Journal of Global Citizenship & Equity Education, Vol 5, No 1 (2016)

Global Citizenship in Canadian Universities: A New Framework

Journal of Global Citizenship & Equity Education
Volume 5 Number 1 2016

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Global Citizenship in Canadian Universities: A New Framework

Melanie Rathburn

Associate Professor
Department of General Education & Department of Biology
Mount Royal University (Calgary, AB)

Roberta Lexier

Associate Professor
Department of General Education
Mount Royal University (Calgary, AB)

Keywords: Global Citizenship; Universities; Framework

ABSTRACT: The value and importance of global learning is widely promoted and debated in the literature but, without a common language to frame this discussion, we cannot accurately assess its effectiveness or value. One term frequently used in these conversations, and extolled by universities, is the idea of global citizenship; however, there is no consistent definition of this concept. In this article, we describe the philosophical traditions surrounding the term global citizenship and explain the roots of the debate over its use. To further understand how this term is used among institutions of higher education, we investigated how select Canadian universities discuss global citizenship and identified some of the key terms used as proxies for it. By bringing together the existing academic literature, the available statistics, and a survey of mandates and practices across Canadian universities, we have developed a framework that defines a global citizen in a Canadian context. This shared framework, that universities can adapt and modify to meet their own institutional needs, is necessary to enhance their ability to develop the next generation of global citizens. A consistent language and vision will better shape the experiences students have, will ensure the evaluation of university programs is both possible and effective, and will create common goals that can be shared amongst industry, government, and universities.


A shared understanding of how we discuss global citizenship is necessary to help better shape the experiences students have, to ensure the evaluation of university programs is possible and effective, and to create alliances among industry, government, and universities to enhance the development of students as global citizens. Global citizenship is frequently identified by industry, government, and universities in Canada as an important outcome of education; however, there is significant debate about the meaning of this term. To understand this debate, we begin with a review of the roots of this debate. Next, we identify the key concepts used by universities as proxies for global citizenship and lay out the methods of analysis. We then provide an examination of global citizenship and its characterizations, as well as present existing definitions of the term as used by educational institutions. We conclude by providing a new framework of global citizenship and by offering some suggestions of mechanisms through which universities can more effectively fulfill their responsibility to create global citizens.

Identifying the Key Concepts of Global Citizenship

"The ideals of global citizenship," according to Roopa Desai Trilokekar and Adrian Shubert (2009), "hold a special place for Canada and Canadians." This, they argue, can be seen through foreign policy, in particular the Pearsonian tradition of peacekeeping, to which they refer as "a kind of global citizenship avant la lettre." Canada, it is claimed, has "worked…to build up a sense of global accountability and conscience." Moreover, they claim that, "Canada's distinctive approach to multiculturalism and national self-definition" highlights the importance of global citizenship for Canadians: "Canadian society is too complex to be captured by categories of culture and ethnicity. People live their lives in an overlapping plurality of spaces and subjectivities within and across borders" (pg. 191-193).

Yet, over the past decade, we have seen an erosion of these policies and practices that give Canadians a "particular affinity" (Trilokekar & Shubert, 2009, pg. 191) for global citizenship. Canada no longer takes an active role in peacekeeping as part of its foreign policy; after leading the world in troop commitments for peacekeeping missions twenty years ago, Canada now ranks 65th out of the 193 United Nations member states and has only 34 personnel participating in operations around the world (Shephard, 2014). The nation's international reputation as peacekeepers no longer reflects the reality of Canadian foreign policy. Moreover, while multiculturalism remains official policy in Canada, numerous tensions have emerged, especially over religious clothing and practices, which undermine the country's supposed acceptance of the cultures and traditions of the people who now call Canada home. While "Canadians see multiculturalism as central to their national identity," there has been increasing pressure on immigrants to integrate into "Canadian" culture and society ("Canadian multiculturalism," 2014). The recent debate over Canada's refugee policy further demonstrates the important shifts occurring in the nation's international role. Historically, refugees fleeing war and chaos in their home countries were admitted in large numbers and Canadians prided themselves on the assistance provided to these individuals. Currently, however, Canada ranks fifteenth among industrialized countries receiving refugees (see, Bangarth, 2015) and has severely limited its acceptance of and support for refugees. Thus, in significant ways, the attributes—which apparently make Canadians global citizens—have significantly disintegrated over the previous decade.

At the same time, scholars extensively debate the value of the term global citizenship and its meaning in a modern world. Political theorists, for instance, often argue that the concept is meaningless; they insist that citizenship is based in the nation-state and, since "the global conditions for citizenship do not exist…the term is at best metaphorical" (Carter, 2001, pg. 5). In other words, in viewing citizenship as a practical set of rights and obligations for members of a particular community, political theorists insist that, without global institutions that can grant citizenship, there can be no such thing as global citizenship. Other scholars, in contrast, argue that the concept extends beyond these limited boundaries and they instead take individuals, not states, as their primary focus (see, Cabrera, 2010). According to Hans Schattle (2008), global citizenship is more of an "attitude of mind" than formal membership or status in a particular community (pg. 115). It is based on the "belief that agents have global responsibilities to help make a better world and that they are part of large-scale networks of concern" (Dower, 2003, pg. vii). Many of these scholars ground their conception of global citizenship in the idea of cosmopolitanism, which views all individuals as citizens of the world who have a moral obligation to act towards effecting positive change based on the principles of justice and a common, universal humanity (see, Cameron, 2014; Dower & Williams, 2002; Schattle, 2008). Individuals do not only have the rights and obligations of citizenship granted by a particular nation-state, they also have universal human rights and a moral obligation to all other human beings (see, Cameron, 2014). Moreover, all individuals are part of a global community and must work with others to make the world a better place (Dower, 2003). The term global citizenship, then, is contentious and a number of tensions remain regarding the use of the concept.

In a recent article examining global citizenship education, Jorgenson and Shultz (2012) identified strategies that post-secondary institutions are employing to foster global citizenship. They discuss the wide range of programs that have been initiated in concert with the increasing priority of global citizenship among universities. Further, they discuss how universities in both North America and the United Kingdom have developed institutional mandates for global citizenship through their vision and mission statements, internationalization and education abroad initiatives, as well as through courses and certificates of global citizenship. Although this review provides good models for post-secondary institutions, we argue that because of the background and ethos of Canadians, our universities should have a different philosophy and value of global citizenship. Thus, this article reviews Canadian post-secondary institutions across the country to identify the practices and mandates for how Canadian universities approach global citizenship.

Methods of Analysis

This research began with a thorough review of the literature on global citizenship. There are numerous books that discuss this topic in a Canadian context (Rennick & Desjardins, 2013; Shultz, Abdi & Richardson, 2015; Tiessen & Huish, 2014) as well as more broadly (Lewin, 2009; Rhoads & Szelényi, 2011; Schattle, 2008). We used these books to ground our analysis in a theoretical perspective and to help inform our understanding of the different perspectives and approaches that we might uncover. After reviewing these books, we performed searches in relevant academic databases (Education Resource Information Center [ERIC] and Education Research Complete) using keywords that captured information related to research on global learning experiences that foster global citizenship. These keywords included: internationalization, global understanding, global mindset, global learning, and global citizenship. Terms were categorized based on the root of the word and included all variations on the words. The full list of terminology and the frequency of their usage is available in the Mount Royal University institutional repository. While much of the literature comes from U.S. institutions, our focus was on the Canadian context, and the similarities and differences with the broader international context. This literature review helped synthesize existing information, highlighting patterns and consistencies, in order to determine how global citizenship is defined and what mechanisms might be used to encourage students to become global citizens.

We also consulted documents directly related to global citizenship within the Canadian educational system to determine how it is defined and how students are encouraged to become global citizens. We began by surveying the elementary and high school curricula in each province for mention of global citizenship (and related terms) and examined the ways that this concept was employed in each jurisdiction. In particular, we chronicled the grade and subject in which global citizenship is taught at the primary and secondary levels and the various ways that this term is defined in the documentation. We also reviewed the strategic, academic, or integrated plans at 30 different Canadian universities from across the country, with institutions that varied in size and academic focus (undergraduate, research, and comprehensive; see Figure 1 below). Within each plan, we searched for terms related to aspects of global citizenship using the terms: global, citizen, international, and cultur* (to allow for the capture of variations on this word such as culture, cultural, or intercultural). In addition, we reviewed each document to ensure that we discovered all discussions of global citizenship that might not have been captured by our word searches. We isolated sections of the documents from each university that pertained to global citizenship and used the software program NVivo to undertake a quantitative analysis of the terms used. We also conducted qualitative analyses using two types of coding procedures: using open coding, we determined categories and subcategories that emerged in the data and then used axial coding to assess the interrelatedness of categories. From these analyses, we were able to construct a new framework on global citizenship that better describes how the concept is used by Canadian universities.

We also collected recent quantitative research on global learning in Canada produced by the Canadian Bureau of International Education (CBIE), Universities Canada (formerly the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada), and the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada (DFATD), that focus primarily on the numbers of students involved, the assumed effects on students and the broader community, and the specific ways that these experiences contribute to global citizenship. We consulted directly with these organizations to collect additional data, not included in these published reports, to conduct broader statistical analysis to understand what currently characterizes global citizenship in Canada.

Carleton University Queen's University University of New Brunswick
Concordia University Ryerson University University of Ottawa
Dalhousie University Simon Fraser University University of Prince Edward Island
Douglas College Trent University University of Regina
Langara College University of Alberta University of Saskatchewan
MacEwan University University of British Columbia University of Toronto
McGill University University of Calgary University of Victoria
Memorial University of Newfoundland University of Guelph University of Windsor
Mount Allison University University of Lethbridge Western University
Mount Royal University University of Manitoba York University

Figure 1 Thirty universities from across Canada were selected for this study. Universities were chosen as representative institutions from each province, size, and academic focus.

Analysis of Global Citizenship and its Characterizations

Most universities have incorporated global citizenship into their strategic plans and have emphasized the need to produce students who understand diversity, have global awareness, and actively participate in the creation of a better society (Shultz et al., 2011). A survey across colleges and universities in the United States found that 1.5% of students participate in study abroad (Institute of International Education, 2014) while the 2014 Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC) Internationalization Survey reports that 2.6% of full-time undergraduate students in Canada are taking university courses that involve travel abroad; this is up from 2.2% in 2006 (AUCC, 2014). This high participation rate relative to U.S. institutions, along with the federal government’s recent International Education Strategy (Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada, 2014), reveal that Canada is poised to become the next leader in global education. Thus, it is imperative that we understand the components of global citizenship and how our education system fosters this development in our students.

Canadian universities often use a variety of other words as proxies for the broader term, global citizenship. To understand how Canadian universities discuss global citizenship, we extracted all quotes from academic, strategic, or integrated plans that intimated towards the notion of a global citizen, and conducted a frequency count to isolate the terms being used to describe this concept. The most frequently mentioned words, not surprisingly, included: global, student, community, citizen, international, culture, and world (Figure 2). Other frequently used words described the mechanisms for how students would develop as global citizens (learning, research, knowledge, education, academic, skills, and understanding), or were descriptors of attributes of global citizens (engage, develop, contribute, commit, awareness, experience, create, and value). We were, however, taken aback with some of the words that were only rarely mentioned (only a few instances among all universities); these words were verbs that described how students would develop as global citizens such as: empower, enrich, nurture, cultivate, and interact.

Picture of word cloud demonstrating the frequency of terms used by Canadian universities when discussing global citizenship

Figure 2 This word cloud demonstrates the diversity and frequency of terms used by Canadian universities when discussing global citizenship. The size of the word is indicative of the frequency with larger font representing more commonly used terms.

We were also interested in how frequently terms that describe the idea of global citizenship appeared in the academic literature as this provides a proxy to understand the level of academic research and analysis on this concept. We compiled a frequency count of the use of “global citizenship,” “global education,” “global learning,” “global understanding,” and “intercultural competence” for all articles indexed by the Education Research Complete and ERIC databases. We had intended to also examine articles indexed within the Academic Search Complete database but upon review of the articles, our search strategy captured research that was tangential to the topic of global citizenship. As this database includes many different disciplines, we decided to exclude this analysis to ensure that our results were indicators of global citizenship in an educational framework

We analyzed the frequency of these terms for the entire history of the database as well as the last decade (2005-2015) of publications. On average, 68% of scholarly articles using these terms were published in the last decade (Figure 3). The term “global education” was the most frequently used; however, 51% of occurrences were in the last decade. The expression “global citizenship” was referenced only 954 times but most of this usage (83%) was in the last decade. This analysis illustrates that our perception of an increasing use of this terminology by universities is paralleled in the academic literature

Picture of use of global citizenship terminology used in the academic literature in the past 10 years

Figure 3 The use of global citizenship terminology used in the academic literature in the past 10 years compared to all records within the Educational Research Complete and Education Resource Information Center databases. Values within the bars indicate the number of articles published during the particular timeframe.

In Canada, the majority of provincial governments have identified the development of global citizens as an important component of primary and/or secondary education. While the term is often not fully defined, most provinces equate the concept with active participation in the communities in which students are a part. In Manitoba, for example, the Grade 12 Global Issues curriculum (2011) promotes “an ethos of active democratic citizenship in the contemporary world” (pg. 1), while in Ontario, the Grade 10 Global and Active Citizenship curriculum insists that students be able to “describe fundamental beliefs and values associated with democratic citizenship” (pg. 1). In many provinces, the focus of the curriculum is on teaching students the “rights and responsibilities” of citizenship in a global community and encouraging them to take action to create “positive change” (British Columbia Ministry of Education, 2005; Alberta Education, 2011; and New Brunswick Department of Education, 2006). In some jurisdictions, however, the definition of global citizenship is articulated further. The Grade 3 Social Studies curriculum in Alberta, as one example, argues that students should be able to “recognize how their actions might affect people elsewhere in the world and how the actions of others might affect them” and should “respect the equality of all human beings” (Alberta Education, 2011, pg. 16)). The Grade 12 Geography curriculum in Prince Edward Island insists that a student “be able to set aside one’s own perspective and be able to understand others’ views on an issue” (Prince Edward Island Department of Education and Early Childhood Learning, 2011, pg. 32). Moreover, the Manitoba curriculum (2011) offers perhaps the most thorough definition of global citizenship, arguing that global citizenship (also referred to as “active democratic citizenship”) is based on:

…a fundamental acceptance of the inherent, equal, universal and inalienable rights of all human beings.… Active democratic citizenship involves developing a widening circle of empathy so as to come to a sense of collective responsibility for the continued economic and social well-being of humans while preserving the environmental integrity of the planet…. [Students] are empowered by a sense of personal efficacy to address issues facing today's world…. Active democratic citizenship is an ethos motivated by concern for humanity, society, the planet, and the future, and is activated by self-empowerment (pg. 2).

In the elementary and high school curricula, provinces acknowledge the philosophical definitions of global citizenship and attempt to encourage their students to become active members of the global community in an effort to effect positive and lasting change. However, as Figure 4 demonstrates (see Appendix), there is no consistency across the provinces in terms of the grade or subject in which global citizenship is addressed; students across Canada receive an uneven introduction to the concept.

Moreover, while the provinces are also responsible for higher education under the Canadian constitution, this rhetoric surrounding global citizenship is not always reflected in the policies adopted at the university level. Instead, many universities resist the notion that they should be training students to become politically active members of their communities (Cameron, 2014) and focus instead on providing the skills necessary to enter an increasingly global workforce. This conception of global citizenship, rather than using the rhetoric used by the provinces in their elementary and high school curricula, replicates that presented by industry and the federal government. For example, according to the vision of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD, 2014), Canada will “become a 21st century leader in international education in order to attract top talent and prepare our citizens for the global marketplace” (p. 6). Thus, while students are arriving at universities with a particular understanding of global citizenship through their experiences in elementary and high school, their post-secondary education often takes a different approach and encourages a different understanding of their roles within a global community.

This type of thinking, grounded in economics and consistent with the corporatization of education, can be seen in our analysis of how universities discuss global citizenship. Many universities across Canada discuss citizenship with the ideology of promoting their institution’s global impact. For example, Ryerson University (2014) states that:

by combining the strength of its diversity with its strong history of external engagement, Ryerson can establish greater international reach and influence by partnering with like-minded organizations and establishing joint programs with international institutions. Increasing global connections will expand Ryerson’s international focus, create new opportunities for students and faculty, and allow Ryerson to bring new talent to its programs and the GTA (p. 12-13).

Similarly, the University of Calgary (2011) describes how it helps students develop as global citizens with an inward-looking approach where the focus is on:

creating a global intellectual hub where our students, staff, and faculty at the center of this hub will radiate new discoveries, ideas, and applications that have global impact. We will create a campus that also attracts scholars from around the world to this hub – one that promotes diversity of thought, culture, and respect for alternatives. We will leverage our expertise to share capacity with targeted institutions in the developing world (p. 27).

This type of language around global citizenship might raise the international profile of the institution but at the same time it fails its students and the global community by neglecting to consider how its academic strategy could contribute to a more just and equitable global society.

At some point within their strategic, integrated, or academic plans, every university that we examined referenced the development of students as global citizens (or some proxy term), but only about half (17 of the 30 universities) made an explicit claim within their vision or mission statements. For example, the University of Regina (2015) clearly articulated that the vision of the university is to “be a national leader in developing educated contributors, career-ready learners, and global citizens, and in generating meaningful, high-impact scholarship." However, the only alignment to this vision statement was a sentence embedded within the strategic plan’s Commitment to Communities section where the University of Regina states that it is “…committed to collaborative community service and engagement opportunities. This includes the communities within the institution as well as people and organizations external to the academy at the local, provincial, national and global levels.” Trent University’s (2012) academic plan clearly indicates the institutional goal of fostering global citizenship among its students with the following vision statement: "We strive to make valued and socially responsible contributions to our local communities, to Canada, and to the world….We create opportunities for students, staff and faculty to flourish and develop as individuals and as global citizens" (p. 70). But again, there was no strategic direction within their academic plan; only one statement at the end of the document that asks individual academic departments to consider “What can your unit do to ensure a continued commitment to educating students as ‘global citizens’ who can contribute on an international level?” (p. 66; emphasis in the original). It is interesting that this one statement was intentionally set apart from the rest of the text using bold and underlined font: the only emphasis of this kind in the entire document. However, without clear alignment and descriptions of how institutions plan to enact these vision statements, it is hard to understand whether fostering global citizenship amongst its students is just rhetoric or a true priority of the university. These statements might be nothing more than claims to please governments who are responsible for allocating funding.

Other universities discussed global citizenship as embedded within their liberal education requirements, thus assuming that this broad liberal learning will somehow engage students in a program that supports their development as global citizens. For example, the University of Victoria’s (2012) strategic plan “affirms the fundamental benefits of a liberal education: the acquisition of knowledge, the development of good judgment, communication skills, critical thinking, quantitative analysis, civic engagement and global citizenship.” Rather than using global citizenship, the discourse at the University of Guelph (2012) refers to global literacy but they similarly discuss how this is an aspect of liberal education:

Global literacy is a means of building awareness of global impact and context into students’ approaches to problem solving and decision making. It extends the notion of ‘liberal education’ beyond analytic knowledge and canonical texts, to the vital competencies that individuals need in order to make responsible, globally-informed decisions (p. 17).

Although it is laudable to identify where this development will occur within a students’ academic career, without an explicit liberal education program there is no guarantee that each student will necessarily develop these competencies and attitudes. Universities need to be strategic and explicit with how they plan to achieve these goals.

One problematic approach that was common across some universities was to conflate internationalization with global citizenship; 7 of the 30 universities used internationalization when framing discussions of global citizenship. According to Canada’s Education Abroad Lexicon, internationalization is “the active pursuit of activities which support the incorporation of an international perspective into all aspects of teaching and learning” (Canadian Bureau of International Education, 2015). Internationalization might be one way to increase awareness and knowledge of global issues but we argue that gaining a different perspective on these issues is only a small part of being a global citizen. Even though this definition describes an ‘active pursuit,’ the active component seems to be for the faculty or instructor, not active engagement by the student. In addition, the majority of universities claimed that internationalization would be accomplished by increasing the number of international students on campuses. Although this might change the university environment by encouraging varied international perspectives, it is not a guarantee of a change to the campus culture. Increasing the number of international students on campus is not enough; universities need to strategically integrate students within the classroom and the community if institutions truly want to provide diversity and multicultural discussions on their campuses. Furthermore, without providing the necessary supports and resources, international students are left alone to cope with life in a foreign country, which many times results in students feeling alienated and fostering interpersonal relationships solely with other international students (see, Choudhury, 2015 and Trilokekar & Rasmi, 2011).

There are a number of universities that have fully embraced the concept of fostering global citizenship and have been intentional in the strategies and mechanisms that encourage students to become global citizens. Many of these universities provide models for how institutions can align their ideals with their educational programs and practices. Carleton University (2013) has taken a ground-level approach and has called on each program to develop global learning outcomes: ways that faculty see global learning enacted in their own classrooms and activities. Similarly, the University of Guelph (2012) proposed that a “global dimension” should be incorporated into courses across the disciplines. The university took this idea a step further and proposed the creation of a School of Civil Society. This new school,

will work in partnership with NGOs, and public and private sector entities to strengthen the capacity of societies to face complex challenges and take advantage of extraordinary opportunities. This new unit will be the site of teaching and research excellence dedicated to the production and exchange of applied knowledge in such areas as women and girls in development, the environment, global food security, health, and community resilience… and most important, engagement with organizations at home and around the globe to bring about transformative improvements in solving the complex issues facing our world (p. 17).

However, converting ideas into action is not always a simple task. The university completed its consultation process and developed a proposal for the School for Civil Society and Engagement in March 2013. This new name, which includes engagement in the title, likely came out of their extensive consultation process, but we could not find any information about the current status of this proposal.

The University of British Columbia (n.d.), one of the only universities in our analysis to actually define global citizenship, adopted a different strategy. They created a Global Citizen stream within their Coordinated Arts Program. This approach challenges students to:

reimagine [them]selves both as individuals and as participants in a global community. This stream considers issues of globalization and associated forms of modernization, as well as the personal, social, and ethical opportunities and responsibilities that come with those processes… The way in which we perceive the world around us is often informed by a Western viewpoint, and the courses in this stream seek to illuminate and challenge this standpoint (UBC, Coordinated Arts Program, n.d.).

Embedding global citizenship within their coordinated arts program enables undergraduate students from across the university to interrogate the ideals of global citizenship in both an academic and practical way. By using a learning community approach, students are also exposed to global citizenship from multiple disciplinary lenses, thus challenging students to frame their thinking from varied perspectives. One drawback to this approach is that the themes of the program are constantly changing and thus, not all students have equal opportunity to be exposed to these ideas during their education.

The University of Alberta has been a leader among Canadian universities with respect to research, teaching, and practices that inform global citizenship on its campus and more broadly. Much of this work is conducted through their Centre for Global Citizenship Education & Research (CGCER) that describes global citizenship as “the development of global citizens who have a set of knowledges [sic], skills and attitudes that make it possible for them to be actively involved in local, national and global institutions and systems that directly or indirectly affect their lives” (University of Alberta, n.d., CGCER, para. 1). In recent years, this Centre has expanded their curriculum development strategies under the auspices of the Global Citizenship Curriculum Development Project (GCCD). The mandate of this project is to educate students to:

become responsible citizens, engaged in the democratic process and aware of their capacity to effect change in their communities, society and the world. GCCD is committed to addressing the challenge of global citizenship at the University of Alberta by involving the entire campus in the development and delivery of global citizenship curricula” (para. 2).

In addition to assisting faculty to incorporate global citizenship ideals in their own classrooms, the university also offers an interdisciplinary undergraduate course on global citizenship and is launching a global citizenship certificate program.

The University of Alberta example also provides us with a cautionary tale; the rhetoric found at the institutional level does not always align with the programs and actions of individual units. For example, the goal of the Centre for Global Education and Research is to “enhance the University of Alberta’s reputation as a major contributor and leader in the field of global citizenship education and international education” (University of Alberta, n.d., About CGCER, para. 2). This may be a true enough statement but after an investigation of the many different programs, partnerships, and curricular and professional development opportunities, the main foci of this centre seems to be to encourage global citizenship among students across the university: a task that we would argue is far more important than increasing the reputation of the university.

Existing Definitions of Global Citizenship

Throughout our research, we came across a few organizations or scholars that attempted to define global citizenship, although neither the scholarly community nor universities have accepted a single definition. One of the most popular descriptions of global citizenship, which was repeated amongst numerous scholarly publications, was from Oxfam (2006):

We see a Global Citizen as someone who:

  • is aware of the wider world and has a sense of their own role as a world citizen;
  • respects and values diversity;
  • has an understanding of how the world works economically, politically, socially, culturally, technologically and environmentally;
  • is outraged by social injustice;
  • participates in and contributes to the community at a range of levels from local to global;
  • is willing to act to make the world a more sustainable place;
  • takes responsibility for their actions (p. 3).

This definition has numerous strengths as it focuses on the individual’s responsibility as a global citizen, incorporating both an understanding of social justice and environmental issues, and calling for participation and action on the part of the individual. However, Cameron (2014) argues that a definition of global citizenship grounded in such notions may be less appealing to students, parents, and administrators because it is intended to encourage an attitude of, and skills related to political struggles for social and environmental justice.

In a similar but more succinct manner, Reysen and Katzarska-Miller (2013) define global citizenship as “global awareness, caring, embracing cultural diversity, promoting social justice and sustainability, and a sense of responsibility to act.” (p. 858). Some may argue against this definition because of the inclusion that global citizens must be ‘caring’. The word caring evokes an emotional response and individuals might care about an issue but not necessarily have a caring personality.

The University of British Columbia (n.d.) was one of the few universities that used an explicit definition of global citizenship. They described a global citizen as:

someone who feels a duty to respect and protect the Earth, the global community of fellow human beings and all other living creatures. We envision global citizens as individuals who have developed an understanding of the interconnected worlds and who deeply appreciate and value ecological sustainability and social justice. Global citizens are willing and enabled to take action to make the world a fairer place for ourselves and other living creatures (Road to Global Citizenship, p. 7, para. 1).

Yet, while this definition captures many of the attributes of a global citizen, it fails to see the development of global citizens within the university context as a continual process for which universities have a moral obligation.

A New Framework of Global Citizenship

According to Dower and Williams (2002), one of the strengths of the term ‘global citizenship’ is that “it is amenable to different readings and interpretations.” A common definition is required, though, if the goal of creating global citizens is to be achieved. Cameron (2014) claims that theories of global citizenship used by different institutions shape the kinds of experiences that individuals will have; there is a risk of reinforcing paternalistic and neo-colonial attitudes if a proper definition is not employed. Moreover, the types of programs universities create to promote global citizenship will be largely determined by the particular terms used to understand the concept. If global citizenship is understood as intercultural competence, for instance, then the focus of higher education will be on language programs and interactions among and between different cultures. Yet, if global citizenship is identified as active engagement aimed at creating a better world, then programs will also focus on educating students about the complexity of problems and their responsibility to participate in political struggles for social and environmental justice globally (Cameron, 2014). In addition, if programs aimed at encouraging global citizenship are to be evaluated, a rigorous definition is required. Without a clear and shared definition, it is impossible to assess whether or not particular efforts actually contribute to the creation of global citizens.

We propose the framework below (Figure 5), which will allow universities to develop a clear and explicitly articulated definition that is grounded in a shared process and vocabulary and is measurable, but which can be adapted to each local institutional reality and the needs of each university.

Picture of framework to describe a global citizen Picture of framework to describe a global citizen

Figure 5 Our new framework to describe a global citizen. This framework depicts the necessary interdisciplinary knowledge and skills as well as the process that individuals progress through during their development. The boxes beneath the graphic provide more information for each overarching topic.

This graphic places Global Citizenship at the center of four interconnected quadrants: Culture; Environmental Integrity; Human Rights; and Roles, Rights, and Responsibilities of Individuals (see descriptions of each of these concepts in the attached boxes). To be a global citizen, students must engage with all four of these areas. These quadrants are all informed by the broader social, cultural, political, historical, economic, and scientific context and are not intended to guide specific content; rather, they identify the essential areas of concern for a global citizen in Canada.

Moreover, global citizenship is a process, represented by the outer arrows on the graphic. Students must first gain awareness of a particular issue or concern related to the inner quadrants. As this awareness grows, they may move towards the next stage of the process: the development of the knowledge and skills required to address the issue or concern. As knowledge and skills are gained, students might then take action and may, ultimately, effect change in their local and/or global communities. As students effect change, further awareness is generated and the cycle continues. Each individual will enter the process at a different stage. For instance, students graduating from elementary and high school programs with a strong focus on global citizenship will already have a great deal of awareness about particular issues and concerns, may have some of the knowledge and skills required to take action, and may have effected change in some form or another. Other students may be learning about certain issues for the first time and will have to enter at the awareness stage of the process. While this cycle will continue for each student around each aspect of global citizenship, it is necessary to go through each stage of the process prior to moving to the next. Awareness is required to develop knowledge and skills; knowledge and skills are required to take action; and action is required to effect change.

This process must be grounded in the notion of mutual respect and responsibility. Global citizenship should not be driven solely by efforts from the Global North to "help" the Global South. Students must learn to recognize both the positive and negative moral obligations of being human; they have the duty to do good but also not to do harm or to benefit from the harm done to others (see, Cameron, 2014). The key to achieving global citizenship is not solely through doing good in developing countries but also in acknowledging the role that developed nations (including Canada) play in creating systems of inequality, injustice, and oppression.

Universities may adapt the above framework to their own specific context, purpose, and needs. Many universities may choose to focus on internationalization strategies as a site for the development of global citizens, but this should not be assumed. As one example of a different approach to global citizenship, Queen's University (2011) has embraced the concept of "Local Globalism" in their academic plan:

To be able to participate internationally, students need to develop "local-mindedness" first. Innovative community and place-based learning, increased emphasis on Field Studies, and community volunteer opportunities will enhance the pro-diversity approach to teaching and learning. Through engagements of these kinds, Queen's students will learn much about cultural diversity while strengthening Queen's relationship with its regional communities (p. 16).

Similarly, the University of Manitoba (2015) and the University of Saskatchewan (2012) have highlighted the importance of Aboriginal communities, and indigenization of the curriculum has become a key mechanism for the development of global citizens at many institutions. Ultimately, no matter the specific focus of each university, it is the moral obligation of universities to empower students to become global citizens and, to do so, it is essential that institutions develop a clear and articulated definition that is grounded in the above framework. This will ensure that all aspects of global citizenship are properly represented and that the development of global citizens is acknowledged as a process through which students will proceed throughout the various stages of their university careers.

Mechanisms to Achieve Global Citizenship

Although universities may adopt the above framework and articulate their own definitions of global citizenship, it is important to also consider the means by which institutions can encourage and support the development of global citizens. Based on a review of existing literature, we propose the following mechanisms through which institutions can evaluate their efforts to create global citizens:

Institutional Commitments

It is essential that university-wide documents, including mission and vision statements and strategic and academic plans, articulate an explicit description of global citizenship. Rather than employing various proxies for the term, as is currently common practice, universities should adopt a shared definition of the concept—informed by the framework proposed in this article—which can better facilitate the creation of various programs and services throughout the institution that will more effectively encourage the creation of global citizens.

Universities should also create a committee with membership from across the institution, which is tasked with advancing and implementing strategies to promote global citizenship on campus; this committee will ensure campus-wide engagement in these efforts.

In addition, institution-wide learning outcomes should be developed that encourage global citizenship. There is no single learning outcome that can encapsulate the complexity of this goal; universities should acknowledge the multiple ways that students may be encouraged to become global citizens and create a number of measures for this aspect of learning.

Formal assessment strategies should also be implemented to ensure that universities are effectively fulfilling their stated goals around global citizenship. Currently, many universities focus on the number of international students as a key indicator of global citizenship on campus. However, more thorough assessments of course offerings, on-campus activities, off-campus opportunities, skills development, and the encouragement of diverse perspectives, will ensure that universities meet their goals in this area (see MRU Institutional Repository for examples of assessment models).

The Curriculum

Global citizenship should be encouraged across the curriculum so all students are exposed to the knowledge, perspectives, and skills necessary to their development as global citizens. While some universities have created dedicated courses on global issues and trends, these are often restricted to students in particular programs.. If students across the institution are to become global citizens, then these concepts must be integrated throughout the curriculum.

Moreover, areas that have faced significant cuts in recent years, including arts faculties generally, and language and culture programs specifically, must be supported in order that students acquire a better understanding of the issues facing the global community, the different perspectives that influence global relations, and some potential solutions to global problems.

Experiential learning should also be actively encouraged at Canadian universities. This would include, but is not limited to, community service learning, study abroad, field schools, co-op and work terms, and labs. These experiences should not only focus on the global; active involvement in the local community is just as important to the development of global citizens. In addition, while experiential learning is not inherently connected to global citizenship, if it is done intentionally it can allow students to put their knowledge and skills into action and effect change within the wider community. Universities must provide support for students from all programs and all socio-economic backgrounds to participate in these high-impact practices.

Universities might consider the creation of a certificate or citation, whereby students can receive a notation on their transcript indicating their broad-based exposure to courses that encourage them to become global citizens. This initiative should not be program-specific but should be available to students across the disciplines.

Co-Curricular and Extra-Curricular Activities

Universities should actively support events, speakers, workshops, et cetera that expose students to global issues. This will help build awareness and knowledge and give students the tools they require to effect change in their communities and around the world.

International students should also be better integrated into the university and the activities that take place on- and off-campus. International students should not only be seen as a revenue source or as a quantifiable measure of the global connections of the institution, but also should be viewed as equal members of the community who have knowledge and experience to share and an interest in learning from other students on campus. Universities might consider mixed residences with special programs that facilitate interactions between international and Canadian students.

Universities must also find better ways to support international students. This would include, but is not limited to, better access to English-language training, services to help ease the transition into the specific realities of the Canadian educational system, and opportunities to build community with other international students and with domestic students.

Students should also be encouraged to engage with their communities in a variety of ways. For instance, if students actively volunteer in their community and this can be documented, they could receive acknowledgement from the university that this is an important aspect of their education and their development as global citizens through a notation on their transcript, an ePortfolio, or other means.

Faculty Members and Global Citizenship

Universities should provide support for faculty members interested in global citizenship initiatives, which are often time consuming and frequently beyond the boundaries of a normal workload. Faculty members could be granted release time to develop their programs, and global citizenship initiatives could be a consideration in promotion and tenure decisions. Moreover, universities could provide workshops and seminars for faculty interested in global citizenship as a way to share experiences and to assist individuals interested in integrating these concepts into the curriculum.

Institutions could also better draw upon the expertise, knowledge, activities, and connections of international faculty members. These individuals can make an important contribution to the global citizenship activities on campus if there is adequate encouragement and support to do so.


Although changes over the past decade have diminished Canada's role on the international stage and have threatened some of the characteristics that supposedly make Canadians global citizens, recent developments indicate that a period of change may be near. In the 2015 federal election, Canadians appear to have expressed their support for the policy of multiculturalism, a less confrontational approach to world events, and a more accepting policy on refugees. If it is these policies, as Trilokekar and Shubert (2009) claim, that make Canadians inherently global citizens, then perhaps there is a new opportunity for the nation to become a leader in global citizenship.

Universities must take an active role in encouraging a new generation of Canadians to become global citizens, and most have identified this as a goal for their institutions. However, if this goal is to be achieved, universities must be intentional in their efforts; rather than using proxies for the term and only vaguely identifying the methods by which it could be achieved, institutions must explicitly define what they mean by global citizenship and overtly distinguish the mechanisms they will use to assist students in becoming global citizens. It is not sufficient to simply claim that global citizenship is a priority for the university. Although there are many ways to understand global citizenship, and each university must adopt a conceptualization relevant to its own particular needs and context, we suggest that the framework provided in this article may guide universities as they develop their own mandates and practices. In particular, the framework encourages universities to consider the complex and interconnected areas of concern for a global citizen as well as the process through which students will become global citizens. Universities play an important part in developing engaged and empowered global citizens, and this framework can assist institutions as they develop these high-impact practices and assessments that are integral for fulfilling this responsibility.


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Province Grade Subject Terms Used
British Columbia 11 Civic Studies Informed Citizenship; Civic Action; Responsibilities as Global Citizens
Alberta 3 Social Studies; Language and Culture "recognize how their actions might affect people elsewhere in the world and how the actions of others might affect them"; "respect the equality of all human beings"; "contribute to positive change"; "acquire the knowledge, skills and attitudes to become effective global citizens"
Saskatchewan N/A N/A N/A
Manitoba 12 Global Issues "active democratic citizenship"; "based…on a fundamental acceptance of the inherent, equal, universal and inalienable rights of all human beings"; "developing a widening circle of empathy so as to come to a sense of collective responsibility for the continued economic and social well-being of humans while preserving the environmental integrity of the planet"; "empowered by a sense of personal efficacy to address issues facing today's world"
Ontario 10 Global and Active Citizenship Belief and values of democratic citizenship - rule of law, human dignity, freedom of expression, freedom of religion, work for the common good, respect for the rights of others, sense of responsibility for others
Nova Scotia N/A N/A N/A
New Brunswick 9 Social Studies "Take age-appropriate actions that demonstrate the rights and responsibilities of citizenship (local, national and global)"
Prince Edward Island 12 Geography "be able to set aside one's own perspective and be able to understand others' views on an issue"
Newfoundland & Labrador 6 World Cultures global distribution of wealth; human rights issues and abuses; "take age-appropriate action to demonstrate their understanding of the responsibilities of global citizenship"

Figure 4 The subject and grade of global citizenship instruction in primary and secondary (K-12) schools across the Canadian provinces. Quebec is not included as the term "global citizenship" does not appear in French language documents.

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