The rise of the University of Toronto from a small, regional institution to one of global influence parallels that of Canada itself. We grew somewhat tentatively until the early 20th century, and then in several phases we threw open our arms to the world.
Our outlook is now decidedly international. It is inspired by the fact that addressing the great challenges of our time increasingly requires collaboration among the world’s best scholars. It is also driven by our desire to help our students develop the global fluency and cross-cultural perspectives they’ll need to lead us forward.
Last December, for example, Alexa Waud, a third-year student at the Munk School of Global Affairs, travelled to Brazil to study its remarkable track record in poverty reduction. Over 11 days, as part of a small-group course on global innovation with Prof. Joseph Wong, Waud interviewed government officials in Brasilia, spoke with social-assistance workers, and toured public health clinics and community centres.
Our ability to provide students with this sort of experience – and to act as a magnet for the brightest students and faculty from around the world – is a testament to the distinctive strengths of the University of Toronto as a global institution. But we need to be even more deliberate and strategic in cultivating this key advantage.
In the past year, I’ve been working with Prof. Janice Stein, the former director of the Munk School of Global Affairs, and Prof. Ted Sargent, who was recently appointed U of T’s vice-president, international, to develop a plan to advance the university’s international strategy in four crucial areas.
Student and faculty recruitment. U of T already recruits more than one in five students internationally, compared to one in 25 a generation ago. These students enrich our community with a variety of perspectives and offer many of their Canadian peers their first taste of global fluency. Looking ahead, we’ll refine our recruitment efforts to diversify our student body further and, at the graduate level, help more of the very best students pursue research opportunities at U of T.
Leading scholars from around the world currently make up close to 50 per cent of new faculty hires. We hope to work with the federal government to ensure that, when we do identify the best person for a position, the immigration process is as smooth as possible.
Research and institutional partnerships. U of T has dozens of partnerships with universities around the world and almost half of our scholars’ research publications now include an international co-author. In coming years, we aim to strengthen our collaborations with top peer institutions in the US, UK, Germany, Brazil, China, India and elsewhere who share our global outlook, our focus on enhancing student experience, and our determination to leverage our location in a dynamic urban environment.
Learn abroad programs. As part of these enhanced collaborations, we aim to expand the menu of international experiences for students to include, in addition to a summer or term abroad, shorter work and research placements and mentorships across all faculties and departments. One of our first tasks will be to catalogue current programs and to improve our tracking of the number of students using them.
Alumni relations. U of T’s global alumni network is unparalleled among Canadian universities. What’s particularly exciting is that many alumni are already helping the university to achieve its international goals – by assisting with student recruitment in other countries, by identifying placements for students abroad and by acting as international mentors. As we expand programming in these areas, we’ll be inviting even more alumni to participate.
It’s worth noting that the separate elements of our international strategy don’t work in isolation. They are designed to be mutually reinforcing, so that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. For example, international graduate students will generate new connections between faculty members at U of T and at other universities, making new research collaborations possible.
By deepening U of T’s partnerships with a select group of great universities in dynamic world cities, we aim to help our students become global citizens in a highly interconnected era, find solutions through research to our most pressing problems, and encourage the best and brightest in the world to bring their experience and expertise to U of T.