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Global Campus

How can we increase part-time student engagement in global learning programs?

Making programs visible, accessible and student-centred can improve participation.


As part-time programs have gained popularity in Canada, a new student audience has emerged on campus. Data from Statistics Canada shows that in the 2019-2020 academic year around 23 per cent of all students in Canada were studying part time. This makes it important for higher education institutions to consider how this significant population can be engaged in global learning initiatives, both on campus and abroad.

When looking at ways to include part-time students in international education experiences, we have to keep in mind that this student group has unique characteristics. To start, part-time students are generally older and tend to combine their studies with a full-time job or family responsibilities when compared to full-time students. This makes it difficult for international offices to simply incorporate them in existing outbound mobility and internationalization-at-home programs.

Studies in Canada and Australia have also shown that part-time students have fewer opportunities to interact and connect with peers and faculty and are thus less likely to feel a sense of belonging on campus.

In an effort to adapt to this reality, the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) School of Business + Media has adapted existing programs and implemented new programs to include our growing part-time student population in our international education efforts.

Flexible and industry-focused mobility

Based on student feedback, we identified two main factors that inhibit part-time students from participating in a study abroad program.

  1. Other responsibilities such as full-time employment made it more difficult to commit to a traditional outbound mobility program such as exchange due to the amount of time spent abroad.
  2. Part-time students often had fewer touch points with advising staff, resulting in lower awareness of available mobility opportunities.

Given the unique circumstances, we established several initiatives to improve flexibility and visibility of international mobility programs for part-time students. This included highlighting short-term mobility programs, such as three-week-long summer field schools, that emphasize experiential learning with actionable industry take-aways. Additionally, we aimed to increase visibility of short-term mobility programs by incorporating their credits directly into program matrices of part-time programs. By incorporating credits from short-term mobility programs, part-time students could more easily identify how credits can be used in their respective programs.

Student-centred and accessible internationalization-at-home programs

When asked why they didn’t join global learning programs on campus, part-time students expressed that:

  1. Full-time employment demands prevented them from signing up for programs that require regular commitment and from attending day-time activities, workshops or events.
  2. They were more interested in internationalization-at-home programs that focus on peer-to-peer connection and community-building.

We concluded that in order to build attractive programs for part-time students, we had to actively involve them in the program design, organize activities in the evening and/or online, avoid any long-term program commitment, and focus on a mix of social and intercultural activities that facilitate peer connection and a sense of belonging on campus. Based on these assumptions, we launched the Global Peer Community during the 2020-2021 academic year at BCIT, which focuses on social connection, intercultural leadership skills and student well-being. Roughly 40 per cent of all participants in the program were part-time students. Feedback at the end of the academic year showed that the part-time students appreciated the interaction with other students and felt more included on campus.

Approaches to engage part-time students

Fully engaging part-time students in global learning can be a challenge. To address this, we have identified five key areas to reach this audience.

  1. Partners: identify key stakeholders on campus and develop joint programs and activities.
  2. Faculty: connect with and inform part-time faculty about the available international education programs by presenting in-school-wide events, hosting lunch and learn sessions, and expanding classroom visits and presentations to evening and weekend courses.
  3. Online learning hub: create a course on your existing online learning platform to showcase study abroad and internationalization-at-home programs to increase awareness.
  4. Newsletter: create a monthly newsletter to keep students informed about global opportunities.
  5. Student Involvement: create opportunities for part-time student voices to be heard and considered, from planning to implementation of new events and programs.

If we wish to fully engage part-time students in global learning, new programs that are tailored to the unique needs of this growing student audience need to be developed. By making international education initiatives visible, easily accessible and student-centred, we can make international programs more inclusive.

This column is coordinated through the Internationalization of Student Affairs Community of Practice of the Canadian Association of College & University Student Services (CACUSS). For comments or questions please contact [email protected].

Nele Tinck and Eva Wong are international programs advisers at the British Columbia Institute of Technology School of Business + Media.
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