Video from Recent Research Talk

I owe a big thank you to the Comparative, International and Development Education Centre (CIDEC) at OISE for hosting a great day of presentations by PhD students.  It was a wonderful chance to hear about the research that is happening across our faculty and taking our students around the world.

Follow this link to watch my talk on university students’ identity change at Western branch-campuses – http://connect.oise.utoronto.ca/p1pbn4xmzl7/

 

 

Feeling lonely abroad?

Here is my baby doing a great job making friends in Malaysia!

A close friend of mine has just started a 2-year master’s degree in China.  When she arrived a month ago she did not know anyone.  But she was committed to talking to each person she met and accepting all the invitations for she received for social events.  I am so impressed with her bravery and focus on meeting people, not just viewing places.  In honour of her – I am re-posting my CBIE blog from http://istudentcanada.ca/four-strategies-making-real-friends-abroad/

Studying abroad has the potential to start friendships that will last a lifetime.  Too often, however, students who do a semester or year overseas are criticized for only spending time with those who are like them, those who speak the same language or are from the same country.  In many ways this is understandable.  Every day is a steep learning curve as you try to keep up with your program (possibly in another language), navigate a new city and survive on new foods.  These areas of learning need to be prioritized and it can be easy to only work on these, assuming that relationships will just happen naturally.  But relationships take the same sort of intentional effort as learning a new transit system and the results are much more rewarding.   Here a few easy strategies to assist you with making friends while studying abroad:

  1. Sip your tea slowly.  Find out where authentic relational moments occur and join in.   If you’ve read Three Cups of Tea or Eat, Pray, Love, you know what this means.  Doing it, however, may take you out of your comfort zone.  The first step is to look around you and ask “where are people getting to know each other?”  It might be a tea shop near campus in Asia or playing chess after the sunsets in Africa.
  2. Become a creature of habit.  Once you’ve identified where people seem to be connecting – join in, and join in often.  While you might be interested in sampling the espresso at every cafe in town, real relationships take time to develop and meaningful connections are made when you show up day after day, get to know the staff and become local.
  3. Think people, not places.  It is normal to want to travel every weekend and make the most of your close proximity to new cities and tourist sites, but challenge yourself to spend two weekends every month accepting (or giving) invitations to events in your city. Postpone the trip to Monaco if it means attending your host brother’s birthday party.
  4. Adventure two by two. Though it is important to avoid having only Canadian friends, there is no reason for you to make this quest for authentic relationship entirely by yourself.  Look out for another study abroader who also wants to genuinely tap into the culture.  Make a plan together to change the way you do your time abroad and foster friendships that will last a

Obama In KL

Malaysia Students

Malaysia’s diverse students at international program

It is fitting that US President Obama’s critique of Malaysia’s racial and religious discrimination took place on Sunday at a university. The Universiti of Malaya, which hosted the President at a townhall meeting for students from the Youth South Asian Leaders’ Initative, offers few spaces for non-Muslim students and is a clear example of the nation’s unequal policies. Yet Malaysia will need more than Obama’s inspiring words to reshape a higher education system in which students’ enrollment is determined by their ethnicity.

Malaysia has an official policy of multiculturalism, established at its founding in 1957 and granting citizenship to the ethnic Malay, Chinese and Indians groups alike.  But pro-Muslim, Malay leaders have held power for several years limiting the position of non-Muslim citizens.  The result of these polices for Malaysia’s higher education is a system that is starkly divided along ethnic lines.  At the same time, Malaysia is increasing as a destination country for international students and foreign programs.

The system is complex and diverse.  At the publically-funded universities such as the Universiti Malaya, quotas limit how many non-Malay, non-Muslims are enrolled.   Though these policies are designed to provide access to low-income Malays, in reality they alienate the country’s Chinese and Indian minorities.  In the 1980’s the growing Chinese middle class responded by establishing their own successful, private universities.  Institutions like the Universiti Malaya are directly linked to Chinese cultural and lobby groups.  Others like HELP University have entered into franchise or twinning agreements with overseas universities to offer an extensive range of degrees.

Though Malaysia’s public universities have restricted access for all citizens, the government has intentionally developed policies to encourage cross-border education by promoting branch-campuses and twinning programs.  Institutions like Nottingham University have established full campuses in Malaysia, drawing students from the all ethnic backgrounds.   Many of country’s best students – barred from the federal universities – and skeptical of the local start-ups – head to international programs run by UK and Australian schools.

For the past two decades, this unique mix of private, local and international programs has filled the gap created by the governments’ ethnic quotas.  Indeed the private system is so established, that the public universities have become marginalized and are less prestigious for students to attend.   Malaysia’s public universities would benefit from Obama’s advice.  In their case, changing the admissions policies is less about educating marginalized individuals and more about the quality of the institutions.  By excluding top students, the federal universities have decreased their reputation.  Rather they may wish to enroll students based on merit to reposition themselves as prestigious universities, while supplementing the at-risk populations with scholarships and accessible tuition.

Branch-Campuses

University of Nottingham`s beautiful Malaysia Campus

I have been quite amazed at the differences between the institutions that are self-identifying as “branch-campuses.”  Some are just a few classrooms rented in an office building while others have beautiful white-washed buildings with landscaping, ponds and student-life space.   Certainly, there has been a lot of talk about how sustainable branch-campuses are and  how soon they will all shut down.  But as heavy investments are matched with an increase in student enrollment, it seems that many are here to stay.

You can read some of my views on branch-campuses at University World News

Branch-campus students thrive on high-stakes competition: http://www.universityworldnews.com/article.php?story=20140309155504422

Protege to peer: Measuring maturity at branch campuses: http://www.universityworldnews.com/article.php?story=20140408150224295

Regime change in Venezuela means uncertain future for higher ed

Picture of Venezuela University ProtestThanks to my colleague Elliot Storm at the University of Toronto, I have been learning a lot about the state-university relationship in Venezuela.  The two have been at odds in the past decade and with the death of Hugo Chavez, the future is uncertain.  Will the government continue to implement university change in a forceful way or work together with the institutions to develop sustainable higher ed?   Read our article in University World News here.

Globe reporters wage war – higher education OR health care?

As much as I find it a little corny when the Globe and Mail has their writers pseudo-spar in their articles, this weekend’s conversation between Bascaramurty  and Wente caught my attention with their unsettled disputes about higher education.

Bascaramurty ‘s first justification for the millennials’ sense of entitlement is the fact that we are the most educated generation in the history of Canada’s labour force.  She gives examples of her friends who have graduate degrees but are working unpaid internships and contract jobs as they try to enter the workforce and pay off their student debt.   Her following argument, however, seems to imply that it is the privileged status of the boomers that is leading to the uncertain work/income of the millennials, not to mention eroding the social welfare state generally. 

I would have liked her to go a bit further in her critique.  She briefly mentions the unmet expectation that we’ll all own homes, but she says nothing of the ideology that claims higher education will solve all.  Clearly it is not the solution for her peers, yet they keep heading for graduate degrees as the solution to unemployment.  Her stories are illuminating a serious contraction (dare I say illusion?) of higher education – it is still seen as the solution, even when the debt is crippling and no one is getting jobs.  When will this belief finally be shattered?     

In terms of the overall point that millennials will pay for the boomers, Wente’s response is pretty limited.  She essentially says, “yes, our privilege is screwing you out of a future.”  Her admission that some boomers won’t be able to afford retirement lacks conviction since she doesn’t seem to have any personal stories like Bascaramurty’s account.    

The reality is that this so-called generational war only applies to the upper middle class of which these writers’ are a part.  It’s a false dichotomy to suggest that these generations are completely separate things.  For us millennials, the boomers are our parents.  The link between the generations will ensure that we pay, not just for our own future, but for our aging parents and the expenses that go with them.  Unless, of course you are privileged to have parents that write for the Globe – in which case they may be able to take care of themselves.

Grad School Expectations

Inspiring author Anne LamottLast year, Nancy Jackson did a great talk for women in grad school here at UofT.  She talked about writer’s block and how the whole process of grad school is a journey toward realizing you really do have something important to say.  The best part of the talk was a recommendation that we read Anne Lamott – one of my favourite writers. So this week as I hide from the office and write from home, I read a small section of Bird by Bird each morning.

I enjoyed this morning’s read: “But I try to make sure they understand that writing, and even getting good at it, and having books and stories and articles published, will not open the doors that most of them hope for.  It will not make them all well.  It will not give them the feeling that the world has finally validated their parking tickets, that they have in fact finally arrived.”

This quote reminds me of a comment my former boss Thomas Ridington once made – “I’ve realized over the years that the new hire will not solve all your problems.”  So do we set ourselves up for disappointment when we expect grad school or a PhD to change our lives?  Or should we just enjoy the journey and not aim to high?  Personally I suggest striving for the best, but enjoying the unexpected, and perhaps humble, places at which we may arrive.