A glimpse into the history of Trent’s International Program

jackmathewsDuring the 50th anniversary of Trent University, a vital part of the community is also celebrating a long history of promoting global citizenship.

The Trent International Program (TIP), founded in 1982 by Jack Matthews (pictured), its first director, has since then contributed greatly to the unique student experience that Trent offers.

Jack Matthews was the founding director of the Lester B. Pearson United World College of the pacific placed on Vancouver Island. When he finished his term, he came to Peterborough with the idea of creating an international program at Trent that would be based on the UWC values.

These values are grounded on the idea of global citizenship and understanding. They promote international cooperation for peace and a sustainable future, which are explained in further detail at uwc.org.

Matthews’ idea was well received by the president of the time, but (not surprisingly) the school was short of funds. Mary Louise Adams argued, in an article published in the Volume 17, Issue 3, of Arthur newspaper in 1982, that Matthews engaged in fundraising activities and succeeded in securing $200,000 dollars from the Devonian group, a charitable foundation in Calgary, and $75,000 dollars from the Muttart Foundation.

When Jack Matthews started TIP, some alumni from Pearson College and other exceptional schools around the world started a process, that allowed not only international but also domestic students, to live an education based on values that promote mutual understanding and conflict resolution.

Dr. Michael Allcott, the current director of TIP, spoke to Arthur. He explained that Matthews had good connections with the Canadian government and that CIDA funded some undergraduate scholarships for students around the world.

Dr. Allcott explained that the creation of TIP coincides with a time when the Canadian constitution was patriated and also the chart of rights and freedoms was established. He agreed that this was a hugely significant moment in Canadian history because Canada really turned towards envisioning itself as multicultural country.

When asked about changes in the structure of TIP, Dr. Allcott described how the CIDA funding that supported TIP scholars for years stopped in the early 90’s, which saw a rapid decline of international students at Trent.

At that point in time, Dr. Allcott illustrates, David Morrison, and Leonard Conolly put their heads together and envisioned a strategy to re-introduce more international students to Trent. They realized, before any other university in North America, that international students are a source of revenue that enlarges the University’s scope beyond the provincial region. As a result, they re-structured TIP to its current form.

Dr. Allcott agrees that the re-structuring entailed a “robust international strategic recruitment component and a scholarship base, so that the revenue generated by the large number of international students funds scholarships.”

He furthermore added that the people who earn the scholarships are not only some of the most outstanding students from around the world, but that they are also committed to give back to the community, providing leadership and service.

“That plan was quite risky, at a moment of desperate budgetary crisis, and their plan was largely successful”, Dr. Allcott added.

“Since 2002, we have gone from around 50 international students to around 500. Since 2003 we have managed to maintain the scholarship cohort even as funds for scholarships shrank or inflation ate away our ability to bring people, and also, managed to incrementally grow the number of international students,” he commented.

When asked about how TIP continues to embody the values of international understanding and cooperation under which it was funded, Dr. Allcott mentioned that TIP has succeeded to ensure that every year it organizes activities that engage the whole campus community in discussion related to global citizenship.

For instance, the World Affairs Colloquium is a student-led organization that works towards providing discussion forums every two weeks to engage a broad section of campus community into discussion of international issues.

Furthermore, he continued, “we promote those values by supporting international faculty and supporting international studies for Canadians through the study abroad department, and also, by having the Jack Matthews’ fellowship, which allows us to bring in one public intellectual, not an academic, who can engage on a level of large public interest”.

In addition, he argues, “TIP has managed to include international students in a different and more inclusive way compared to most of the other universities. Not many have the experience of belonging to a vibrant international community and often can be a very lonely and alienating experience to be THAT foreign student.”

Undoubtedly, TIP has been an essential part of the Trent University experience by providing a diverse and spirited international student community. However, in looking at the future, it is important to note some challenges.

There are increasing financial constrains that limit the way TIP operates, and most importantly, funds scholarships. It was the original ethical duty recognized by the founders of TIP and its directors that providing a large number of scholarships was a way of giving back for exploiting international students as sources of revenue.

Many have questioned the way in which TIP operates and where its recruits come from. Today, international student diversity is being challenged because there are a limited amount of countries where people can afford the enormous tuitions charged to international students.

TIP has been outstanding in providing scholarships to those students that would otherwise have been unable to come to Trent, however, it faces increasing challenges to maintain that feat.

One of the problems is the lack of government funding, which is linked to how the federal government sees international students as cash cows rather than as a source of cultural wealth and social enrichment.

TIP has been, and continues to be successful in bringing in students from around the world in order to make Trent’s community a truly diverse one. After all, international students are a vital part in fulfilling Trent’s ideal of “collaborative learning that is personal, purposeful and transformative”.