During the past decade, cross-border (or offshore) initiatives of Canadian universities have expanded, accompanied by more internationalization of our campuses. Degree and diploma programs, branch campuses, and stand-alone institutions with Canadian university involvement have been established or planned in countries around the globe.
Western’s Ivey School of Business has a campus in Hong Kong. Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business offers programs in India, China, and Iran. The University of Calgary has a nursing program in Qatar. Ahram Canadian University is a private institution in Cairo established with the cooperation of several Canadian universities.
How extensive is this activity? While some surveys and data are available, and we know that threequarters of Canadian universities provide education and training outside the country, there are no comprehensive studies of these initiatives, particularly in comparison to the United Kingdom and Australia, whose offshore university ventures are more extensive than here.
The lack of comprehensive information about Canadian university offshore activity makes it difficult answer questions such as: How well regulated? What financial and quality control measures are there? What’s the impact on the direction and mission of Canadian universities?
n her wide-ranging article in this issue on trends in the internationalization of higher education, Jane Knight raises critical questions about both the planned and unintended consequences of this activity. She ponders the impact of these crossborder initiatives on the role, purpose, and values of higher education. She asks “how an increased emphasis on the ‘buying and selling’ of education across borders will affect the nature and priority given to academic, social and cultural rationales of non-profit international education activities.” Do Western universities provide opportunities to promote cross-cultural understanding and “the hybridization of culture”, or are indigenous cultures being Westernized under a new form of colonialism?
Canadian faculty are pivotal to the internationalization enterprise. Faculty play a key role in the development of offshore courses. They teach in offshore campuses. They set quality standards for offshore programs. And they are ambassadors for their institutions.
We know, however, very little about the experience of Canadian faculty involved in offshore initiatives, but a few years ago the National Tertiary Education Union conducted extensive research into the experience of faculty teaching in offshore Australian university programs in the Asia-Pacific region. It is one of the few studies done on this subject, and its findings are sobering.
The study observed that Australian university policies and practices governing staff involvement in offshore operations were either largely unregulated, or very loosely regulated. Policies regarding, for example, staff consultation, offshore facilities for staff, intellectual property rights, and staff development and remuneration varied widely not only between universities but also within university faculties and departments.
There was insufficient consultation with faculty delivering offshore courses, especially concerning the impact of these courses on academic workloads, the willingness of staff to participate in offshore programs, and the preparation time and resources needed to deliver them.
Quality concerns were highlighted, such as inadequate teaching credentials of staff employed by an offshore partner of an Australian university, pressures to pass students, and limited monitoring of students’ work. The report noted that while offshore work was often presented as voluntary, there were pressures on faculty to take on offshore assignments that resulted in greater workloads. Other issues included insufficient opportunities for staff training and development; health and safety strains on staff required to travel frequently; and inadequate arrangements for covering the domestic campus responsibilities of staff teaching offshore.
Canadian faculty’s involvement in education abroad should raise similar questions and concerns to those identified in the Australian study. What protections exist for academic freedom? At what point does attention to cultural or political sensitivities undercut the academic integrity of an offshore program and the academic freedom of the instructor? What role, if any, is there for collegial governance? How is workload regulated?
As Canadian universities expand their global reach, and these issues become more pressing, faculty and faculty representatives will have to address them.
Mark Rosenfeld is editor-in-chief of Academic Matters and associate executive director of OCUFA