The pandemic has thrust online learning to the forefront - whether students and instructors like it or not. Some thought leaders, such as John Stackhouse, former Globe and Mail editor and now with RBC, are suggesting it is the way of the future.
In a recent webinar called International Postsecondary - The Path Forward for Global Education - Stackhouse argued that the pandemic offers an opportunity for Canada to reinvent international education.
During the webinar, Larissa Bezo of the Canadian Bureau for International Education, stated that international education has been a boon to this country, with more than 700,000 students across Canada at all levels in 2019. Of course, numbers are down substantially this year.
Stackhouse noted that "too many colleges and institutes relied on international students frankly for revenues" as government funding was frozen or reduced in the last decade.
It's time, he argues, for a new model for international education - both for students and for Canada. He proposes that international students study online for the first year or two and then come to Canada to complete their studies in-person. Stackhouse suggests that post-secondary institutions collaborate to deliver online learning through a "Canada U" organization.
This idea faces a number of challenges. First of all, it's very difficult to get Canadian universities to work together on anything, let alone developing a common curriculum (and credits) for online learning. Secondly, they may be reluctant to hand over a year or two of tuition revenues to online Canada U when they could be teaching that international student in person and collecting the fees.
Alex Usher of Higher Education Strategy points out these roadblocks in his blog
Of course, the whole idea rests on the premise that classroom learning is the only element students are seeking when they apply to a Canadian university. That ignores the potential benefits of talking to profs, socializing with classmates, living in residence, campus clubs and activities, and - yes - having a beer and socializing.
Many English-language learning programs have moved online, but their revenue is a fraction of what it was before the pandemic because they simply can't charge much for it. And online learning is simply not the same as coming to Canada.
Says Gonzalo Peralta, Executive Director of Languages Canada: "Let's be clear about the whole picture: students choosing Canada as a destination for language education are here for much more than English or French. They are here also for Canada, for the Canadian experience and values, for further Canadian education, and perhaps even to settle in Canada."
"The fact that now those students can begin their Canadian experience abroad is a plus, of course, and can begin preparing students for their Canadian experience at a time when travel is challenging."
In the K-12 sector, Bonnie McKie, Executive Director of the Canadian Association of Public Schools - International, says most international students are in the classroom this fall. "CAPS-I member school boards are offering in-person learning - the extent of which varies by location and grade as in some cases it's not 100 percent of the time but rather a hybrid of in-person and online."
"Whether or not online courses are being made available to international students also varies by province and school board," she says. "In some provinces, even Canadian students need to have a medical reason to be learning remotely and not in-class."