LIKE today’s popular TV talent shows, Canadian researchers are on the lookout for top performers —only their search doesn’t stop at the border.
Through a program called Mitacs Globalink, 473 international students — some of the brightest minds in the world — were ‘discovered’ this summer from as far away as India, Mexico, China, Brazil, Vietnam and Turkey. Now, 44 of them are honing their skills under the direction of Canadian professors at the University of British Columbia (UBC).
With economic activity generated by international students pegged at about $7.7 billion annually, the program is a critical tool to boost Canada’s ability to compete in the global race for talent — a capability that is key for the economic health of our country, said Ed Holder, Minister of State (Science and Technology).
“By introducing the world’s top students to Canada for short-term research placements, the Mitacs Globalink program is creating a strong link to Canada that can foster long-term economic, trade and investment opportunities for our country going forward,” he explained.
Through Mitacs Globalink, the international students are taking part in 12-week research internships, working on cutting-edge projects at UBC that range from designing smart wheelchairs for seniors, to studying wireless communication and climate change, to using data gathered from tree rings as a means to help prevent future forest fires.
One such student is Karthik Paga, a 20-year-old Mechanical Engineering student from Vellore Institute of Technology in India. Since arriving in Canada on July 12, Paga has been working with research students at UBC’s Laboratory of Computational Intelligence to design a system that would enable a wheelchair to automatically back in to a seating spot, similar to the way self-parking cars remove the difficulty of parallel parking.
“This is an awesome experience and a great opportunity to explore competitive research at a world class institution,” said Paga. “I am learning many great skills which I feel will be important for my future endeavours. This internship is giving me the chance to explore the work environment in Canada, and I am very much interested in staying here,” he added.
Ian Mitchell, Associate Professor in the Computer Science department at UBC, said the ability to bring summer students in from other countries is a real boon to furthering ongoing research efforts like CanWheel, a nationwide project to develop smart wheelchairs for seniors who suffer from both mobility and cognitive efforts. “Without Mitacs Globalink there’s really no effective way for me to bring foreign students in at the undergraduate level,” he said. “This program gives us a chance to assess them as potential graduate students before we make that commitment.”
In the global search for talent, Canada currently ranks sixth in international student recruitment — behind the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Germany and France. “Our goal is to move to the front of the race by getting undergraduate students to come and experience Canada early, before they make a decision about where to pursue graduate studies and launch their careers,” said Rob Annan, Interim CEO and Scientific Director of Mitacs.
The strategy is working. Nationally this summer, the 473 students from eight countries are being posted at 45 Canadian universities — with students from Vietnam and Turkey participating in the program for the first time. This compares to a total of 285 students from five countries placed at 32 universities last year. Now in its sixth year, Mitacs Globalink launched with only 17 students in 2009. The program is funded by the Government of British Columbia and the Government of Canada.