Government planners need to bring more international students into areas outside Metro Vancouver

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      As director of international education at Langara College, Gordon McNeil knows well that foreign students are important to B.C.’s economy.

      So last fall, when Premier Christy Clark laid out an ambitious target of increasing the number of these visitors by 50 percent over four years, McNeil assumed that everyone would be excited to take them all in. International students were worth $1.2 billion to the economy in 2010. In these hard times, the province would probably welcome some more.

      However, there’s a bit of a problem for Langara.

      “We’re sort of scratching our heads: where are we going to put them?” McNeil told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.

      With an enrollment of at least 1,100 foreign students, the one-campus college in Vancouver would have trouble taking more. “There’s only so much room here,” McNeil said.

      Although McNeil doesn’t know the exact capacity of other institutions, he said that government planners need to consider another issue: how to bring more of those international students to areas outside Metro Vancouver.

      “People don’t want to go to a small town, even though it has advantages,” McNeil said. “Small town means everybody there speaks English, but as you know, Vancouver is where all the immigrants land as well, right? So they have their food and they have their language and they are comfortable. And parents like that idea.”

      There were about 94,000 foreign students in B.C. in 2009-10, according to figures compiled last year by economist Roslyn Kunin. Eighty-three percent, or 78,100, were concentrated in the Lower Mainland southwest region. The remaining 17 percent spread out through the Vancouver Island, coastal, southern Interior, and northern regions.

      Kunin pulled these figures for the B.C. Council for International Education, a government-funded nonprofit that promotes the province as an international destination for learning.

      Like Langara’s McNeil, BCCIE executive director Randall Martin talks about capacity. The 50-percent increase targeted by Clark means about 11,000 more foreign students each year over four years.

      Martin noted that although there is room for the students in the province, there are certain “very, very high-demand programs” that are more appealing than others.

      “If a family is going to invest heavily in their child’s education overseas, they often want it to be in a very practical program, like an engineering program or business or computing,” Martin told the Straight by phone. “We don’t have a large population of students who want to come over here from overseas and spend five years to study philosophy, for example. They should. I would love that, but they don’t. It’s a very pragmatic population coming for language studies or career opportunities.”

      Figures gathered by Kunin show that there were 43,000 international students in public and private language schools in 2010. Some 39,000 attended public and private postsecondary institutions. About 12,000 went to public and independent elementary and secondary schools.

      Foreign students are also city-oriented. “They talk about MTV: Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver,” Martin explained. “While I would love for more students to be going to Kelowna and Nanaimo and Prince George and Kamloops, and some of these institutions are doing very well, that takes a little bit more work. We have to teach them more about British Columbia, not just about Vancouver. One of the problems of reaching this market is supporting the growth of regional markets and, in doing so, supporting the growth of high-demand programs, increasing capacity in business and computing and engineering.”

      The B.C. Liberal government previously announced that it would release its international-education strategy before the end of 2011. It has yet to produce this document.

      Minister of Advanced Education Naomi Yamamoto didn’t grant an interview with the Straight before deadline.

      As the government prepares its international-education strategy, policymakers may also want to consider the concerns of foreign students like Rahul Rajanala. A political-science student at SFU, Rajanala is the spokesperson of the university’s International Students Group. According to him, high tuition fees are one of their big issues. “International students have to pay three times more,” Rajanala told the Straight in a phone interview.

      Zach Crispin, chair of the Canadian Federation of Students in B.C., pointed out that the B.C. government hasn’t announced any plan to increase funding for postsecondary education. “These students are being brought into Canada sort of just to squeeze them for as much tuition fees as possible,” Crispin told the Straight by phone.

      However, BCCIE’s Martin pointed out that charging full freight for the education of foreigners gives learning institutions new resources with which to expand their spaces. But he added that the question now is whether or not these schools can grow their capacity to accommodate the huge increase in foreign students within the short time being planned by the province.

      In a phone interview, Kunin told the Straight that Clark’s 50-percent target is a huge number. “It may take some time to do,” she said.

      Langara’s McNeil knows his school can’t do it soon enough. “There is no building-expansion plan that’s going to take place within the time period that the premier is talking about,” he said.

      That means Langara is going to miss out on the new business that may come. But McNeil isn’t troubled: “No one’s crying the blues here because we’re doing so well already.”



      Ken Jasonson

      Feb 2, 2012 at 10:44am

      One important fact that Carlito did not mention is his article is that when international students come to Canada and study in a public institution, they are able to work part time after 6 months of study. Once they graduate, they are eligible to apply for an open work permit for up to three years, and after one year of work experience they are eligible for applying for permanent residency under the " Canadian Experience Class".
      I believe this is a win-win as Canada will be able to retain Canadian trained international students to deal with the looming skilled worker shortage that Canada will be facing over the next decade as the baby boomer generation go into retirement.
      What is really missing is a concerted global marketing effort funded the the BC Government. What is being done right now is an ad hoc, piecemeal, and very amateur attempt.
      The BC Government should have a funding model in place, which allows public institutions to put into place a global marketing plan over the medium to long term.
      Premier Clark has asked for a 50 % increase, but that is nothing new, the Ontario government put a similar plan in place over 2 years ago.
      The real problem is that there is no co-ordinated strategy at the Federal level to attract international students.
      DFAIT has begun organizing recruitment fairs in certain countries, but it is a case of too little , too late. All one has to do is look at the work that the British Council, Australia, and the US does in terms of international marketing and Canada looks like it is in the minor leagues in comparison.
      Since 1998 the Federal Government relied on the Canadian Education Center Network to do its bidding, but with the collapse and ensuing scandal that erupted with the CEC (2008), nobody wanted to touch this portfolio as it was such a hot potato.
      The feds spent a lot of money coming up with a branding proposition called "Imagine" along with a logo ..a maple leaf ( that's creative).
      But what use is a logo if there is no global marketing plan to carry that message forward.
      In order to compete globally, the "Harper Government" must create and unconditionally fund an agency to handle international marketing and recruitment for Canadian education institutions, and until that happens we will be whistling in the wind.

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      Feb 3, 2012 at 10:13am

      How about doing this instead, quit funding private schools and make the pro private school elites pay the full amount for the education.

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      Feb 4, 2012 at 7:48pm

      No cost/benefit analyis. Just more spouting off without any real research. Our post secondary institutions are operating at capacity. Did not anyone see the corrupt behavior of Douglas College teachers in China where the rule is "Everyone must pass" regardless of actual achievement. Do we want this lot coming here? Focus on getting Canadian students into the colleges. Again, where does this idea that we must house/educate the world come from? Greed in operation!

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      Feb 4, 2012 at 8:21pm

      Prince George, Nanaimo.... Why on earth would they want to go there. International students come for prestige and to get close to the centres of power not live in a dump.


      Feb 5, 2012 at 7:13am

      mordgus have you ever been to Prince George or Nanaimo? Likely not. Frankly, your comments are ignorant!


      Feb 15, 2012 at 9:57pm

      I lived in Nelson when I first came to Canada as an international student 10 years ago and it was a wonderful place, I often wish I was still living there... I find it really silly how some people come all the way over here and try to avoid as much as they can to mix and mingle with the local culture.... why the hell would they do that? They might as well just stay at their countries, then! At least most of them go back anyways. It's worse when some people come over, stay and never mix with Canadians. Doesn't mean completely forgetting your roots, it means incorporating them to your self.