Internationalization in Canada’s Universities: More than international students

AWB participated in a conference on Internationalization in Higher Education: New Trends and Future Directions for Ontario on November 3, 2017 in Toronto. At issue were all the ways that universities can connect their students and researchers with international universities, as well as recruiting international students to Ontario universities.

What does this have to do with AWB’s mission to enhance the capacity of universities in developing nations? One answer is that all of these activities generally benefit Ontario directly – bringing in high fee-paying students, and perhaps bringing highly-qualified immigrants to the country, whose prior training was paid for by another country.

Jonathan Rose, AWB Board Member and Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, gave a presentation describing AWB’s method of giving back to universities in developing nations by providing host-driven projects supported by volunteer academics and professionals from around the world to improve or create quality academic or administrative programs in universities in those countries. He also pointed out the incredible cost-effectiveness of AWB’s approach and suggested that there ought to be better balance in the “taking” and “giving” towards developing nations.

Conference participants offered suggestions as to funding sources that might be tried. One interesting suggestion was to look for “outreach” funding that is often attached to research and other grants that are provided by federal and provincial governments. Another interesting general suggestion was to leverage AWB’s work to connect Canadian universities and developing universities together to work on global problems such as global warming, making use of the broader reach and information possible by having broadly distributed locations on the planet.

The other presentations were concerned with understanding established universities’ attitudes towards providing international experience and access to research at global universities; there is a clear trend towards more interest in this from both universities and employers. The federal government is active in promoting Canadian universities as destinations for students in foreign jurisdictions and would like to do even more promotion. Other presentations looked at this in-bound mobility of international students from a college perspective, which is distinct from that of universities. Another presentation gave an Australian perspective on in-bound students into countries – the pit-falls and successes of an ongoing Australian program. An interesting take-away here: that it almost never “pays” to set up remote units of universities within foreign jurisdictions.

The attendees were a broad range of academic researchers, administrators of colleges and universities, including those now responsible for in-bound and out-bound internationalization at these institutions, and Ontario government education ministry employees.

The conference was sponsored by the Centre for the Study of Canadian and International Higher Education (CIHE) at OISE, the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO), and the Ontario Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development (MAESD).

AWB very much appreciated the opportunity to spread its message!

By Jonathan Rose, AWB Board of Directors and Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Toronto

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The Ostrich and the Trend

A recent blog post was wrong about massive open online courses, Arshad Ahmad and Barbara Oakley write. MOOCs aren’t the promised panacea, but they are neither dangerous nor dead.

John Warner’s recent blog post “MOOCs Are Dead, What’s Next? Uh-Oh” makes a lot of sense. That is, if you’re an ostrich with its head in the sand.

From our perspective, MOOCs are providing great opportunities for nontraditional learners. And they’re fueling a new worldwide movement of lifelong learning. From no MOOCs not long ago, today’s 7,000 MOOCs sweep a landscape that includes 700 universities and 60 million participants worldwide. Coursera, one of the leading MOOC providers, just raised $64 million for an overall $800 million valuation, putting it in “unicorn territory” of $1 billion. Grow with Googlerecently invested $1 billion to provide digital skills, part of which will be through Coursera certificates. There are scores of other indicators of open learning that are experiencing significant growth.

How could anyone be so wrong?

In a sweeping indictment of the entire MOOC industry, Warner’s article focused on a few aspects of one company, Udacity, which ironically is breaking new ground in providing high-value, low-cost education in partnership with universities. We don’t fault the author, but rather a narrow perspective that reveals astonishing ignorance about what’s really going on.

(Note: This article has been updated from an earlier version to clarify the authors’ arguments.)

To share our understanding of the MOOC phenomenon, here’s a bit about us. Barb is a co-instructor of Learning How to Learn, the largest, most popular MOOC of all time, with two million students. Arshad is vice provost for teaching and learning and director of McMaster University’s MacPherson Institute and the instructor for the Finance for Everyone MOOC. We are currently collaborating on a series of new MOOCs.

We are the first to admit that MOOCs are no longer the original utopian vehicle of free education for all. Modest fees have frequently, although not always, come into play. This is because online courses cost money to produce and run — although economies of scale mean that they can be taught for much lower costs than face-to-face classroom courses. Perhaps it’s more appropriate to describe current MOOCs as massive ongoing online courses. There’s lots of innovation going on under the hood.

Critics of new innovations will inevitably look prescient most of the time. It’s hard to make successful and sustainable innovations! Ebooks, for example, were a joke for decades — until suddenly they weren’t. If you’re reveling in lower ebook sales, take a gander at the prices. The popularity of ebooks makes most of them more expensive than paperbacks, despite their lower production costs.

MOOCs allow universities a bigger footprint in their core mission to spread learning. Look to the millions of refugees and displaced peoples in some of the world’s largest camps, or to adults with IQs of 70 or below who had previously been unable to attend college, or to students in rural Guatemala who want to learn about, say, neuroscience.

Universities had previously failed these groups. But through MOOCs, universities are giving them the education they’ve always wanted and needed. Recently, 17 institutions joined the University of Leiden by identifying MOOCs that help achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Over all, MOOCs allow universities to reach an entirely new set of older, lifelong learners who are being served in ways that strengthen both academic values and the core mission of universities. It’s clear that the burgeoning MOOC movement is a healthy new venue for higher education worldwide.

From a broader context, the World Conference on Online Learning finds open learning to be a core form of course and program delivery in Canadian postsecondary education. The same is true in many other countries. As well, today’s learners are dramatically different from those in decades past. The idea that students evolve is not new. What is new are many students racking up too much debt to get a university degree. There is a compelling need for lower-cost alternatives. Also, learning with MOOCs means less time commuting, parking and navigating busy schedules and more time directly devoted to learning. MOOCs are part of the tool kit that can help to do both.

MOOCs offer tantalizing possibilities for economies of scale in college education, coupled with quality teaching and branding opportunities. This is partly why so many universities are heavily invested in MOOCs. Students at MIT who were offered the chance of “in-class” options chose the MOOC instead — and did better in it. As Class Central notes: “Students in the online version at MIT rated the course as significantly less stressful than their on-campus classes. At Georgia Tech, based on test scores, no statistically significant differences were observed.”

As for personalized learning, edX’s MicroMasters, IBM’s badges, Udacity’s nanodegrees and Coursera’s specializations are already making a mark. We also see solid growth in adaptive learning platforms — see, for example, the insightful Inside Higher Ed article “Could Georgia Tech Use Online to Shave Time Off Bachelor’s Degrees?

Over all, MOOCs are neither dangerous nor dead. They offer ways for students to keep their knowledge fresh as they mature and go into the work force, raise families and navigate a marketplace increasingly disrupted by technology.

It’s easy to criticize MOOCs if you’ve never created or taken one. If you’re an educator and you haven’t taken one, it’s time to jump in the water. Go ahead, look over the Class Central listings and find the most interesting MOOC you can — either on your own subject or any topic you’ve always wanted to learn about. See if you might get some ideas to improve your day-to-day teaching, and enjoy the easy opportunity to both learn something new and up your game as an instructor. You’ll be glad you did.

By Arshad Ahmad, AWB-USF Board of Directors and vice provost for teaching & learning, McMaster University, and director, McMaster University’s MacPherson Institute, and Barbara Oakley, professor of engineering, Oakland University.
Reposted from an October 25, 2017 blog at Inside Higher Ed


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AWB-USF Reception at McGill Faculty Club on October 19, 2017

Sixty people from Montreal’s academic and broader communities attended AWB-USF’s reception at the McGill Faculty Club on October 19, 2017.

It was a terrific opportunity for them to learn more about the organization and especially to hear about the experiences of Dr. Keyna Bracken, recently returned from Aceh, Indonesia, where she led a project to improve maternal health in rural Indonesia. Journalist Lysiane Gagnon was our esteemed emcee for the event, introducing the speakers who also included outgoing Executive Director Steven Davis and AWB-USF University Network Manager Dominique Van De Maele.

The new Executive Director Greg Moran was introduced.  He assumed the leadership role on October 21 having spent two years on its Board of Directors.  He joined the organization after a recent posting as Provost at Aga Khan University in Nairobi and following a long career as a professor and university administrator.

It was an engaged crowd with lots of questions for the speakers, and people enjoyed the chance to mingle and enjoy the delicious appetizers and beverages provided.

Read an article in The Montrealer about the event:

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Academics Without Borders

Academics Without Borders is a volunteer driven NGO, implementing vital, practical projects to strengthen higher education in developing countries so that they have the skilled professionals, such as nurses, teachers, doctors, engineers and computer scientists to build a brighter future. This helps to improve healthcare, education, inclusion and infrastructure.

“The future is already here, it is just not evenly distributed” – at least this is what a large Japanese wireless provider believes (NTT DoCoMo, Japan).

Academics Without Borders (AWB) aims to better distribute the future through strengthening higher education in the developing world. Our mission is to assist academic institutions in developing countries in building capacity in higher education so that they can train their own experts and conduct research to assist in their development. We do this by designing projects that connect a volunteer expert academic from Canada and elsewhere in the developed world who then shares their expertise and knowledge with our partner institutions in the developing world. Through volunteers we contribute to the development of our partner institutions and ultimately the country in which they are located.

Is knowledge important for development?

Sustainable development, or alternatively, the development of sustainability is critically dependent on knowledge. “Fifty years ago the Republic of Korea and Ghana had the same income per capita whereas by the early 1990s, Korea’s income per capita was six times that of Ghana – 50 per cent of that difference was due to Korea’s greater success in acquiring and using knowledge” according to the World Bank. Today, GDP per capita is 20 times greater in Korea than in Ghana. Korea’s rapid and sustained economic development is often attributed to, at least in part, the application of technology and science. The country is often used as a textbook example of how government policy and well educated researchers can change the national economic trajectory in very positive ways.

AWB focuses on individuals, but we rely on a multiplier effect for broader impact. AWB’s volunteers work closely with colleagues at our partner universities, upgrading their knowledge and skills, so that they can share their knowledge with students and do the necessary research for development. This train-the-trainer approach ensures we reach the maximum number of people with limited resources, cascading help to local communities. With projects originating from our partner institutions, we can address local needs accurately. We work across all disciplines and establish long-term relationships with our partners.

AWB is implementing vital, practical projects to strengthen higher education in developing countries so they have the skilled professionals, such as nurses, teachers, doctors, engineers and computer scientists to build a brighter future. This helps to improve healthcare, education, inclusion and infrastructure.

Our objectives

  • To assist countries to build the critical mass of professionals; doctors, nurses, engineers, agriculturists, educators, administrators, managers, and entrepreneurs necessary to build a sustainable society for continued human development.
  • To ensure that the professionals needed by developing countries are educated in their home countries.
  • To work with partner institutions in developing countries to improve the quality of higher education so that professionals have the skills that they need to improve their communities.

Our volunteers

Highly trained volunteers are the foundation of our programme. Experts in their respective fields, volunteers travel to our partner universities in developing countries, improving teaching and research skills, introducing new courses, revising curriculum, upgrading administrative support and services, and even helping to establish new universities.

With placements varying from a week to a year, volunteers offer their time for free and our partner institutions contribute as best they can to the cost of their postings.

Where we work

AWB has projects throughout the developing world. Since 2009, we have completed over 90 projects with more than 100 volunteers in 17 countries, including some of the most economically and sometimes politically challenged in the world, such as Benin, Ethiopia, Ghana, Liberia, Namibia, Nepal, Rwanda, Uganda, and Sierra Leone. AWB has established ongoing relationships with several institutions and is committed to working with them for as long as they request assistance.


Who are the beneficiaries of this rising tide of knowledge in a previously knowledge-poor area? People of local origin, who gain global connections through AWB and a strengthened understanding of how to generate, transmit, and store knowledge. New curricula, course content, and teaching and learning materials can be kept up-to-date through local initiatives as well as through electronic connections, both nationally and internationally with knowledge-rich institutions in the developed world.

Local undergraduate and graduate students benefit from modern, relevant and high quality courses and ancillary services delivered by local people who participate in the AWB programme. These students will ultimately graduate and contribute to regional development in areas such as health and education, food production, resource management, and environmental protection. The noted educator Kurt Hahn CBE, creator of Outward Bound and the United World Colleges among other things, is credited with saying ‘as individuals we cannot change the world but we can create students who want to’ and in many instances, will.

Faculty and support staff are connected to colleagues at knowledge and well resource western institutions, providing access to information and materials that would otherwise be prohibitively expensive. Our partners often build solid linkages to the outside world and the rising tide of knowledge.

As importantly, Canadian and other developed country university faculty and staff have benefited from the opportunity to work in a different culture and a rich environment that would not otherwise be easily available. For those who have never worked in the developing world it is often a transformational experience that also enhances their ability to strengthen their teaching in increasingly diverse classrooms at home and conduct globally relevant research. These individuals, along with their developing country colleagues, maintain a bi-directional flow of knowledge that benefits the world.

By Dr. Nello Angerilli, University of Waterloo, and AWB-USF Board of Directors
Reposted from the Association of Commonwealth Universities


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Academics Without Borders: Helping universities build a better world

Today, the urgent needs of those threatened by famine, disease and violence are immense. Understandably, governments and the people of more privileged countries focus first on delivering medical care, shelter, food and water. Beyond these immediate needs, development assistance is directed towards supporting governments and civil society in the poorer regions of the world to build basic societal infrastructure through primary and secondary education, health care systems and enhanced agricultural practices. Collectively, these efforts have made substantial progress in fulfilling the United Nations Millennial Development Goals (MDGs) – targeting extreme poverty and hunger, primary education, child mortality, maternal health, and serious disease.

What role can and do university professors play in this context? Academics Without Borders provides one example of wide-ranging efforts from academics who work in the developed world to partner with colleagues in the Global South to support capacity building initiatives.

Universities and the Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, the UN introduced the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that turn our attention to not only ensuring survival but also enabling the world’s most disadvantaged to build communities in which they may thrive.

The 17 SDGs, which include the elimination of hunger and poverty and health promotion, also embrace access to quality education at all levels, gender equality, clean water and sanitation, work and economic growth, functional cities, and other objectives that are necessary to allow for civil, prosperous communities, societies and countries. Success in achieving these complex goals will above all require strong, innovative and committed leadership in the developing world.

Universities in these countries have a vital part to play in educating leaders in education, health, business, industry, government, and in the public and nonprofit sectors necessary to build the sustainable, inclusive, civil societies envisaged by the United Nations SDGs.

Universities in the developing world are eager to take on these roles but ill-equipped to do so. Speaking at the meetings of the Canadian Association for Studies in Development (Toronto, May, 2017), Paul Tiyambe Zeleza, Vice Chancellor, United States International University-Africa, summarized the situation as follows:

“… the challenges facing African universities can be encapsulated by the term ‘capacity’—the limited capacities of institutional supply for the continent’s bulging youth population, the fastest growing in the world; of financial and physical resources; the massive shortages of faculty; prevalence of weak institutional leadership and governance; outputs that betray mismatches between graduates and skills required by the economy and employers; and low levels of research infrastructures, cultures, and productivity.”

In Africa as well as in countries throughout Latin America and the Caribbean and much of Central, South and East Asia, universities are faced with a massive increase in enrolment demand and expectations to contribute to enhancing their countries’ health, wealth and quality of life. But they are without the capacity necessary to contribute as they wish and must. The shortages of qualified faculty, poor salaries, inadequate working conditions, and facilities are greater than can be imagined by their academic colleagues in North America and Western Europe.

The development of a doctoral school at the University of Burundi provides a recent illustration of the challenges facing such universities. According to Juma Shabani, the school’s director, the new doctoral school will provide the scientific capacity essential to sustainable development and produce readily employable and much-needed graduates. But the university does not have the qualified faculty with the strong research skills, modern research facilities and access to up-to-date scientific journals required to support PhD programs.

Capacity Building Needs

Despite these circumstances, governments and international development agencies in North America and Western Europe provide little support to capacity building in the universities in the Global South.

It is true that some programs do support the offshore education of students from the developing world, but the effectiveness of such programs is reduced because graduates often remain in the countries where they study. Another weakness of these study-abroad plans is highlighted in the comments of Nick Hopwood, Associate Professor at the University of Technology, Sydney, Australia and Extraordinary Professor at Stellenbosch University, South Africa, regarding the proposed doctoral School in Burundi:

“Doctoral education should take place on ‘home soil’. Not only will the graduates be homegrown in Burundi, but potentially the knowledge they produce, too, by fostering the production of knowledge in situ, and in ways that not only respect local knowledge, but build on and advance it.”

At the same time as governments and international development agencies turn away from enhancing university education in the less privileged countries, individual members of faculty and other professionals in Canadian and other universities in the privileged world are eager to tangibly support their colleagues elsewhere.

A Mission-Driven Organization

Academics Without Borders (AWB) was created to fill this gap – to enable qualified and willing academics to donate their time and skills to support their colleagues as they seek build the capacity of their universities to serve the pressing development needs of their communities.

The AWB model is simple:

– Partner universities in the developing world identify their needs for creating or expanding academic programs, enhancing pedagogy, building research capacity, or improving academic support services.
– AWB works with these universities to develop projects to meet these needs and identifies volunteers to implement the plans.
– Projects follow a “train-the-trainer” model avoiding short-term gap teaching and leaving behind a sustainable increase in capacity.
– Volunteers donate their time.
– Funding for travel, accommodations, meals and insurance is provided by AWB and, to whatever extent possible, contributed to by the partner university.

In the past 10 years, AWB has successfully mounted more than 90 projects involving over 100 volunteers in countries throughout the Global South. The demand for capacity-building projects far exceeds what we can support. There is never a problem finding qualified volunteers to implement the projects irrespective of the discipline or area of university services.

The reach of AWB has been extended recently with the creation of the University Network and its 21 Canadian university members. Membership in the Network is a meaningful expression of their commitment to internationalization, enabling them to directly propose projects in conjunction with partner universities in the developing world and giving preferential consideration for their faculty to serve as volunteers.

AWB is a remarkably efficient organization. Our project costs often are only 15% of their real dollar value because of the time donated by our volunteers and other in-kind contributions. Despite this cost efficiency, as with all nonprofit organizations, our limiting factor is the revenue necessary to execute more projects. Because governments and international funding agencies seldom support the enhancement of higher education in the developing world, AWB relies on contributions from individuals and private foundations.

The mission and operational model of Academics Without Borders are strong. In the coming years, we will build on these fundamentals but also look for ways that we can increase the organization’s effectiveness with our partners in the University Network. We also will explore greater collaboration with other international development agencies where AWB might strengthen a broader program through its experience and ability in university improvement

Strong universities are an essential part of building the health, wealth and wellbeing of communities around the world – communities whose people are determinedly working towards these goals despite formidable obstacles. Academics Without Borders offers a vehicle for those able and willing to contribute to this task.

By Greg Moran, Executive Director, AWB-USF
Reposted from Centre for the Study of Canadian and International Higher Education


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