Gonzalo Peralta, executive director, Languages Canada
Famous for being capable of effortlessly juggling several languages within the same presentation, Gonzalo Peralta has led Languages Canada for almost 10 years. Chatting to The PIE, he shared thoughts on the association’s plans on advocacy and diversity, and on the upcoming federal elections.
The PIE: Looking back at the last year, what have been the major highlights and the major concerns?
GP: Obviously, one highlight is that student numbers continued to grow. We don’t know exactly to what point yet, because our survey is ongoing, but there’s a lot of evidence that student numbers were up from 2017 as well. I think in our advocacy work we have done really well, we changed our approach. We have had really good reception from both federal and provincial government.
We are not in reactive mode anymore, we are not trying to fix the fallout from regulations or new policies – obviously we have to react to some things, for example the situation with Saudi Arabia, it’s part of our mandate to look out for our members. But in general it was a very proactive year in terms of advocacy.
We have also performed really well in international affairs. We have had excellent feedback from members and partners about our trade missions abroad, and we are building programs that will support other forms of engagement such as in-country projects and bilateral student mobility.
“One of the thoughts was: ‘Oh my god, all it takes is a tweet, and we are shut out of a country'”
The PIE: You have mentioned Saudi Arabia. What about China?
GP: It was one of our primary concerns when the Saudi crisis erupted. Because we know how connected we are to the rest of the world, and when the Saudi issue unfolded, one of the thoughts was: “Oh my god, all it takes is a tweet, and we are shut out of a country. What if that happens with China, what if that happens with another country?”
So now we are keeping our eyes on the situation. We realise there’s not much we can do to affect the outcome of the situation, but we can prepare. Some of our member programs, particularly universities, were concerned about the ratio of Chinese students, and part of our strategy for this upcoming year is diversification. It’s our key word, in many aspects of education and internationalisation in general, but in language it’s of primary importance.
We cannot have a class of one nationality here. It does not work.
The PIE: So how can further diversification be achieved?
GP: I think one of the ways of doing this is opening up internal dialogue, so members can share best practices and experiences, and we are here to support our members by mitigating risk. We have an exploratory mission to Iran, we are going to Thailand, to Russia, to the places that are a little bit more challenging, so our members have access to those particular markets.
And it may be right for one institution to be in Thailand, but it may be right for another institution to be in Poland, so we offer some choice. The only mission we have to China this year is for French programs. That makes sense for French programs, which are seeking to open that market, and we are very excited to collaborate with other Francophone organisations.
“We need the world to come. But we also want to go to the world”
And there is one more aspect to diversification: receiving students is wonderful and so gratifying, for our members, and for Canada as a whole. We are a country that depends, at this point, 100% on immigration for growth. There are very aggressive measures to ensure that that happens, and we need the world to come. But we also want to go to the world.
Diversification is not just about the students that come here and the mix of students that come here, but it’s also about how we can participate, collaborate, contribute in internationalisation efforts abroad. Where can Canada and Languages Canada members have an impact to support our core mission, which is really the promotion of the value and understanding of languages – English and French? We believe very strongly in that mission and that’s where we are going next as well in terms of diversification.
The PIE: How is the implementation of new membership criteria going?
GP: This is the year when it’s launched and implemented, and we will evaluate it during 2020, and then we’ll have something that I hope is solid enough for the next decade.
This is 100% the right thing to do. When a member attends a trade missions and sits beside another member, these are competitors – there has to be some trust there. And if I don’t trust the program that’s beside me, why would I want to belong to the association?
That’s from the membership side.
From the association and management side, managing the fallout of an unethical member is not what we are here for. It’s what we will do if we have to, but we are here to grow and support and promote the value of language education. We don’t want to be here to be fixing messes.
It’s really important to… have rules. We’ll open the door under these conditions, and we’ll be able to close and lock that door. So that we can be proud: this is a really cool place to hang out, it’s a place where we can explore, exchange, grow, without worrying if someone steals the silverware.
“We don’t want to be here to be fixing messes. That takes us away from our core cares”
The PIE: What is the current situation regarding access to work, and what is changing?
GP: We lost so many students when access to work was removed from language students. We have been working at this since it was taken away from the sector in 2014. And now we are at a point where we are working more closely with the provinces rather than the federal government.
I find that the federal government is open to the concept. We want to be responsible, we want to present a program that is pedagogically sound. This is the first step for us and it’s the foundation piece: let us do what we are here to do, which is to help students learn a language. Without access to work, our offer is just not complete.
What’s different now? Provinces are becoming more and more interested in access to work because they are not able to fulfil their labour needs and immigration objectives. And it’s not about bringing language students to work, it’s about bringing people who are willing to learn the language, integrate into our society and culture, and get some work experience so that when they do return home they can be productive and successful, and if they decide to stay for post-secondary or to immigrate, they are productive right away – they have the language, the connections, and they have this thing called work experience!
One thing I really love about this model is that people who come to Canada through this initiative have invested as well. This is a huge boon for Canada, because both sides are making a commitment. The student is making a commitment, and Canada is making it too. It really is a win-win.
We are hoping that by working with the provinces of Nova Scotia and Manitoba we can design projects that are going to really support those particular provinces and hopefully other regions and provinces are going to see the value of it and jump on board, and we are hoping of course that the federal government will see the value of it, because they are final stop: they get to open or close the door.
“Without access to work, our offer is just not complete”
The PIE: What do you hope for the upcoming elections?
GP: I think this government has been wonderful in terms of supporting culture and education, and business. We are obviously concerned with the problems in international relations, what’s happened with Saudi Arabia, with China.
We are very confident in their basic approach, belief and support, we are just hoping that they carry through properly in terms of a more solid international presence.
What I don’t think we will have here in Canada is what’s happened in some other countries, a complete swing to a negation of the value of immigration, or education, or internationalisation. Canada is different. We truly do depend on immigration, there is not a single political leader out there who is going to deny this, because in Canada it just won’t work.
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