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Wise to the World

Like everything else, higher education is going global

He went surfing in the Pacific Ocean, swam with sharks and had a wonderful time scuba diving off the Great Barrier Reef. But while attending the University of Sydney as part of a half-year academic exchange, Kevin F. also found himself comparing Australia and Canada socially and politically. “We have many issues in common, but I found Australian policies to be more American than Canadian,” he says. “It made me realize that the U.S. has a much more far-reaching influence than I thought.”

The 23-year-old engineering student returned home last year with some thoughts about what U of T could learn from Australia’s post-secondary educational system. “Unlike U of T’s engineering department, they do not rank their students at the end of each year, nor do they place averages on transcripts. There is much to be said of this system.”

A critical understanding of different educational systems and an appreciation of different cultures is exactly what students should be bringing back from exchanges, says Pekka Sinervo, dean of the Faculty of Arts & Science. “All of us recognize that the world and universities are becoming increasingly global in their perspective. An international exchange prepares students for what they will encounter in business and life – working internationally and with people from different cultures.”

Last year, about 300 students – most in their third year – studied abroad, with the help of U of T’s International Student Exchange Office, which has forged partnerships with 124 universities in 38 countries on five continents.

Stepping Up emphasizes the need to increase opportunities for undergraduates interested in studying abroad. The faculties of physical and health education, law and engineering are all boosting the number of exchanges they offer, but Arts & Science has set the most aggressive target. The dean says he wants 10 per cent of students (about 2,200 undergrads) to have acquired some international experience by the time they graduate – more than double the current total. “This is an opportunity students shouldn’t miss,” says Sinervo. “This is not a U of T phenomenon. Europe sets goals of 30 to 40 per cent.”

As for Kevin, his trip to Sydney whetted his appetite to see more of the world. He plans to do an exchange – either in France or back in Australia – while taking an MBA at the Joseph L. Rotman School of Management. And then? “I want to find a job that makes a positive difference,” he says.

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