Visit University Affairs’ online Career Advice section,
at www.universityaffairs.ca, to read “Ten principles for
faculty going overseas” by professors David Kaufman
and Alan Wright.
The project started, as these things often do, with a chance encounter
at an international conference almost two decades ago. After that meeting,
nurses from the Havana-based institute of medical sciences asked U of M
for help in revamping its graduate nursing program. Dr. Scanlan’s first
attempt to visit her Cuban counterparts was scuttled in a typically Canadian fashion: a blinding snowstorm. But, after several more false starts,
she received $1 million in funding through the University Partnerships
in Cooperation and Development, or UPCD, a program funded by the
Canadian International Development Agency and administered by CIDA
and the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada.
The PhD program in nursing, Cuba’s first, was finally launched in
2005 with an initial group of 12 students (five later transferred to another
program or left altogether). In the first year, the students devoted themselves to studying English, which they needed to consult the academic
literature, while Dr. Scanlan and her team designed the curriculum. Then
the course work got underway, wrapping up in 2009. Since then, students
have been researching and writing their dissertations.
Along the way, the Cuban institute established a separate faculty of
nursing, and substantial revisions were made to its master’s program.
Continuing education workshops were designed and implemented and
several research teams established. Just as importantly, the image of nursing changed in the country. “Nursing is seen as a desired profession now,”
says Dr. Scanlan proudly.
Dr. Scanlan is one of many Canadian professors involved in curriculum
development and faculty training at universities in developing countries.
Many of the large projects are funded by CIDA through UPCD; since its
launch in 1994, the program has funded about 150. Others are sponsored
by Canadian universities, international development organizations and
Canadian professors are highly sought-after for their expertise in
curriculum development. They are helping to transform postsecondary
education in developing countries, often creating graduate programs where
none existed. The projects they’re contributing to are in Africa, Asia, the
Middle East, Latin America and the Caribbean, and in many disciplines,
particularly law, health, science and the environment. Yvon Dandurand,
associate vice-president, research and graduate studies, at the University
of the Fraser Valley, says that many developing countries have a keen
interest in Canadian-style higher education.
“We hear all the time that there is a Canadian perspective, that we
approach pedagogy in a slightly different way,” says Dr. Dandurand who
co-authored a report on this topic for AUCC, based partly on a survey
of UPCD project managers in 2009. The survey showed that more than
2,600 educational programs had been created or strengthened in developing countries, including 220 master’s and 38 doctoral programs. Often,
the projects introduced pedagogical changes that had “lasting transformative, social and educational effects,” said the report.
A common innovation introduced by Canadian instructors is a stu-
dent-centred teaching method where the students are largely responsible
for their own learning and the teacher’s role is to facilitate that learn-
ing, rather than to impart knowledge. Other methods introduced include
inquiry- and problem-based learning exercises, community outreach
projects, seminar-style classes, experiential learning and case studies. Alan
Wright, vice-provost, teaching and learning, at the University of Windsor
who has worked on overseas projects, says, “We’ve come a long way over
the last 25 years in terms of our knowledge of pedagogical principles at the
university and college level.”
In many developing countries, the prevailing teaching method is
the traditional lecture. In Cuba, for example, the nursing students that
Dr. Scanlan first met were accustomed to a didactic style of instruction.
“Classroom discussions were painful at first, to say the least, because it
was entirely foreign to them,” Dr. Scanlan says. But by the end, “they
could engage; they could discuss.”
Canada’s ties to the Commonwealth give it an entrée to many coun-
tries. Still, change isn’t universally welcomed. In countries where political
activism is frowned upon, encouraging critical thinking in students is
sometimes viewed as subversive, the report notes. And sometimes, the
local professors are reluctant to abandon their traditional roles.
“Universities there are no different than universities here. There is
always some resistance to doing things differently,” says Dr. Dandurand,
who has helped develop criminal justice and criminal law curricula in
India and Vietnam. The push for change, he says, is often driven by
younger faculty members who may have been exposed to different teaching
methods while studying abroad.
On the other hand, Jack Littlepage, director of technology and international development at the University of Victoria’s Centre for Global
Studies, says he didn’t encounter any opposition while working on a new
master’s program in aquaculture at Mozambique’s Eduardo Mondlane
University. Educators there wanted to offer Western-style curricula and
sought Canada’s help, but understandably, he adds, they didn’t want to be
told how to do it. When it came to implementing the curriculum, it was
viewed more as a general guideline than a hard and fast plan, and was
adjusted according to the resources at hand.
The success of the collaboration, he adds, depends on open lines of
communication. “I’ve been lucky; I’ve had wonderful people to work
with,” says Dr. Littlepage. Even so, establishing a good rapport takes time.
“The first year, you don’t accomplish much because that’s normally the
year you learn what you can do, what the culture is, and what’s accepted.”
Visiting professors should be aware of cultural differences and vari-