Rated among the top educational institutions in North America, the Toronto-based York University boasts of a large community comprising 55,000 students, 7,000 faculty and staff, and over 250,000 alumni around the world. What’s more, York’s 11 faculties and 28 research centres are thinking bigger, broader and more globally, partnering with 288 leading universities worldwide. Under the leadership of Dr. Mamdouh Shoukri, York’s President and Vice-Chancellor, a large delegation of educationists including three deans recently visited Kolkatta to discuss collaboration possibilities with five universities in West Bengal led by the University of Calcutta. In an exclusive interview with the Business Line , Dr. Shoukri, an outstanding educationist and institution builder, shares his vision, mission and multiple objectives of the visit. Excerpts:

What was the purpose of your visit to India?

India is our strategic partner. York University enjoys a productive relationship with our higher learning partners in India. This collaboration has evolved over a number of years and resulted in our ability to foster an environment that develops global citizens through joint programmes, student internships and faculty exchanges. Moreover, our location (Ontario, Canada) has a very high population of first-generation Canadians and immigrants of Indian origin. Indian students represent the second 2nd largest international students enrolment at York. A large number of our faculty are of Indian origin, we offer academic programmes in Asian studies, and we already have significant ties with Indian institutions involving faculty and student exchange as well as research partnerships.

The objectives of this visit were to build on these factors as well as further raise York’s profile in India. as a leading Canadian institution with a strong internationalisation agenda. To this end we came to meet prospective students and their parents. The population of Indian students in Canada has increased by 23 per cent from 2011 to 2012, and many of these individuals decide to study at York. We need to ensure that students who consider coming to Canada know about our global and interdisciplinary strengths in the humanities and social sciences, engineering, law, business, and environmental studies, among others. In this visit, we have also sought to strengthen current partnerships and seek new ones involving research, faculty exchanges and student mobility on both sides. Our delegation participated as speakers at the FICCI Higher Education Summit and the Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute event that explored networking strategies to engage Canada and India in quality improvement.

Why do you think YorkU offers Indian students some of the best choices in higher education?

For many reasons. Our aim is to prepare students to contribute to and thrive in the world as global citizens. York offers a unique opportunity for international students in general and Indian students in particular because we are a very ethnically diverse community. Our students trace their roots to 165 countries around the globe. The diversity and excellence of our academic programmes offer a rich mosaic of acclaimed programmes, professional schools and cultural experiences. The research profile of York University has been growing rapidly. Our strategic plan identifies internationalisation as a priority (putting resources to expand our global presence). The 288 partnerships we currently have with universities around the world result in student and faculty exchanges, joint research and teaching opportunities, and joint or dual degree opportunities. Also, our location in a major urban environment offers a unique blend of cultural and social activities.

3. In addition to Canadian educational institutions, those from Australia, the USA and other countries are also competing to attract Indian students. How does YorkU differentiate itself and stand out?

York’s interdisciplinary approach to academic and research excellence differentiates us from other institutions. We excel at supporting student success in a globalising world through our partnerships with other universities, including 21 existing Memorandums of Understanding with universities in India, in addition to joint programmes and internship opportunities.

York is located in dynamic, multicultural Toronto, a city that promotes and embraces diversity, and this is reflected in student experiences on and off campus. “We are the most diverse university in one of the most diverse cities anywhere in the world”. We have a very welcoming and multi-cultural environment. (Forty-two42 per cent of our students self-identify as member of visible minorities and 38 per cent of them have their origin in the Indian sub- continent.)

Students with Indian citizenship represent the second largest group of international students at York. There are more than 400 student clubs on campus, including the Indian Cultural Association, which provides a ‘home away from home’ for Indian students and friends, and offers a space to socialise and discuss issues concerning York’s Indian community.

4. You mentioned York promotes ‘global citizens’. Is there a plan to ensure at least some of YorkU students go back to their country of origin (often, developing countries) and contribute to economic growth?

Ultimately, each individual must decide whether or not to return to his or her home country; but we certainly support students in obtaining the higher education required to contribute to economic growth and development around the globe. York alumni represent a very strong global network, including more than 250 people who are currently based in India. As an institution with a commitment to social justice, York offers many programmes with academic and research focused on solving the world’s most challenging problems such as homelessness, poverty, and equal rights, to name a few. Our focus on experiential education-internships in India, for example, provides useful experience in applied research in many of these fields of study.

Our academic programmes are diverse and include cultural studies and languages from around the globe. For example, Hindi-Urdu is one of 20 languages taught at York. Students can also earn a Bachelor of Arts degree in South Asian Studies, and we offer more than 30 courses relating to India.

5. Any thoughts on promoting Canada-India relationship beyond education and the role you envisage for YorkU?

India and Canada enjoy a strong relationship built on shared democratic values across economic, cultural and political spectrums. Canada’s priorities in India include infrastructure, energy, food, education, and science and technology; and all of these are reflected in York’s academic programmes and research.

The relationship is vitally important to Canada’s economy on many levels and is a high priority for higher education institutions, governments and the private sector.

At York University, our plan is to expand our presence in India as well as opportunities to learn about India on our campuses, as reflected in our engineering, business, and social sciences strategies.

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