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Wednesday, October 6th, 2010


If you saw The Globe and Mail this week and its story on how Canadian CEOs lack international experience and the subsequent global sophistication and competitiveness, you could have just as easily been reading about Canadian universities.

Tuesday’s edition of the newspaper (Oct 5) published the results of a study by Russell Reynolds Associates (a headhunting firm), which stated that only 37 per cent of Canadian chief executive officers had even a year of international work experience before they got their top jobs with their employers. It pales with the 67 percent of Australian CEOs who had worked abroad before landing the leading position.

It’s true Aussies have to get off the island and that means “international”. But they go. Of course Canadians can just drive across the border with the United States. The study also pointed out the obvious – experiencing America is not international enough to provide a “global” outlook.

If Canadian universities are educating the CEOs of tomorrow, then Canada’s universities haven’t provided much leadership in this area. The simple fact of how unknown our supposedly world-class institutions are in the world – says much. Canadian universities though improving, still have woeful international student recruiting results. In fact, for years, most of Canada’s recruiting in this area is notionally domestic. There are no official figures, but it could be as many as half of the international students doing degrees, were already in Canadian high schools, colleges, ESL or foundation programs. For Canadians who want to study and travel, there is little direction, let alone financial assistance, to inspire them. Most telling, given that most Canadian university senior executives are educated in Canada, the dearth of effective study abroad programs at Canadian universities doesn’t provide many bridges easily crossed, and for most Canadians, you have to hold their hands to get them started. While matters are slowly improving, all too slowly, the future university presidents and vice-presidents, of 2040, are statistically unlikely to have had a meaningful international experience while in their university years.

International work is all about working internationally. There are only three rules:
1. Presence 2. Presence 3. Presence.

The study concludes similarly when Jon Martin, a managing director in Russell Reynolds’ Toronto office says, “Actually living and working in a market outside your own country is far and away the best way to gain that international orientation and competence.”

But few Canadian universities and their personnel spend any time overseas. Most think once a year meetings in five star hotels in Dubai, Mumbai or Shanghai amounts to globalization. Even in areas where they should have expertise: foreign education systems, assessing international academic credentials, identifying legitimate partnerships, sorting fiction from factual representations – Canadian universities have little sophistication and success, and most find it too easy to stay home. All too typically, Canadian universities commonly deal with international suitors (good or bad) that approach them rather than strategically going about the world to locate partners with complementary affinities.

But as the study says, you gotta be there. It’s becoming more important every day, and in the Autumn of 2010, there’s not only no other way, there’s also no excuse.


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About Mel

Mel has consulted universities, colleges, governmental and non-governmental organizations in the field of international education since 1997. He is co-founder of Higher-Edge, the parent of Overseas, Overwhelmed, and a director of the Canadian University Application Centre. He is a former award-winning CBC reporter and holds a Masters degree from Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism.

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