Welcoming a Brazilian invasion

(Edmonton) The Brazilian government, through its Science without Borders program, is encouraging its undergraduate students to start applying for scholarships to study at universities around the world. The University of Alberta is among the universities on its list.

The Brazilian government is sponsoring 100,000 students over four years as a way to expand science, technology and innovation through international exchange and mobility of students. The March 15 announcement lists CALDO—a consortium of the universities of Alberta, Laval, Dalhousie and Ottawa—among the universities and research institutions abroad to which it wishes to send students to study.

Britta Baron, associate vice-president international and vice-provost at the U of A, was behind the creation of CALDO about two years ago.

Richard Poulin, director of Laval's Bureau International, says Baron’s vision met a need in Canada. “We decided that there’s a need and that we would create a partnership for that need, which is the absence of a national body that could represent universities of our type,” Poulin said.

Alain Boutet, executive director of international relations with Dalhousie University, says CALDO offers an opportunity for the world to learn about a Canadian secret. “It’s about building relationships, in this case with Brazil, to promote and to brand Canadian higher education because it’s not well known,” he said. “It’s a well-kept secret compared with other countries. Coming together, these four universities are showing what Canada can do, what we can offer, but at the same time showing this very Canadian value of reciprocating to balance the flow.”

Boutet says CALDO furthers international engagement by ensuring a true bilateral engagement with foreign universities. “We will get a lot from these kinds of partnerships, like this with Brazil, but at the same time we need to expose our students. In these emerging countries like Brazil and China, their expectation is to see our students and faculties going there. And that’s part of the dynamic of this kind of consortium and one we would be able to achieve.”

Unlike most other countries, Canada does not have a national organization that helps universities participate in Brazil’s $2-billion scheme, says Baron. She adds CALDO has already signed agreements with the Brazilians concerning graduate students.

“We have a unit set up at the U of A that operates on behalf of all CALDO partners to help Brazilian students find a place at one of the four CALDO institutions,” she said. “We’re actively reaching out to the students and offering them placement advice and assistance.”

Under the new agreement, undergraduate students from Brazil will spend a year in Canada taking classes and receiving language training, if they need it. Towards the end, they will complete two-month research internships with a researcher at a CALDO institution.

Until recently, CALDO was the only such group that could help bring foreign students to Canada through government-sponsored programs such as Science without Borders, Baron says. “We’re convinced that Canada is not making the best use of all the international opportunities in the world of higher education and research. We need to become much more proactive to make use of these opportunities, such as this one with Brazil,” she said.

“We’re trying to establish a new paradigm that Canada can become more dynamically engaged with international partners.”

That shift, says Gary Slater, incumbent associate vice-president international at the University of Ottawa, will help position Canada in the coming years.

“The future is in international networks of universities. So we want students to be able to travel not just across Canada, but to foreign countries. So we need partners in different countries. Of course, we want to recruit international students to come here, but we want our students to go abroad.”

Baron says Canadian universities were losing out because without a group such as CALDO, foreign governments and corporations looking to sponsor students to study abroad didn’t have a single body in Canada to work with. “We have thousands of universities worldwide; there’s no way each can sign agreements with each university. We needed to form a group like CALDO,” Slater said.

Baron says the country benefits ultimately. “Building academic linkages and connections between people ultimately leads to building economic co-operation, business opportunities, political and cultural understanding and affinity,” she said. "Students who come to Canada can go back and build lasting relationships on many levels that would promote Canada’s economic and political interests and enhance Canada’s position in the world."