Address by Minister of State Kent at Conference of the Americas on International Education

No. 2010/87 - Calgary, Alberta - October 22, 2010

Check Against Delivery

It’s a great honour to address the inaugural Conference of the Americas on International Education.

With more than 600 of the leading minds from over 40 countries in attendance, this impressive gathering speaks to how highly we value education in this hemisphere.

Canada envisages this conference serving as the key forum through which we can strengthen cooperation and enhance innovation in the field of education.

We intend to do our share to ensure this forum’s long-term success.

I’d like to speak to you today about Canada’s engagement in the Americas, in particular, the role education is playing in our strategy.

Canada is a country of the Americas, not only because of its geography, but because our economic prosperity, the robustness of our democracy and the security of our citizens are linked to those of our neighbours.

It was with this in mind that our prime minister, the Right Honourable Stephen Harper, has made re-engagement in the region a key foreign-policy priority for Canada. 

He has said that our vision for the region would be based on three interconnected and mutually reinforcing pillars: strengthening and reinforcing support for democratic governance, building a safe and secure hemisphere, and enhancing the prosperity of citizens.

Strengthening our presence in the Americas starts with the relationships we enjoy with our friends and partners throughout the region. Indeed, we are strong supporters of regional organizations, particularly the Organization of American States, of which Canada has now been a member for 20 years.

From the beginning of our engagement, our government understood the integral role education would play in realizing a safer, more democratic and more prosperous hemisphere.

As former U.S. president James Garfield noted, without education “neither freedom nor justice can be permanently maintained.”

Canada is vigorously championing a number of initiatives, including this very platform, to discuss education-related issues in the Americas.

I have no doubt this forum will provide an enduring and relevant meeting opportunity for education institutions, organizations and governments across the Americas. 

This conference is an ideal forum in which to build upon initiatives already in place and create new opportunities that will translate into long-term benefits for the region.

Canada has also launched a major scholarship program developed specifically for the Americas.

Last April, Prime Minister Harper announced the Emerging Leaders in the Americas Program, an important initiative that offers more than 400 scholarships annually to students in Latin America and the Caribbean.

While the program is only in its second year of operation, it has already strengthened institutional links in a number of fields and promoted a host of fruitful research collaborations. In 2009-10, almost 300 awards were given.

In addition to the emerging leaders program, Canada provides numerous other scholarship opportunities to students in the region, including the Canada-CARICOM Leadership Scholarships Program.

As well, the recently reconfigured Canada-Mexico Awards program now offers both postdoctoral research fellowships and graduate student exchanges.

In total, 75 percent of the international scholarships offered by the Government of Canada are awarded to students from Latin America and the Caribbean.

There are 44 Canadian studies centres and six Canadian studies associations in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Other study and research opportunities include the Understanding Canada Program, as well as the Canada-U.S. Fulbright Program.

Over half of the Understanding Canada Program’s funding goes toward the Americas, including Mexico and the United States, because it is the most dynamic and fastest-growing region in which to promote an understanding Canada.

The Canada-U.S. Fulbright Program is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the treaty signed by the Canada and U.S. governments that created it.

To date, more than 1,200 top students and scholars from Canada and the United States have received Fulbright awards to take part in cross-border studies, research and teaching.

We’re also attracting some of the world’s top minds through the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships and the recently introduced Banting Postdoctoral Fellowships programs.

Our country is an extraordinarily popular study destination for international students for a number of reasons.

In addition to boasting top-notch educational institutions that embrace a hands-on approach to instruction, we also offer the opportunity to study among diverse and dynamic student bodies.

Whether students choose our country for language study, completion of a university or college credential or a short-term study experience, they will be assured of training that is recognized world-wide.

Furthermore, when they go home, these students will become future leaders in their areas of interest and potential partners for Canada in our international relations with the Americas.

International-education opportunities result in bright, engaged global citizens and create future bridges between Canada and the world.

Canada’s new education-promotion initiative, Imagine Education au/in Canada, has generated a great deal of interest from students and potential partners.

For all these reasons, more than 200,000 students are currently studying in Canada.

Unfortunately, too few Canadian students are in their turn enjoying an international educational experience.

It is our hope that by hosting such a conference, we will encourage Canadian institutions to sign more partnership agreements with their foreign counterparts and create greater opportunity for Canadian students to study abroad.

Collaboration in higher education has many real benefits: campuses become more international, partnerships in international research and teaching are developed and Canadian curricula are taught at the international level.

For many young people, an international experience can also involve working abroad.

The International Experience Canada initiative simplifies the process for Canadian and international youth between the ages of 18 and 35 to travel and work in another country, generally for up to one year.

In 2009, Canada welcomed over 1,000 youth from the Americas under this initiative, while nearly 500 young Canadians went to the Americas, mainly through stakeholder organizations.

And Canada is also continuing its collaboration with Chile on youth mobility and looking forward to the implementation of youth mobility arrangements with Costa Rica and Mexico.

While the educational links within the Americas are alive and well, there is, of course, always more that can be done.

Our government is pleased to announce the signing of a Canada-Brazil memorandum of understanding [MOU] in the area of academic mobility and scientific cooperation.

This memorandum opens a window of opportunity in Canada’s relationship with a burgeoning political and economic power player. 

By promoting greater collaboration and exchange between Canadian and Brazilian researchers and institutions, the MOU will drive innovation and enhance prosperity in both countries.

The MOU builds on a number of other bilateral instruments of cooperation, including the Canada-Brazil Framework Agreement for Cooperation on Science, Technology and Innovation.

A first call for proposals under the MOU, the Canada-Brazil Awards: Joint Projects, will be launched in the near future.

As I said when I began, I firmly believe that the Conference of the Americas on International Education provides an ideal forum in which international education professionals can come together to build upon initiatives and bring long-term benefits to all of us in the Americas region. Canada will do all it can to ensure the conference’s continued success.

So, in closing, I would like to offer a toast to the Conference of the Americas on International Education.

May it help strengthen existing partnerships and create many new ones between our nations.

We look forward to seeing you at the second conference next year.

Thank you.