Internationalization, Global Citizenship and Civic Engagement in Atlantic Canada and Ireland

May 17, 2020

Name:                             Dr Anthony O’Malley, Saint Mary’s University, Halifax, Nova Scotia

Host Institution:       Dublin City University (DCU) &   Maynooth University (MU)

Dates of Visit:             1st – 16th March 2020

Title of Research:     

Internationalization, Global Citizenship and Civic Engagement in Atlantic Canada and Ireland

It is with pleasure that I submit this Final Report to the Ireland Canada University Foundation (ICUF) with respect to the activities associated with my Dobbin Atlantic Canada Scholarship so generously provided by the ICUF in pursuit of stronger ties between Ireland and Atlantic Canada.  I can say at the outset that in spite of the formidable challenges presented by the then rapidly evolving COVID-19 policies of closure, isolation, suspension of meetings and similar necessary actions, my in-person joint meetings with Irish counterparts, detailed below, was an outstanding success regarding the purpose and objectives of the Dobbin Scholarship.

1)  General

My proposal to the Dobbin Atlantic Canada Scholarship Committee sought to create firm linkages between Ireland and Atlantic Canada – in the first instance between Dublin City University (DCU) and Maynooth University (MU) and Saint Mary’s University (SMU), but then expanding to other Atlantic Canada higher education institutions (HEIs) – with the objective of learning from each other regarding the role and purpose of higher education in a rapidly changing globalizing world.

The principal dimensions of this new challenge in creative adaptation for HEIs are:

  • a greater dependence on attracting international student enrolment to make up for changes in domestic enrolments;
  • a more competitive environment at the international level that has lead to experimentation and innovation in all dimensions of higher education-both good and bad-to ensure such expanded student enrolment;
  • building on and expanding existing inter-institutional research collaboration;
  • adjusting to the constantly evolving digitalization dynamic as this has affected course delivery, proof of learning, credentialing, faculty hiring, and many other dimensions of HEI activity;
  • the institutionalization of civic engagement offices and programs which emphasize the “placeness” of the HEI and its educational and social responsibilities;
  • an uneasiness with the currently unconnected HEI emphases on internationalization, globalization and digitalization and the local emphasis on civic engagement (sometimes referred to as “anchoring”; “community outreach”; etc.); and
  • an uncertainty about the largely commercially driven emphasis on digitalization (online learning, “flexible learning”, block chain credentialing and administration of proof of learning, and so on) currently dominated by digital platforms (the real-world, concrete channels of digital interaction) 91% of which are owned by American and Chinese interests.

Ireland, with its extensive EU experience and institutional evolution, is considerably ahead of Atlantic Canada in the dimensions of civic engagement and many aspects of digitally mediated learning. DCU, for example, has an Office of Civic Engagement reporting directly to the Vice-President of External Affairs and is home to one of the country’s premier digital learning institutes. Atlantic Canada, especially Saint Mary’s University, has extensive experience in institutional internationalization (especially from developing societies) and in the interdisciplinary analysis of global trends in higher education. The Dobbin proponent, Anthony O’Malley, is Strategic Area Head of Education and International Development, reporting directly to the Dean of the Faculty of Education, and former three-term Program Coordinator of International Development Studies.

The objective of our SMU/Atlantic Canada-DCU/Ireland collaboration is to bring these areas of expertise together with the firm focus of institutionalizing such collaboration. At the heart of our collaboration is the question, “How, as HEIs, are we to creatively, constructively and operationally relate the ‘you can be anywhere in the world’ digitalization dynamic with the ‘your local educational responsibility is of the utmost importance’ civic engagement dynamic?”.  The Dobbin-supported SMU-DCU (and later Maynooth) linkage has the expertise to provide workable understandings and concrete solutions to this question, principally through our understanding, worked out during my Ireland meetings, that to be fundamentally sound the digitalization globalized dynamic must be understood and refracted through the lens of civic engagement and local community responsibilities.

The Dobbin Atlantic Canada Scholarship is the perfect form of support for such an initiative: it is focused on an international initiative of Ireland/Atlantic Canada collaboration, but is at the same time focused on collaboration with reference to a particular, relatively ‘local’ region and the importance of such collaboration for this region. On the other hand, the outcomes of our collaboration will have important benefits for the relatively ‘local’ region of Ireland. The benefits of our work can be, and will be, enjoyed internationally; but the immediate benefits will be to the advantage of these two local regions.

2)  Meetings

As initially planned–pre COVID pandemic–my principal Irish counterparts were to be Ronaldo Munck, Head of Civic Engagement at DCU and Honor Fagan, former Dean of Graduate Studies (MU), internationally recognized researcher in international development studies, and member of the Maynooth University Social Sciences Institute. The MU portion of my Ireland schedule of meetings was placed in the final week; however, my stay was abruptly cut short by the pandemic and ensuing Irish lockdown. Thus, my report will concern mainly my meetings with DCU, and the meetings with MU will be scheduled for a yet to be arranged date later this year or early next year.

At all meetings, I made it clearly known that I was there under the auspices of the Ireland Canada University Foundation (ICUF), in particular its Dobbin Atlantic Canada Scholarship.

Among other meetings, the following stood out:

Ronaldo Munck – Head of the Office of Civic Engagement at DCU.  Ronnie was my fundamental contact person during my stay in Dublin. It was he who arranged many of my meetings with potential Irish counterparts, and with whom frequent discussions facilitated the emergence of a definite collaborative structure of our project. I had numerous meetings with Ronnie throughout my stay, all of which were very productive, collegial, and fruitful.

Honor Fagan – A number of productive meetings with Honor signalled the potential of MU to be a collaborating HEI in our developing and ongoing Ireland/Atlantic Canada project. Of especial interest was the high level of international development analysis undertaken by Honor and her colleagues at MU. As I mentioned above, our discussions were cut short by my necessary abrupt departure; however, further discussions with MU will no doubt be continued as our collaborative project develops.

Trevor Holmes – Vice-President, External Affairs, DCU. At a very important meeting with Trevor the concrete dimensions of a potential Memorandum of Understanding between DCU and SMU were discussed, including a potential articulation agreement, potential appointment of faculty as adjunct professors at both institutions, and other fundamental matters that would give concrete, operationally verifiable outcomes to our collaboration. Trevor being the senior administration official at DCU charged with overseeing external interinstitutional linkages, this meeting provided the desired institutional underpinning of our collaborative project and was very well received by all concerned. Trevor was very positive about the collaboration and its potential benefits for all counterparts, which was most encouraging.

Lewis Purser -Director of Learning & Teaching and Academic Affairs at the Irish Universities Association (IUA), where he works with the Vice-Presidents Academic/Registrars’ group. Lewis is a graduate of the Graduate Institute of Development Studies at the University of Geneva. At this important meeting, Lewis was immensely helpful in providing me with an overview of Irish higher education at its current conjuncture. A very congenial discussion brought me into the world of Irish universities, their goals, their challenges and many other topics related to the foregoing. I was grateful for Lewis’ unstinting help in this area, and valued it highly based on his long term expertise in the points that came up for discussion.

Joanna Ozarowska – Community officer with DCU’s “Community Engage” Program. Joanna leads the adult learning initiatives of DCU’s civic engagement presence in local communities, especially those facing economic challenges affecting opportunities for attending HEI’s. I learned a considerable amount about DCU’s initiatives in broadening access to higher education as part of its civic engagement mission. Our discussion was especially important since the information provided was from a front-line field officer of Community Engage.

Mark Brown – Director, National Institute for Digital Learning, DCU. Mark and I shared a panel last year at the EURIE Global Summit for Higher Education in Istanbul, and there was much to learn from his enthusiastic support for online learning, and e-learning in general. There were many challenging issues that arose from our then discussion. Unfortunately, the abrupt responsibilities put upon the Institute in early to mid March to lead DCU in a rapid transition to a virtual, online university lead to a misalignment of agenda schedules, and so there was no chance to connect with Mark during my visit. However, my presence at DCU allowed me to review first hand the programs, policies and initiatives of the Institute. This detailed review was most important given the nature of our proposed SMU-DCU collaborative project of exploring and operationalizing new pathways of digitalization for the university in an age of internationalization and globalization, especially the alternative of looking at digitalization as refracted through the lens of civic engagement.

3) Outcomes

For such a short visit, so abruptly terminated by the pandemic, I was very pleased with what was accomplished in terms of actual and potential outcomes for this Ireland-Atlantic Canada collaboration, worthy of the support of the ICUF-Dobbin Scholarship. A summary of the most important outcomes:

  1. the collaboration has been established on a concrete footing through discussions on the important dimensions of institutionalizing the linkage as the basis for further expansion of the initiatives associated with the activities of the two universities. There was complete agreement between Trevor, Ronnie and me that our collaboration was worth pursuing only if we dedicated ourselves to making it an enduring source of tangible and concrete benefit to all counterparts;
  2. the initial contacts made formed the basis of a much broader foundational network for our Ireland-Atlantic Canada collaboration, thanks in large part to the existing professional network of Ronnie and his participation in larger all-Ireland and pan-European organizations;
  3. the profile of DCU as a national and EU leader in civic engagement and digital learning and the prominent and ongoing institutionalized internationalization of SMU–SMU has the highest relative percentage of international students in eastern Canada, and has developed a broad repertoire of programs to incorporate this fact into its institutional operations and learning environment–opens up the potential for the Ireland-Atlantic Canada collaboration to learn from and contribute to a broader regional set of understandings and operationalizable, workable initiatives;
  4. there was unanimity amongst all collaborators that we focus strongly on activities that can serve to balance and integrate the internationalization of universities in both Ireland and Atlantic Canada with their natural -and in an important sense, fiduciary – responsibilities to their local surround;
  5. ongoing discussions between Ronnie and me about the context, concepts and strategies involved with our collaborative project generated the outline of a book – in which ICUF-Dobbin support will be gratefully acknowledged–addressing the central issues of integrating internationalization, digitalization and civic, local engagement; and
  6. plans were made for follow-up visits in both directions, once the disruptions created by the current pandemic situation have stabilized, in order to maintain and enhance the momentum started by my all-to-brief visit.

In summary, this short visit created the basis of a collaboration between Ireland and Atlantic Canada that is filled with potential for both the principal counterparts, and whose activities have the potential to involve, and benefit, other potential counterparts in their respective regions.

I would like to thank the ICUF, and in particular the Dobbin Atlantic Canada Scholarship, for its support of this collaborative project. The mission of the ICUF is of great importance for those many people in Canada who welcome bringing Ireland into a stronger and more direct relationship with their Irish cultural or scholarly interest, and, in the special case of Atlantic Canada, with the land of their recent or historical ancestors and the cultural that still forms, with pride, the background of their lives.

Anthony O’Malley
May 2020