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International Partnerships

Colleges and institutes have been partnering with their overseas counterparts for decades, from student mobility initiatives in the 1970s, to ad hoc institutional partnerships in the 1980s, to more established, multi-institutional programs in the 1990s, to our multi-national Education for Employment framework today. At the root of our approach to International Partnerships lies the commitment and desire of college administrators and educators around the world to best support their learners in the classroom and during their transition from school to work. Our international programs continue to showcase and champion the capacity and reputation of Canadian colleges and institutes worldwide. Our members have participated in hundreds of international development projects around the world. There are too many successes to list them all.

International Partnerships through the years

As early as the mid-1970s, our Canadian Program Advisory Committee argued that “Canadian colleges, in a spirit of cooperation and solidarity, should…support the growth of similar institutions in developing countries”.1 The common approach to these early international projects was to establish “institutional twinning” arrangements, whereby a Canadian college would select an international partner institution and support them in improving access to quality education and training, while helping them align their training programs with their country’s labour market needs. We received our first funding package from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) in 1978 and, by 1981, our members were involved with 14 different projects in countries like Kenya, Uganda, Botswana, the Gambia, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, St. Lucia, and Trinidad.

Between 1985 to 1991, our international programs increased the capacity of Canadian colleges and institutes in delivering international cooperation programs and in promoting their reputation worldwide. By 1991, our member institutions were involved in 65 different partnerships in over 30 countries, and the number of colleges capable of participating effectively in international development projects rose from 48 in 1988 to 77.2 Our international partnerships and long-standing connection with CIDA played a vital role in empowering our members to undertake international projects. Their continued success and commitment clearly enhanced the international reputation of Canadian colleges and institutes.

These successes continued through our Canadian College Partnership Program (CCPP), which ran until 2007. The CCPP, which had a much larger operating grant, generally established the same objectives of supporting partner institutions.3 It also focused on developing technical knowledge and essential skills to promote growth in their partner country’s micro, small, and medium enterprises, in sectors including agriculture, health, natural resources, IT, business, and more.3 By 2007, Canadian colleges and institutes had engaged in 631 projects with 734 overseas partners in 105 developing countries.4 Colleges were increasingly internationalizing their campuses and curricula, and CICan recognized the need to do the same in our international partnership projects.

Education for Employment

In 2005, we asked our international partners for feedback. We realized that, while our programs were delivering the intended results for our partner institutions, our partner nations were not experiencing the systemic changes necessary to sustain the long-term outcomes of our programs. This period of reflection overlapped with larger global conversations, which resulted in the 2005 “Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness.” Under the new framework, recipient countries would take the lead in their own development efforts, while donors would coordinate their operations to support national action plans, rather than taking charge of the process.5 As a response, and as a commitment to the significant work that our members and their overseas partners were conducting, we began to develop a completely new framework for delivering our international programs.

In 2007, our new flagship approach “Education for Employment” (EFE) was applied to a CIDA funded project entitled EFE-Africa which worked with partners in Mozambique, Tanzania, and Senegal. This marked the first wave of EFE projects for CICan. Rather than simply addressing the curricular or pedagogical needs of educational institutions, our EFE approach was developed in consultations with policy makers and industry leaders to determine what the economic and workforce needs of a nation were, and which institutions were best positioned to deliver training to meet those needs. International institutions now selected their preferred Canadian college partners, in contrast to how it had previously been done. Demonstrating their steadfast belief and commitment to supporting their overseas colleagues, our members readily pivoted to this new model of co-creating international development projects.

Along with EFE-Africa, the first wave of EFE projects also included regional projects in the Caribbean region and Latin America. CICan’s CARICOM Education for Employment (C-EFE) program worked in sixteen countries with a focus on designing and contributing to economic growth by developing a more competitive, productive and gender-equitable Caribbean workforce. Whereas in Latin America, our Education for Employment Andes program (EFE Andes) worked with Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru to modernize the delivery of vocational training in the region. All three EFE projects in the first wave were marked by the regional harmonization of technical vocational education and training and a focus on workforce mobility.

The second wave of EFE projects signaled a move away from regional programming and a focus on working with individual countries to help them meet their national development goals. CICan continued working with its original EFE-Africa partners
(Mozambique, Senegal, and Tanzania) but now through individual EFEs which allowed each country to co-design initiatives based on their own unique goals. The second wave of EFEs also saw CICan expand its programming to Kenya and Tunisia.

The third wave of EFE projects marked CICan’s commitment to contributing to the newly ratified 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Recognizing that education and training institutions are important vectors for transforming individuals and their perspectives on climate change, gender equality, and sustainability, CICan and partners in Latin America and the Caribbean region codesigned EFE projects that embraced climate adaptation and sustainability at their core.

In the Caribbean region, CICan’s Skills to Access the Green Economy Program (SAGE) is helping Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, and St. Lucia become more resilient by increasing the capacity of training institutions to deliver gender-sensitive skills training programs that meet economic and environmental needs in the region.

In Latin America, the Pacific Alliance Education for Employment Program for sustainable development and skills for employment in the extractive sector of the Pacific Alliance (PA), is working across Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru with a focus on supporting the skills development of the local labour forces by developing training programs in areas such as energy efficiency, environmental resources technology, renewable energy and alternative sources of energy, and the operation of mining sites. Moreover, the program is supporting extractive sector governance by strengthening regional dialogue between representatives of the private, public, and civil society sectors in Canada and the four PA countries.

The fourth and most recent wave of EFE projects celebrate CICan’s deep commitment to gender equality in the technical vocational education and training sector. CICan embraced the 2017 announcement of Canada’s Feminist International Assistance policy by intentionally designing EFE projects whose sole purpose is gender transformative change. This latest wave of projects includes CICan’s Mille femmes program in Senegal and its Empowerment through Skills program in Tanzania which both seek to advance gender equality and empowerment women and girls thereby reducing poverty and building a more inclusive, peaceful, and prosperous world. Since our launch in 2008, 72 of our member institutions have contributed to 11 different EFE projects by participating in 193 institutional and thematic partnerships in 23 countries throughout Africa, the Caribbean, and Latin America. Over the years, these partnerships helped enroll over 19 000 learners in 245 renewed and newly created technical and vocational training programs that are directly linked to each nation’s labour market needs. Our EFE projects also helped train thousands of institutional leaders, instructors, administrators, and community leaders, equipping them to deliver more hands-on training opportunities that respond directly to the needs of local industries.

Supporting International Learners

In addition to supporting learners overseas in their home countries, we have also played a critical role in supporting learners coming to Canadian colleges and institutes, which remains a priority for our members. Given the decentralized nature of Canada’s education system, and that study permits are assessed by Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC, formerly CIC), we were best positioned to intervene at the federal level.

As recently as 2008, approval rates for international students applying to a college or institute were considerably lower than for those wishing to attend university, and process times were significantly delayed. To support both our members and CIC, we played an essential role in creating the Student Partners Program (SPP), establishing criteria to satisfy CIC and expediate the visa approval process. We also partnered with Scotiabank who helped international students set up special bank accounts to more easily demonstrate their financial readiness to enroll in a Canadian college.

The SPP was launched as a pilot program in India in 2009 and quickly had a tremendous impact, doubling the approval rate of applications at participating institutions, rising to almost 80%. Success was largely due to the introduction of a reporting and information sharing mechanism between participating institutions and the High Commission in New Delhi – a precursor to IRCC’s Designated Learning Institution (DLI) portal for compliance reporting introduced in 2014. Due to the immediate success of SPP, it was expanded to include China in 2010 and again to include Vietnam in 2015.The program, now known as the Study Direct Stream, was officially adopted by the Government of Canada and has since expanded even further to include 14 countries. This is just one example of CICan’s leadership in this space, which has helped fuel the rapid growth of international students attending Canadian colleges and institutes. Between 2015 and 2019, over 320 000 international learners enrolled in the college system.

Women in International Development

Over the years, our partnership-based approach to TVET capacity building in partner countries has emphasized the integration of gender-equality across all project areas, including gender-sensitive teacher training and pedagogy, adapting training materials to promote equal participating by men and women and integrating gender equality into environmental and entrepreneurial modules during training delivery.

We were early adopters of gender equality integration into education and training and made it official when we established “Women in Development” as a key priority for our international programming in the 1985-1986 fiscal year, focusing on delivering workshops and attending training to enhance our members’ capacity in this area.

A bold example of our work in the area of women’s economic development is the Mulheres Mil (1,000 Women) project in Brazil. In one of CIDA’s final bilateral aid packages to Brazil, we partnered with the Brazilian government and 13 technical institutes in 2008 to deliver training to 1000 disadvantaged and marginalized women, who had often been socially and economically excluded. As part of this project, an extensive marketing campaign was launched within communities to change perceptions about the role of women in training and the workforce. The initiative was so successful that then-President of the Federative Republic of Brazil Dilma Vana Rousseff approved it as a national program, with an expanded goal of reaching 100 000 women. The resounding success of Mulheres Mil made it a valuable model and we are now playing a key role in implementing a similar program in Senegal, which will facilitate access to professional and technical training for Senegalese women.

Since the adoption of Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy (FIAP) in 2017, our Education for Employment approach experienced a review with a focus on to addressing systemic change at both the institutional and national policy level to address preconceptions more directly about women in the workforce. In response to the FIAP, we created the AMIE (Access, Maintenance, Integration into the labour market, Entrepreneurship) approach of accompaniment for female trainees as a way to ensure they successfully progress through their training.

Since the creation of the AMIE approach, we have been successful in securing several new projects under the FIAP, including two that have been recognized by Global Affairs Canada to be at the third level of gender integration, meaning the initiatives were designed specifically to address gender inequalities and would otherwise not be undertaken.