Canada launches $95 million outbound program to boost skills

The Global Skills Opportunity program, funded by Employment and Social Development Canada, will help students acquire skills that “employers want and the Canadian economy needs”.

An outbound pilot was announced in the 2019 international education strategy. The GSO targets underrepresented students and prioritises non-traditional destinations.

“Global Skills Opportunity is breaking down financial, social and logistical barriers that have prevented too many underrepresented students from participating in global study and work opportunities,” said Universities Canada president Paul Davidson.

It will be jointly administered by Colleges and Institutes Canada and Universities Canada.

“Through this ambitious and ground-breaking program, thousands of young Canadians will have transformational experience abroad. Their newfound global perspective and skills will inform the way they live and work for decades to come,” Davidson added.

The Outbound Student Mobility Pilot, part of the government’s 2019 strategy, had the objective of supporting up to 11,000 students.

Although all Canadian post-secondary students are eligible, the GSO program is targeting Indigenous students, low-income background student and those with disabilities.

GSO is funding 124 projects at 56 universities and 54 colleges across Canada, which are being run in collaboration with international partners in more than 100 countries over the next three and half years. By October 2020, 61 programs had been funded.

“This groundbreaking program will allow more Canadian students to access these opportunities to develop the skills they need to gain a foothold in today’s global marketplace,” said president of CICan, Denise Amyot.

“Study and work abroad programs are invaluable learning experiences that ensure students are culturally literate, resilient, adaptable and ready to succeed in an increasingly globalised world.

“This is perhaps more important than ever, which is why we are so proud to work with our partners to deliver Global Skills Opportunity.”

The GSO is long-awaited, dating from a 2012 report that focused on Canadian prosperity, Sonja Knutson director of the Internationalization Office at Memorial University of Newfoundland highlighted.

“The first part of the 2012 report (focused on recruitment of international students) became the first Canadian International Education Strategy in 2014 and the second part (student mobility) became part of the second IES strategy in 2019,” she told The PIE.

“The program was then delayed by the pandemic. So suffice to say we have been waiting for nine years on this funding program and are thrilled to see its launch.”

British Columbia Council for International Education welcomes federal support for the outbound mobility, executive director, Randall Martin, noted.

“The program supports Canada’s IE strategy and for the first time in this country actively tries to engage groups of students traditionally underrepresented in study abroad and other outbound mobility schemes. For example, a substantial number of BC institutions have already engaged with programs supporting the mobility of First Nations students,” he said.

The launch now, as physical mobility re-emerges, is “serendipitous”, he continued.

“Project funding runs until 2025 and also supports mobility to non-traditional markets and destinations (and in fact excludes mobility to the US, the UK, Australia, and France, already the top and most popular destinations for our students) which will I believe also help to buttress Canada’s need to diversify the source countries of incoming international students.”

“The accommodation of virtual or hybrid programs is understandable and appreciated”

Physical mobility will only be allowed if government travel advisories permit, and will prioritise student safety with wraparound supports and security measures.

Given the backdrop of the pandemic, many post-secondary institutions created or improved tools and approaches to offer students innovative and meaningful virtual mobility programming, program developers noted.

“The accommodation of virtual or hybrid programs is understandable and appreciated in this transition to next generation mobility,” Martin added.

Student Mobility Projects will be announced soon, while Program Innovation Fund is designed to “help institutions test new tools and approaches, adapt mobility programming to Covid-19, and build the foundation for the launch of the full program”.

Examples include York University’s virtual pilot for its International Indigenous Student Exchange Program, University of Waterloo’s project aimed to identify and reduce barriers to exchange for students with disabilities and Wilfrid Laurier University’s initiative setting out to better understand Indigenous students’ learning needs and obstacles related to international education.

Executive director of York International Vinitha Gengatharan detailed that the program connects Indigenous students with the global community, with participants from six partner universities: Deakin University (Melbourne, Australia); Tecnologico de Monterrey (Mexico); Universidad de San Francisco de Quito (Ecuador); University of Costa Rica (Costa Rica); University of New South Wales (Sydney, Australia); and University of the Philippines (Philippines).

“This is a program that we’d wanted to create for Indigenous students and the innovation fund was an opportunity to kick start the initiative,” Gengatharan told The PIE.

“The ability to co-create this program with Indigenous students and partners created a program that brought together Indigenous people from different parts of the world.

“It was one of the most moving and powerful experiences I have been part of and am so glad that we’re able to continue to offer this program virtually.”

Associate vice-president, International at University of Waterloo Ian Rowlands noted the importance of increasing access and advancing inclusiveness across both populations and kinds of engagement.

“One of the best things about this program is its focus on non-traditional destinations and non-traditional students”

“One of the best things about this program is its focus on non-traditional destinations and non-traditional students,” Knutson at MUN added.

“It requires international offices to reach out to other student support offices on-campus (Indigenous students, students with disabilities, students with low incomes, etc) and work closely with them to apply for this fund.

“International offices may not always be in contact with these offices, and it has been a very good learning experience for international staff to work with new stakeholders to ensure the mobility experiences for students are safe, appropriate, and well-managed.”

The GSO program is expanding opportunities both for students who otherwise would not have an opportunity, and to places that are beyond the traditional destinations, Gengatharan concluded.

“In building these partnerships, I do hope we keep in mind that the need to remain sustainable, ethical and inclusive not just for the time during which we have the funds, and for these specific programs, but as institutions and Canada continues to build its global engagement, these principles need to be incorporated into our ongoing and future engagement.”

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