Education has always worked towards building better and stronger economies, but our economy has experienced an undeniable shift. Now, more than ever, Alberta’s economy is becoming more global. How are educational institutions working to create a better and stronger Edmonton within the parameters of that shift? They are becoming more global, too.
Campuses across Alberta—and the rest of Canada—are getting on board the study abroad program, a program that allows students to earn an MBA while studying part time, and earning credits towards their program, in another country. Of course, the program works in reverse, too. Students from other countries are able to come to Alberta to study. It’s a positive experience for the students, and it creates a positive impact on the Edmonton economy as well.
“At the Alberta School of Business,” explains Christopher Lynch, senior director, recruitment, admissions & marketing at University of Alberta School of Business, “we have exchange partnerships with universities in 20 plus countries.”
“Study abroad exchanges are typically for one or two terms (4-8 months) and allow participating students the opportunity to fully immerse themselves in a foreign culture while studying and completing courses that will count towards their degree,” Lynch says. “Within the MBA program, we also offer shorter opportunities for students to travel abroad during their studies with two-week long study tours (where we take a group of students to a foreign county and combine academic lectures, company visits, and cultural activities). With our exchange partnerships, we both send our students abroad to study and accept students from our partner schools to study with us. There are many benefits.”
Lynch continues, “Foreign students bring in a very different perspective and approach to business than Canadian students. The economy has grown ever more connected and global – your company’s competitor is no longer the business down the street; it can be someone thousands of miles away. Having the opportunity to study and learn alongside students from across the globe allows Canadian students to gain some insight and understanding into how business works in other parts of the world. What works in Canada won’t necessarily work in China, India, or even the United States. Giving students the opportunity to learn about different cultures from those who have lived and done business outside of Canada takes some of mystery out of international business, and it will hopefully encourage students to look beyond our borders in the future.
“For foreign students studying in Edmonton, there are also benefits for the city. A large number of students choose to stay and work in Edmonton post-graduation and adding bright and well-educated students to the labour market (especially individuals who have been able to adjust and adapt to Canadian culture while completing their studies) only helps Edmonton. For those students who return home, they are able to tell Edmonton’s story and help to grow our image on the world stage.”
“A large number of international students do elect to stay in Edmonton after completing their studies,” Lynch emphasizes. “Canada’s Post-Graduation Work Permit Program allows students who have studied in Canada for two or more years to work in Canada for three years post-graduation. Students would have had two or more years to acclimatize to Canada and Canadian culture and would be better equipped to fit into a business than someone new to Canada. While graduates are unlikely to be starting a new business and bringing in new jobs shortly after graduation, having bright and well-educated individuals building their careers in Edmonton is likely to help bring in jobs down the line.”
“For domestic students studying abroad,” Lynch suggests, “bringing new ideas and perspectives back to Edmonton can only help our city and businesses move forward, whether that is bringing new ideas back to the city or giving students and businesses the confidence and knowledge to break into new international markets.
“Employers do appreciate students that have studied abroad. Studying abroad tells employers that students are adaptable and willing to step outside of their comfort zone – which is one way that students with international experience can stand out from their peers. Competition is global. Being able to understand different cultures and being able to adopt business practices from around the globe makes local companies more competitive.”
“Studying abroad (or studying alongside foreign students) helps to expand a student’s perspectives and opens them up to new ways of looking at and approaching problems,” Lynch concludes. “Studying abroad also helps students gain a new understanding of the struggles you can face entering a new culture – students come to appreciate diversity and be more tolerant of differences. For some students, studying abroad is also the first time they are truly independent, and being forced to manage on their own helps them grow.”
“There are a number of benefits,” agrees Kimberley Howard, executive director of MacEwan International. “Education abroad programs create diversity. International students with different global perspectives, if they choose to stay, become part of building Canada and Alberta’s future. Domestic students come back with larger, more global perspectives that they can apply to their lives and their work. Lots of companies are interested in that perspective. The students who participate in the program become better problem solvers and critical thinkers, and they are more able to come up with new ways and strategies to make things work in different situations.”
MacEwan University offers Education Abroad, a program that allows students currently enrolled at MacEwan to participate in international internships, study tours, summer programs, exchange programs, and more. “We also host inbound exchange students from partner institutions around world,” Howard explains. “Students come to stay for a term or so, and we also have international student recruitment, which allows students from anywhere in the world to come to Edmonton with a study permit. We are hopeful that students will be attracted to MacEwan because of the education abroad programs we offer. The program appeals to a certain type of student—someone who is adventurous and interested in trying to expand their horizons.”
But there are more benefits to be gained than a mere opportunity for adventure, Howard explains: a lot of employers find the program, and the benefits it offers its students, to have clear benefits for their businesses, too. “A lot of business owners want their employees to have that international perspective, particularly if they are invested in international business.”
“We always remind students to feature their education abroad program on their CVs,” adds Howard. “It’s a good way to set them apart from other candidates, making them seem more attractive to employers who participate in international business.”
“International students from the education abroad program who choose to stay and live and work can bring a lot of contacts to Edmonton,” says Howard. “A lot of companies are interested in doing business in an international market—one third being in China and another third in India. They are huge markets, and international students who choose to stay can be very beneficial to companies who need someone who can speak the language, know the culture, and provide contacts and connections.”
“A lot of the students we see intend to stay and work in Alberta,” Howard concludes. “Canada is a nation of immigrants and newcomers, and it is in our best interest to know how to work with people who are different, people who don’t share the same language, culture, work habits, and lifestyle. It’s important to be able to get along and work well and collaborate with others who don’t think like you, and learning how to do those things is a big part of what education abroad programs offer.”