the possibility of international cooperation, we need to be even more attuned to the needs of students in terms of their health and safety. Protocols for dealing with mental health issues for students on exchange, for example, are becoming much more common. And crisis response procedures are in place in many institutions to deal with situations in which students may be at risk.

4. Faculty must lead the charge. Successful internationalization efforts are never top-down. The champions of a globally connected university are the faculty. With proper supports and incentives, faculty can carry the OCAD University name to new regions, introduce a cross-cultural perspective into their courses, and lead new developments with field studies, joint programs and international collaborations. See, for example, Photography Chair Peter Sramek’s International Art Collaborations in which students collaborated with peers from Tampere University of Applied Sciences in Finland. Of course, there is still a role for some central coordination in ensuring quality, risk assessment and financial sustainability. But the most successful internationalization initiatives have capitalized on the many, many global tentacles that already reach out into the world via the faculty.

5. Start, and end, with why. There is so much “buzz” about internationalization in higher education, it’s easy to lose sight of why we’re doing this. Jane Knight, a leading scholar of internationalization  from the University of Toronto, was quoted at a recent conference saying,

“I fundamentally believe that not devoting the time to the task of self-reflection is like being too busy driving without stopping for gas.”

Knight and others have spoken about emerging backlash as faculty, students and the public begin to see internationalization efforts coming at the expense of other priorities and as competition between institutions infringes on collaboration. And virtually all experts are warning that internationalization should not be seen as a revenue source. Carl Amrhein, Vice-President and Provost of the University of Alberta said recently: “You shouldn’t expect to make huge amounts of money for the institution. Properly constructed international activity is expensive, and as much money as possible should be delivered back to the people who work directly with the students. If you don’t provide the support mechanisms, you might be successful in the short run but there are ethical questions about taking care of the students and providing the support that they need.”

If the goal of internationalization at OCAD University is to ensure that students “become citizens of the world who respect difference and appreciate universal human values – not only in relation to Art and Design, but in all aspects of the human experience” (OCAD U Academic Plan 2011 – 2016), then we will also need to implement a comprehensive Internationalization-at-Home (IaH) strategy. The IaH movement recognizes that while many students will travel, the vast majority will not travel for study-related purposes. This means that for them to become cross-culturally competent global citizens, these ideas need to be delivered here at OCAD U — through courses, co-curricular activities, speakers, exhibitions and student activities and groups. Despite the fact that an IaH strategy will reach the greatest number of students, it rarely receives the most attention — and is often forgotten entirely. As OCAD U fully implements its internationalization plans, we will need to constantly remind ourselves that internationalization is not synonymous with travel. And that developing global citizens takes a village.

So to end off, I’ll leave you with this cheesy little video I made with my Flipcam of the Danish Royal Academy of Fine Arts, home of the Danish Design School, one of OCAD University’s mobility partners. I was treated to a tour and met with several of the faculty and students of the school in a day long site visit at the beginning of the EAIE Conference. The school is located on a former Danish Naval base in Copenhagen so that setting is to die for — copious amounts of space, beside the water, and very bike friendly. 🙂 Enjoy.