Education without borders: Muraly Srinarayanathas has an inclusive vision for Canada’s newcomers

Alex Derry

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Muraly Srinarayanathas is a zealous advocate for Canada’s promise as a global leader buoyed by the world’s most diverse and talented cultural mosaic. But he is equally passionate in his criticism of Canada’s missed opportunity to adequately support and effectively draw upon the skills and experience of a rapidly growing population of newcomers.

As a serial entrepreneur, global marketing strategist and the co-founder of of 369 Global–an international group of companies in the education, finance, creative, entertainment, and venture capital sectors-Srinarayanathas has gained a borderless perspective on education in Canada.

Since immigrating to Winnipeg from the U.K. with his family in the 1980s to working in different industries throughout South Asia in the 2000s, he has also had a front row seat to the newcomer experience from a young age.

Srinarayanathas’ mother, who despite working as a trained nurse in the U.K. struggled to find comparable nursing positions due to what employers deemed a “lack of Canadian experience,” instead enrolled in a career college to earn her early childhood educator (ECE) certification. She would go on to receive a Bachelor of Science at the University of Manitoba, where Srinarayanathas himself attended as an undergrad.

“During my first year, my mom was sitting beside me in one of my classes, which was brutal for me but the confidence that it gave her was tremendous,” says Srinarayanathas. “That experience cemented in my mind that age is nothing but a number, education is a great uplifter, and my mom was tough as hell.”

Srinarayanathas helps train thousands of newcomers and immigrants to become career-ready in Canada as CEO of Computek College, a 30-year-old leading career college offering business, technology and healthcare programs in virtual and hybrid formats, which he acquired in 2014.

Srinarayanathas’ approach to education is inspired by Dr. Muhammad Yunus, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning pioneer of microcredit, the practice of distributing small loans to nontraditional borrowers who are more likely to distribute proceeds equitably among the household. “We’re not just educating individual students, we’re educating their families,” he says.

While recent headlines have focused on the federal government’s proposed cap on the number of international students in Canada in an attempt to alleviate the housing crunch, Srinarayanathas believes the experience and contributions of newcomers are being vastly overlooked, sometimes with tragic consequences.

According to Statistics Canada, international students, whose fees are three to four times higher than ‘domestic’ students, contributed nearly 44 per cent, or $9.6 billion, of all tuition collected in 2020 despite constituting only 17 per cent of students in Canada.

Srinarayanathas explains that Canadian schools aren’t selling an education to newcomers, but rather access to the right to work in Canada or pathways to Canadian citizenship. In return, employers benefit from a widening talent pool of workers needed to fill labour shortages and skills gaps.

But in Srinarayanathas’ view, which is shared by a growing chorus in the Canadian media, it’s a one-sided deal that leaves newcomer students shortchanged by a persistent lack of credentials recognition, prohibitive expenses and a chronic affordable housing shortage. Their challenges are further compounded by an immigration policy with a “blanket approach to many different kinds of immigrants,” resulting in some communities–not credentials–being favoured over others.

“Students struggle with high fees and a lack of institutional support, and Canada’s points-based immigration system is increasingly subject to the government’s geopolitical priorities, such as the war in Ukraine. Unfortunately that means many communities and regions continue to be overlooked,” says Srinarayanathas. “We’re good at welcoming newcomers, but these systemic flaws are leaving many behind and we are falling short on our promise.”

In addition to offering certificate and diploma programs to people seeking specific skills and qualifications to join the workforce, Canada’s regulated career colleges also provide critical resources for newcomers navigating Canada’s immigration system. Computek connects students to resources including settlement and international student insurance services, and visa status and work permit support.

And with barriers around foreign credential recognition and prohibitive international student fees persisting, Srinarayanathas believes regulated career colleges have a role to play in bridging the gap between newcomers and Canada’s workforce–and society. At Computek, international students only make up 5 per cent of enrollment and pay the same tuition as local students.

“We’re training mature students–most of whom are newcomers between the ages of 35 to 45, 75 per cent of whom are women–and I see my mom in all of these students, which helps my thinking about how we can better serve the community,” says Srinarayanathas. “This is a challenging demographic to serve in Canada since educational support for a newcomer in their forties is very limited, so career and community colleges are providing a great service.”

“I’m a big believer in Canada’s role as a global leader in immigration and education, but we need to be doing more,” says Srinarayanathas. “We need more immigrants–more people, and we need the talent and skills that they bring with them to build a workforce with a diversity of experience and backgrounds.”

Educational institutions and prospective employers should look to successful work integrated learning programs, such as Shopify’s Springboard for Students at Carelton Univeristy where students are also paid employees, as models for more integrated partnerships. “Work integrated learning ensures that employers are incorporated into the learning through apprenticeships and internships so that they’re accountable to students by the metrics they themselves set,” says Srinarayanathas.

Ultimately, according to Srinarayanathas, all levels of government must come together with educational institutions, corporations and non-profits to address the biggest issues facing newcomers and Canadian citizens alike, including labour needs and affordable housing.

“Newcomers are our greatest cultural asset,” says Srinarayanathas. “When we invest money, time and resources in the incredibly diverse global talent that we have here to foster a fairer and more inclusive future of education, the rest of the world will want to come to Canada to live and work.”