Image Credit: Saskatchewan Polytechnic
Image Credit: Saskatchewan Polytechnic

Sask Polytech expands internationalization efforts

By Dr. Larry Rosia, president and CEO

International student enrolment is on the rise at Saskatchewan Polytechnic.

More than 600 international students study at the institution’s campuses in Moose Jaw, Prince Albert, Regina and Saskatoon, up from 195 in the 2012-13 academic year.  That number is expected to rise in the years ahead.

Canada’s post-secondary institutions are highly regarded around the world. In fact, Canada “is consistently among the 10 most popular destination countries for international students,” according to a new report, Post-Secondary Education and the Future of the Canadian Workforce, by the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.

I was reminded of how favourably other countries view Canada’s higher education system during a trip to Mexico in May with Saskatchewan Advanced Education Minister Tina Beaudry-Mellor and leaders of the University of Regina and University of Saskatchewan.

The trip was spearheaded by the Saskatchewan Education Alliance (SEA), a partnership involving the three institutions, whose mission is to collaborate on internationalization of higher education across Saskatchewan.

Enhancing recognition of Saskatchewan as a high-quality, post-secondary education destination for international students is one of the Alliance’s primary purposes. The others include creating a recognizable Saskatchewan education brand; increasing awareness of Saskatchewan post-secondary programs; highlighting the research, scholarly and artistic work of Saskatchewan post-secondary institutions; and establishing and fostering relations and partnerships with governments, institutions, and funding agencies abroad.

Offering international students the chance to study at Sask Polytech is important. Students from 40 different countries are currently enrolled at Sask Polytech Campuses.

As important as this is, however, I believe that international student enrolment is just one pillar of an effective internationalization strategy. Three others are also necessary. They are:

1. Student and Faculty Exchanges. A recent RBC research paper, Humans Wanted – How Canadian youth can thrive in the age of disruption,cites that young Canadians entering the workforcewill need to work well with an increasingly diverse range of other people—business partners from around the world, plus co-workers of all ages, genders, languages and cultures.” Global competencies that will be in demand will include “cultural awareness, language and adaptability,” the report says.

Exposing students to new cultures through student exchange programs helps to build cultural awareness. As well, offering students the chance to learn from Faculty who come to Sask Polytech from different countries or from local Instructors who have taught in foreign classrooms, can broaden a student’s worldview.

2. Applied Research Projects. Applied research assesses a need, proves a concept, and tests new products to refine them for market. From using unmanned aerial vehicles to solving crimes (See Draganfly and Sask Polytech help solve conservation investigation), to creating a virtual coach capable of observing and analysing motion, and providing instant feedback to an athlete (See The Virtual Coach in Inspiring Innovation), Sask Polytech instructors and students have developed practical, real-world solutions to everyday challenges faced by our business partners. Such expertise is highly sought-after by employers around the world.

3. International Project Work. As countries develop, and their economies take root and grow, Canadian know-how and experience will continue to be in demand.

Sask Polytech has a reputation for skills development, capacity building, curriculum development, applied research, knowledge transfer, and for close linkages with industry, all of which prepare students for a highly skilled workforce. Emerging countries are increasingly looking to partner with higher education institutes of learning to address their skills shortages.

We experienced this first-hand five years ago when the Canadian International Development Agency awarded funding to Sask Polytech to develop labour market training to support medium and small enterprise development in Ukraine.  Such training was crucial in supporting that country’s economic and social development during an important time in its history.

Sask Polytech and Canada’s other polytechnics are well-positioned to build cultural competencies for tomorrow’s workforce.  Our strong focus on offering education with hands-on learning opportunities, deep ties to industry, and a track record for building successful partnerships are attractive features—as is the quality of life here.

As I was reminded during my trip to Mexico, Saskatchewan and Sask Polytech have much to offer international students who want to study here, and organizations and industries that require applied research expertise.