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When Will Straw travels to England next April to collaborate with a University of Nottingham researcher, he'll become McGill's first faculty member to undertake a Universitas 21 (U21) faculty exchange.
Straw, chair of art history and communication studies, is flying to England to brainstorm the particulars of cities with Douglas Tallack, a Nottingham professor of American studies.
Both academics are interested in urban artscapes — everything from authors to music to architecture. Straw has sought comparisons between Montreal, Toronto, Dublin and Berlin. Tallack has been studying New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.
"We plan to see if we can collaborate on an e-book concerning urban culture," Straw reports, adding he'll spend two weeks at Nottingham. "This kind of trip always opens new horizons. I get to know the scene better, which helps me advise post-docs who may want to go there. I become more knowledgeable of other music [genres] and that helps me be a better teacher."
Straw's trip is partly funded through McGill's Universitas 21 travel budget, which provides grants of $2,500 for two faculty members per year. Staff will also be eligible for a couple of $2,500 grants, but the selection mechanism has yet to be worked out.
Another 10 grants of $1,250 are up for grabs among students. Of course, anyone who doesn't receive a grant can still partake in a U21 exchange.
McGill's travel grant applicants must visit member-institutions of the Universitas 21 network. The consortium includes 17 research and teaching universities around the world, from Nottingham to the University of British Columbia.
Created in 1997, U21's objective is to advance the internationalization of its members and foster student and staff exchanges.
"The association is small enough to encourage commitment, familiarity, collaboration and interoperability between the partner institutions, yet large enough to capture the benefits of international diversity," says Ian Butler, associate vice-principal (research) and McGill's U21 manager.
The U21 network hopes each of its member institutions will have at least 100 students enrolled in exchange programs by 2005-2006, for a grand total of 1,200 travelling pupils. This academic year, some 73 Universitas students will have visited McGill, while 83 of our students have taken part in U21 exchanges themselves.
Andrea Hicks is one. Rather than completing her final semester at the McGill School of the Environment, she opted to finish at a U21 member.
"I was ready for a change; I'd never been to New Zealand and the University of Auckland has a really strong environmental program," explains Hicks, who begins in March. "I plan to study Auckland's recycling and composting program, which I've heard is more advanced than at most North American cities, as well as New Zealand's unique flora and fauna."
As part of the U21 agreement, Hicks will pay McGill tuition and fees while abroad. She's also relieved her alma mater underwrote part of her travel expenses through its U21 grants: "It lessened the financial burden of this trip."
Since July 2003, U21 has also offered distance education through Universitas 21 Global. The online chapter is considered critical by U21 members to bring higher education to underserved regions.
"That McGill would get involved in distance education was a bold decision," says Butler, adding the university made a one-shot investment of U.S. $500,000 to participate in the Universitas 21 Global on-line programs, comparatively low to the University of Melbourne's U.S. $6 million contribution. "It's an experiment that is much cheaper than had we tried to do this by ourselves!"
Butler stresses there will soon be a dire need for online education: "By 2015, about 40 percent of qualified students from around the world won't have access to physical places where they can study, because universities will be overcapacitated."
Universitas 21 Global hopes to fill the void.
U21 Global Degrees will contain the crests of all 17 member schools. And despite its online vocation, Universitas 21 Global still has professors, a student services and placement office, deans, a registrar and a rector.
For the moment, U21 only offers an online MBA and a Master's in Information Science is in the works. About 150 students are currently enrolled for a U21 MBA, paying approximately $9,000 U.S. in fees. Universitas 21 forecasts that about 100,000 students will one day be graduating from its online programs.
"Each U21 member will receive income from royalties," says Butler, adding part of the royalties will be used to fund U21 and other fellowships for McGill students. "I think that better and better things will come from McGill's association with Universitas 21."
For more information on U21, please consult: www.universitas21.com.