by Leah Bjornson in Vancouver
As students in the Lower Mainland settle into their back to school routine this fall, they’re more likely than ever to find themselves sitting next to a classmate who is a citizen of another country.
According to statistics from the Ministry of Education, 20 per cent more international students arrived in the region this year as compared to 2013/2014, raising the amount of international student tuition earned by the Lower Mainland’s 11 school districts to a combined total of $113.8 million.
International students at both the K-12 and post-secondary levels spent almost $1.8 billion on tuition, accommodation, and other living expenses in 2010, generating almost $70 million in government tax revenue, according to British Columbia’s International Education Strategy (BCIES).
“Nobody went out to seek it. It came to us,” explained Barb Onstad, the Manager of International Education for the Vancouver School district when describing the influx of international students in the area.
According to Onstad, this trend began in the late 1980s when parents (mostly from countries in Asia) were looking to send their children abroad, either to the United States, the UK, or Canada. With its diverse, multicultural population, Vancouver became an ideal destination for families who might already have connections to the city.
Although it began almost 30 years ago, this trend shows no signs of slowing down today. Non-residents now make up 2.6 per cent of total Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) students, compared with 1.8 per cent in 2011.
Influx of revenue
In a time when Canada’s population growth is only sustained by immigration, these numbers are important for local school districts. “We’re in a declining enrolment situation locally here, so one of our goals is to invite students who would like to come and study here,” stated Onstad. “And with the mix of students that we get we can continue to provide a lot of the programs that we offer in our schools.”
Beyond compensating for declining enrolment, international students bring an influx of revenue into the Lower Mainland, each paying approximately $13,000 in tuition on average for a year of schooling.
The Vancouver school district attracted the most international students this year, with 1,511 full-time non residents enrolled, earning the district $19.65 million in tuition. This accounts for approximately four per cent of the district’s total operating budget.
The Vancouver School Board (VSB) uses a significant proportion of the revenue gained from the international student program to hire teachers and fund programs that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to.
For example, this year, the VSB will employ over 80 teachers whose salaries are directly funded from the program. “Obviously tuition fees are a big addition in revenue to all of the school districts across Canada that are hosting international students,” Onstad said.
Benefits beyond dollars and cents
The impact of these students on the province’s education system does not stop here. According to BCIES, four out of every 10 international students who graduate from a B.C. high school start a B.C. post-secondary program within a year. For post-secondary institutions, the tuition earned from these students is critical, especially considering recent cuts to total operating budgets by the provincial government.
“We’re facing the challenge of increasing expenses because of the need to invest in learning resources and programs, inflation, the rising cost of electricity, etc. as well as dealing with reduced provincial funding and limits on domestic tuition,” explained Andrew Simpson, the VP Finance at the University of British Columbia (UBC).
Currently, UBC enrols 11,965 international students, making up approximately 20 per cent of their total population and earning the university $127 million in tuition in 2014/15, approximately six per cent of its total operating fund revenue.
Although the university has been accused in the past of using international students as a means by which to balance the budget, Simpson stated that the university has been looking at a variety of means to offset costs.
“Expanding our international student base is just one of the ways that UBC is addressing current financial pressures,” he said.
“We are also doing this through property development through UBC Properties Trust and by working with our generous donor and alumni communities. More importantly, international students bring valuable and diverse perspectives to the campus that enrich the entire community's experience and open up global opportunities.”
Published in partnership with Asian Pacific Post.