By J.D. BOOTH
Lambton College may be something of a paradox, local to our area but very much an academic institution that has not only earned but continues to earn a place in the world as a place for learning.
While Lambton's first foray beyond Canada began in 1996 with an initiative in China, that first step has turned into something of a jog, if not a run, says Judith Morris, vice president of academic and student success.
At that point, the imperative of reaching beyond the borders of Canada and even Lambton County was arguably economic, with the college feeling financial pressures that "full pay" international students helped to ease.
But as Morris explains, the international strategy has matured in many ways, a reality developed with the arrival of President Tony Hanlon in 2002 and since then Morris, who was recruited from Sault College in Sault Ste. Marie the same year.
"One of the key things that's happened since those early days has been the development of agreements whereby students can take courses at our international campuses and then come here to complete their studies," says Morris.
Studying in Canada can also become a way students decided to stay here with newly acquired job skills.
Since then, the college has seen not only an expansion of its presence and relationships in China, but in other countries as well, with a flow of students from other countries as well, including Nigeria and Iran.
India has also more recently appeared on the Lambton College radar screen, with students from there attracted to what has become a popular program, a suite of courses that leads to the designation of Information Technology Professional.
China, however, is where it all started.
But why Lambton, a community college away from the larger cities such as Toronto, where the percentage of students with international roots is much higher?
The reality is that Lambton is hardly alone among Ontario's 24 community colleges, with virtually every one of them having an international strategy that includes bringing students to their campus for various programs.
What's different is how Lambton was able to make an early and positive impact in China.
"In China, you need to be friends with the government," notes Morris. "We've been able to develop those relationships, mostly by being able to deliver what we said we were going to deliver and then doing it."
Strategically, Lambton spent a good deal of energy in developing and solidifying quality assurance processes, notably through China's third largest institution, Jilin University, in Changchun, which is the largest city in Jilin Province.
The short answer when it comes to internationalizing a community college based in Ontario is this: do it right the first time.
"It can be profitable if you do it well," says Morris. "But you can lose your shirt if you haven't partnered with reputable people wherever you go. And because we developed quality assurance processes, we knew we had it right the first time."
Internationalization for Lambton College goes both ways—as a reflection of the faces seen and languages heard on campus as well as the school's visibility in other parts of the world.
When it came to China, Lambton's early success spoke volumes.
"We were one of only three schools who were permitted to offer programs on campus in China," notes Morris. "Initially that was a very big deal. It was a time when the government wasn't as open as they are today, when they have encouraged externals to come in."
That's where the "doing things right" became important.
"We were first able to solidly develop those quality assurance processes," notes Morris.
Looking ahead, Morris acknowledges that having a path for students who wish to continue their studies in Canada and perhaps even make a new home here is part of the equation.
"A lot of students still go back, but there are those that choose to stay."
Another visible group of students that have found a home at Lambton College are those who come from India, typically for the Information Technology Professional program, although they might also arrive initially to study business, a prerequisite for the ITP.
In the case of students from India, an opportunity for those to acquire a visa is often part of the plan that the government has put in place to increase the numbers of international students.
And the plan worked.
"It's exciting to have them on our campus," notes Morris. "It's exciting for them but I'm sure it's also exciting for students who live here or in other places around the province as well."
The internationalization of Lambton College is also part of an opportunity to change the way teaching takes place, says Morris. "These are students who have always known what computers are, and can easily handle technology. As an educational system in Canada, Ontario has lagged behind these students; now we're doing a number of things to change the way we teach, to integrate students, both younger and older."
Morris says one of those ways is to introduce active learning strategies, which includes the development of highly flexible learning studios, four of which will be open by September 2011.
With desks on wheels, chairs on wheels, a podium where a computer sits and a pair of projector screens, plus white boards (also on wheels) and dividers that can be easily moved depending on the situation, flexibility is key.
"It doesn't mean that we're not going to have lectures," says Morris. "But there are so many other ways to learn. In the case of the learning studios, and in the apprenticeship environment, students can be encouraged to work on their own and see the teacher as a mentor or a guide on the side, facilitating the learning process."