Canadians make almost 30 million overnight trips to foreign countries in a year—not bad for a nation with only 36 million people.
But when it comes to Canada’s students travelling abroad for post-secondary education, the numbers are not nearly so impressive. After all, the value of exposure to foreign cultures, different ways of doing business, multi-language literacy, and knowledge of foreign history and customs are increasingly valuable components in dealing with globalization.
Yet according to Academica Group, a Canadian think tank devoted to fostering “meaningful, generative dialogue about the future of education in Canada,” only 3.1 per cent of full-time university students and 1.1 per cent of full-time college students have studied abroad as part of their postsecondary education.
According to surveys done by Academica, though 58 per cent of respondents said they planned on travelling abroad after graduating, 57 per cent of those cited a “desire to see the world” as their primary reason for foreign travel, 16 per cent cited personal reasons, and only 11 per cent said they would like to travel for academic reasons.
The conclusion drawn from this data by a researcher from the Conference Board of Canada was that “students aren’t being enticed to (academic) institutions or programs based on the promise of being able to have an international learning experience—they’re more narrowly focused on the logistics of getting their credential and getting out into the working world.”
Too much hard work?
The study further showed that 43 per cent of respondents felt “going on an international exchange would be like going on a vacation for me,” while 75 per cent either somewhat or strongly agreed that “international exchanges require a lot of hard work.”
When asked what would make them change their minds about studying abroad for short or long periods, 64 per cent felt that the courses they take would have to count toward their current program; 58 per cent said their exchange would have to offer an internship or co-op placement in their field; and 39 per cent said they would have to receive a recorded credit on their transcript.
These are tough-minded, practical considerations which seem to indicate that until Canadian institutions get better at spurring students to study abroad as part of their postsecondary education, students will continue to spend their travel money on self-directed vacations rather than in foreign classrooms.
The irony of such a trend is that travel services and institutions such as Canadian health insurers have made the prospect of studying, working, or being posted abroad for short or long periods more accessible, flexible, and affordable than ever.
Clearly, health insurance coverage abroad is a top priority for all travellers, as well as the schools recruiting them, the companies hiring them, or the institutions sponsoring them—and, increasingly, the nations hosting them. And the insurance products being made available are not the same “off the shelf” plans earlier generations might have been limited to. They are becoming highly targeted for the specific needs of individuals, adaptable for whatever travel contingencies exist, and priced realistically enough for even the most stringently budgeted student.
These plans have to be adaptable because more than 9 per cent of all Canadian citizens today live outside of Canada. That compares to 1.7 per cent of Americans, 2.6 per cent of Chinese citizens, or 3.3 per cent of French citizens. And though Canadians leave their country for a whole host of reasons, they’re not going to leave their most basic securities—like health care—behind.
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