Joseph Wong, a leading political scientist and scholar of global affairs who has played a key role in advancing the University of Toronto’s internationalization strategy, has been appointed vice-president, international for a five-year term.

The appointment, which takes effect April 7, 2021 through June 30, 2026, was approved by the university’s Governing Council Tuesday and follows a comprehensive international search.

A professor of political science and the Roz and Ralph Halbert Professor of Innovation at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy, Wong was appointed U of T’s interim vice-president, international during the pandemic’s first wave last summer.

“Professor Wong took on the role in an interim capacity at an extremely challenging time for international students, researchers and partnerships,” said U of T President Meric Gertler, who chaired the search committee. “Over the past nine months, he has done a phenomenal job of supporting international students here and around the world, fostering a global outlook in the U of T community and enhancing the university’s reputation both at home and abroad.

“I am delighted Professor Wong will continue to lead this vital portfolio.”

During his first few months as interim vice-president, international, Wong worked closely with U of T’s vice-provost, students, to rethink supports for international students who weren’t able to travel to Toronto because of COVID-related restrictions, or who needed help navigating public-health guidelines upon arrival in Canada.

That includes helping arriving international students quarantine at local hotels, where they receive staff support to self-isolate for two weeks, including meals delivered to their door.

“It required a lot of collaboration between our offices,” Wong said. “More than 2,700 students have gone through U of T’s quarantine program and there hasn’t been a single case of reported transmission. It truly is seen as the gold standard.

“We’re dedicated to supporting our international students, irrespective of whether they are coming here to Toronto or if they need support on the other side of the world.”

Before arriving in U of T’s international office, Wong held a series of key senior academic leadership positions. He was director of U of T’s Asian Institute at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy for almost a decade and the university’s first-ever associate vice-president and vice-provost, international student experience – a role in which he helped boost international learning opportunities for U of T students.

In fact, the number of undergraduate students who travelled abroad for their studies or research was on track to hit 26 per cent before COVID-19 struck last year. That’s up 14 per cent from 2016.

When it comes to bolstering future international opportunities, Wong says he intends to “hit the ground running” once the pandemic is finally brought under control and restrictions on travel are lifted.

As a political scientist, Wong has advised governments in Asia, Africa, the Americas and Europe on public policy issues, and is the author of dozens of articles in leading journals and several books, with two forthcoming from Princeton University Press and Cambridge University Press. He holds a bachelor’s degree from McGill University and a master’s and doctorate from the University of Wisconsin – Madison.

His current research focuses on poverty and innovation in the Global South.

In 2015, Wong launched the Reach Project, now known as the Reach Alliance, a student-led interdisciplinary collaboration with faculty across U of T to study and develop innovative development programs for the world’s most marginalized populations.

Reach students have conducted in-depth and on-the-ground research on topics ranging from a poverty-reduction program in Palestine to cash transfers to address food insecurity in Ethiopia. The 2021 Reach Symposium includes speakers from the Brookings Institution, Deloitte and the World Health Organization. In the spring of last year, the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth pledged US$2 million for Reach, with U of T adding US$500,000 in funding.

Wong was also instrumental in the success of the Mastercard Foundation Scholars program, which brought more than 60 talented students from sub-Saharan Africa to U of T on full scholarships.

In his own seminars at the Munk School, Wong has piloted a “global classroom” approach by inviting U of T students to work with their peers at the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education (Tecnológico de Monterrey). The lessons with Tec de Monterrey focused on COVID-19 and inequality, with student projects on comparative government responses and the issue of trust in Canadian and Mexican society.

“I think our students at U of T got a deep appreciation for the level of inequality in Mexico and the lived reality of many in Mexico who are really impoverished and living in circumstances that are quite different from anything we would see here in Canada, and what challenges this presents amidst a pandemic,” Wong said. “It was really eye-opening, I think.”

He said the university plans to support the expansion of the “global classroom” concept to other courses with a new funding stream, and that more than 50 proposals have already been submitted from across the three campuses in a variety of disciplines, from the humanities to math. Proposed institutional partners are based on “every continent but Antarctica,” Wong said.

He added that, despite the strain that COVID has put on international travel, partnerships with other institutions around the world actually increased in the last year.

Wong said one of his key priorities as vice-president, international will be to develop partnership networks in the Global South, including Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia, with the help and input of faculty who work in these regions.

He also plans to support students, faculty and staff working toward the vision of a brighter future set out in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

“Students are our future global leaders,” Wong said. “We have an opportunity to be cultivating global leadership talent that is invested and committed to a better world.”

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