Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Foreign campuses are big business for Western Universities

One week ago, the Toronto Star ran this piece co-written by Canada's favourite feel-good duo Craig and Marc Kielburger. This piece follows their usual trend of advocating a dangerously out-of-touch brand of philanthropy. Titled "U.S. campuses abroad bridge cultural gaps", it argues that international campuses provide an "opportunity to build cross-cultural bridges."

Despite the fact that this trend has caught on with Canadian universities and colleges (albeit in less obvious ways), the Kielburgers focus on American universities, particularly those in the Middle East. Their thesis is simplistic and rosy. Basically, it is good that American universities have created satellite campuses overseas.

However, Craig and Marc's fluff piece brushed over a crucial point. Had the goal of these universities been the cultural enlightenment of a generation of Arab and American students, perhaps this expansion would take a different form. But, as the article states, universities are in it for the money. These campuses take in foreign students to help fund their operations back home. Foreign students are funding American students off their backs. There is something seriously wrong with this.

And, to add to that, the article states that curriculum is virtually the same and K-12 education is being re-vamped to "prepare students for the tough entrance standards of American universities."

It is the belief of many that it should not be the role of the American military to police the world. Nor should it be the role of American universities to educate the world. Education and curricula are highly political and culturally loaded. This foreign intrusion suggests that American education is somehow superior to what is, or could be, offered in other countries. This arrangement also allows governments off the hook for maintaining or creating a domestic and public post-secondary education system. What’s more, it opens the door to cultural domination from a foreign power. Hardly a noble exercise in geopolitical welfare.

Perhaps a better approach would be to encourage exchanges of faculty and students to international institutions while respecting national and institutional autonomy. This, while at the same time adequately funding post-secondary education, would provide a true opportunity for 'cross-cultural bridges'.

In Canada and the United States, international and foreign students are viewed as wads of cash. Students studying at an Ontario university who are International or who do not have status, pay two to three times more for the exact same education as their domestic colleagues. This is despite the fact that they were educated elsewhere, costing taxpayers nothing for their K-12/OAC education.

Craig and Marc could have better used their column to highlight the plight of International students in Canada. Instead, they spewed the same flawed arguments that are used by university presidents who view foreign 'markets' with dollar-signed eyes.

This kind of rhetoric doesn't help students, either foreign or domestic. Nor does it presuppose that education is a right. It undermines the fight for an affordable education for all; something that the vast majority of students have called for time and again, despite citizenship status.

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