Answering calls from the top for internationalization, Western International is starting to develop a picture of what that would look like for the university.
In January 2011, Sociology professor Julie McMullin was appointed as special advisor to the provost (international education) with a mandate to write reports on international student recruitment, international learning and other matters related to international education. “As I was writing these reports,” she said, “a need (developed) to have an umbrella office at the university that would facilitate communication and coordination of international education.”
Currently under the purview of Janice Deakin, provost and associate vice-president (academic), the office is modeled after a similar body at the University of Alberta. A search for a full-time vice provost (international) is underway, as McMullin – not in the mix for the position – serves in an acting role.
The office encompasses four international-specific portfolios – recruitment, student services, learning and relations. Out of these four areas, four priorities have emerged, each with specific targets for improvement – or, in areas of current strength, targets to maintain the status quo – going forward:
Increase the university’s percentage of international undergraduate students
Western wants to push for a 90/10 per cent ratio of domestic to international undergraduate students, McMullin said. This academic year, incoming undergraduate students made up almost 7 per cent of new registrants.
With an initial target of 250, Western surpassed its 2011 goal of international undergraduate recruitment with 340 new registrants. The international office initially planned to increase the target by 50 students each year, with 400 international students registering in 2014. Because of positive current trends, a revised target of 500 new international students for 2014 has been set.
In order to meet revised recruitment targets, Western will work with all members of the community, not just Western staff, faculty, students, alumni and members of the board, McMullin explained.
“It’s a matter of trying to create different pathways to come to Western, like working with second-language providers, like CultureWorks and the (English as a Second Language program) at Fanshawe (College).”
She added developing relationships with international high schools across Canada and partnering with and training faculty who either came from abroad and are planning to visit their home country, or faculty who will be doing research abroad, will also help improve international student recruitment.
“International recruitment isn’t as easy as it sounds – students end up having questions about admissions and programs, so training faculty members is required,” McMullin said.
Western needs to take opportunities as they arise, she added, noting the countries currently focused include China, India and Nigeria because of their existing open doors.
It is also important to welcome international students and help them acclimate not just to Western, but Canada as well, McMullin said.
Establishing connections in the community and offering services and career development support through the Student Success Centre, Western can provide international students with the services they need to succeed, she explained, noting this approach will help maintain international student retention rates.
“The goal is to ensure that international students have the same first-to-second-year retention rates and four-year completion rates as domestic students.”
Maintain the current proportion of international graduate students
Roughly 20-22 per cent of current graduate students are international students, McMullin said, a number that needs to be maintained. Strategies such as a quicker application process will help steady this number.
Continue recruitment of international faculty
Western needs to continue to welcome and recruit international faculty, McMullin added, noting roughly 20 per cent of current faculty members have foreign citizenship and 41 per cent earned their highest degree abroad.
Increase opportunities for international learning for domestic students.
When it comes to international learning, Western already offers many opportunities for domestic students to participate in studies abroad. Possibilities of formal exchange, embedded studies abroad and internships can all be done for credit. Signing up for something like Alternative Spring Break or a summer program might not go toward a degree, but it will result in broader horizons, McMullin explained.
Staff and faculty need to work to make sure students see these as open doors, she said, adding the office is working to alleviate barriers such as financial difficulties when it comes to student participation in study abroad programs.
“We want to educate global-ready citizens,” McMullin said.
With participant numbers on the rise since 2005, the goal is to provide each student with the opportunity to engage in international learning. A short-term target of 10 per cent domestic student involvement has been set by the international office, with a target of 30 per cent in mind down the road.
It’s all about showing the world what Western has to offer and providing every student with the best experience possible, McMullin said.
“Western has the second-highest admittance average in Ontario and that bodes well for our reputation in terms of attracting the best and the brightest. And we provide students with such a great student experience. It’s not just the best domestic student experience; it’s the best student experience.