What it is about ...

Well, how do we define a truly international university? Are we already there? Is it worthwhile to direct our efforts towards internationalization? Similar questions are being asked across Canada and in other parts of the world. No doubt, internationalization is a popular and oft debated slogan.

Unfortunately, one has the impression that internationalization is frequently reduced to increasing international student recruitment. Sure, in times when universities struggle to maintain their enrolment numbers, tapping the international market is enticing. Student population increases, additional (and welcomed) revenue is generated. The premium charged to international students is quickly justified by the supplementary services we (promise to) provide. Suddenly we have a campus full of fascinating faces, ethnic dresses and vivid colours. In addition, we send some students abroad, sign a couple of exchange agreements with foreign universities and once in a while organize an international bazaar. (Isn’t the food that they cook great?) We ask our professors to apply for grants from development agencies (external funding is always good, isn’t it?) and dispatch them to work on projects in exotic places. Now we have a truly internationalized university. Hurray!

Or do we?

It all comes back to our understanding of what internationalization is about. There is nothing wrong with tapping new revenue sources, increasing the enrolment and diversification of the student population. But we must understand that these are the potential benefits of a well-designed internationalization policy, and not a tool to achieve it.

I believe that a successful, truly internationalized university prepares their students, faculty and staff for the comfortable interaction with people from all corners of the world. Yes, internationalization is that simple. It is the feeling of being at ease with who we are and how we fit into our complex world with its multitude of intriguing cultures. It’s the confidence to include “others” in building a better future and rebutting the crippling narrow-mindedness (often camouflaged as a sense of cultural unity) that builds a cocoon around the teensy world in which we (prefer to) live. It’s the comfort with which we embrace others’ ideas and realization that others may share different values and beliefs than ours. But make no mistake, internationalization also entails engaging others in discussions and challenging misguided convictions. The desire for global tranquility shall not lead us to acceptance of positions contrary to our strongly embedded values of democracy, equal rights and justice.

Will exchange semesters, recruitment of international students and projects in foreign places aid our goal of internationalization? Yes, they will. There is no doubt about it. We cannot have one without the other. But most of all, internationalization is a philosophy, which must permeate every aspect of campus life and reach all the university stakeholders, from administration to faculty members, students and support staff. It cannot be imposed on the university community; the community must be won over. It’s a development that requires time, patience and persuasion.

I believe that all of us at Memorial shall strive to develop a strong international brand – “Memorial University”. The success of our internationalization efforts is directly related to the effective marketing of this brand to prospective students, visiting researchers, partner institutions and, maybe most importantly, to our own university community. We must succeed in developing a pride of belonging among our international alumni. Our domestic students participating in exchange programs must carry the excitement about being part of a great university to their host institutions. Our faculty must act as brand ambassadors at international conferences, seminars and research visits. We shall have the feeling of ownership in the brand. We have a lot going for us - a university with history, innovative research and vision – in a country proud of its multicultural background.