At the Fall Perspectives conference in early September, the Teaching Support Centre hosted several sessions about internationalization efforts at Western for faculty and staff to be able to recognize what is involved with preparing global ready graduates. To discuss what is currently developing on campus, Reflections (R) interviewed Julie McMullin (JM), the Special Advisor to the Provost (Internationalization).
R: Tell us a bit about your position as Special Advisor to the Provost.
JM: I’ve been in the role as Special Advisor since January of this year. The focus of the role involves the assessment of international education on campus and making recommendations on how we might be able to improve the area of international learning and international recruitment.
R: Let’s talk first about the international learning component--what’s involved with that?
M: There are lots of different ways in which international learning can happen. The idea is that we need to educate "global ready" graduates, and in order to do so we need to provide a wider array of options. At Western, people typically think about formal exchange programs where students can study abroad for one or two terms, but very few of our undergraduate students engage in this type of program. Last year we had about 170 students on exchange from main campus. There are more exchange students from Ivey and Law, but they handle their own programs. So international learning might occur at home for students who do not have the means or the time to go abroad. That can happen in many different ways. For example, a number of courses on campus deal with international matters. Embedded study abroad courses have students study here for five weeks, go abroad for two weeks and then return to Western for another five weeks. Many good examples of this type of course already exist in various language courses. We are also promoting international learning at home by increasing the proportion of international students in the classroom and by creating community service learning opportunities in international settings.
R: Remind me, can students take something like a distance studies course at another university with permission? Perhaps I could sign up for courses at the University of Rome...could this possibly be a component of international learning?
M: We are aiming to create these kinds of programs. Right now it is really hard for students to do this--they have to do all of the legwork to find a course, have it equated, etc. So, one of my goals is to make that process easier for students. We need to develop partnerships with other world-class universities in order to increase capacity for exchange and to offer summer programs for students to study abroad. There are some great opportunities at places such as Cambridge and the University of Geneva. We would like to have a number of credits at pre-approved universities that would be counted in certain programs here at Western. This might ultimately lead to the development of a co-curricular international certificate in a particular area. As far as international learning is concerned, we are seeing--just in the last few months--a huge increase in the number of formal exchanges being developed and various opportunities to work in different research labs, etc. And of course graduate students engage in international research conferences and research collaboration with their advisors who may have significant programs that span across borders.
R: What resources are in place for faculty?
M: A faculty member can apply for funds to develop a course or part of a course through the International Curriculum Fund (ICF). A goal at Western is to have the staff capacity to provide support to faculty members to help them with these applications.
R: What about a faculty member who may not want to apply to the ICF, but may simply want to include some international segment in a course--for example, if I wanted to have a two-week section on Psychology in the Middle East? Where can they get some help for that kind of development?
M: That kind of help is not in place yet, but the goal is to have an International Learning Office at Western where faculty could go and ask for assistance from the staff. There would be a knowledge base there so that they could direct you to Professor X, who happens to be doing work on the Middle East or Africa, etc. The ICF also provides resources to do the research to integrate an international component into your course.
R: Tell me a bit more about international recruitment... where are we, where do we want to be?
M: In 2010 we had about 147 first-year international students. This is roughly 3% of the incoming class, as compared to 6% at comparable Ontario universities. In 2011, there has been a vast improvement, and we expect that the number will be about 340 out of a class of 5100. This brings us up to about 6%. The goal is to increase this number to 10%, which seems to be where you reach the critical mass of students starting to have influence in classes and people learning more about different cultures.
R: Do you have a breakdown on where the students are coming from?
M: Sure. The top 10 countries of citizenship, in order, are China, Korea, Pakistan, Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia, Trinidad and Tobago, the United Kingdom, Bangladesh, India, and the United States. Of these, the top five represent the majority of international students.
R: So, what is Western aiming to accomplish for next year?
M: I have recommended that a structure be put in place called Western International Education, and the Senate has approved the position of a Vice-Provost International Education. I’m currently on the senate committee that is searching to fill this position. The position will be responsible for three things: international recruitment, international services, and international learning.
R: I can see the advantage for students of these kinds of programs, but what about the faculty...why should they develop an international component to their course?
M: For me, the most rewarding learning experience I’ve ever had is teaching a graduate course where a majority of the students were international students. And I’ve learned more in that interaction between international students and domestic students than I could ever imagine.
For more information about the International Curriculum Fund, go to: http://www.uwo.ca/research/funding/internal/international_curriculum_fund.html or if interested in discussing internationalization at Western, please contact Julie McMullin at firstname.lastname@example.org