Stewart: Tapping into the opportunity to attract more foreign students

The B.C. Jobs Plan, announced in stages last week by Premier Christy Clark, is quite comprehensive.

The B.C. Jobs Plan, announced in stages last week by Premier Christy Clark, is quite comprehensive.

And while certain aspects—for example, infrastructure investments at shipping terminals—understandably received a lot of attention, there was a lot more to the plan.

I’d like to take a moment to discuss one aspect in particular—the goal of attracting 50 per cent more international students to the province.

I’m enthusiastic about this idea for several reasons.

Let’s start with basic economics: Many people don’t realize that international education is actually B.C.’s fifth largest export.

In 2010 alone, international students spent more than $1.8 billion in British Columbia.

This economic activity directly supports 22,000 jobs, and generates $70 million in government revenue.

Those are impressive figures, and there’s every reason to plan and prepare for significant growth.

With rapid economic expansion in Asia-Pacific countries, more parents than ever before want their children to receive a quality English-language education, and have the means to send them abroad to receive it.

B.C.’s education system is recognized as one of the best in the world.

Incidentally, it’s important to note that international students don’t take space away from B.C. students—actually, the reverse is true.

Because international students aren’t subsidized (domestic students pay for one-third of the cost of their education; the rest is subsidized with tax dollars), they can actually create seats.

Because of international students there are sometimes courses that can now be offered where there previously wasn’t enough demand from domestic students.

That’s not just theoretical—we’ve already seen this happen.

According to a report done for Thompson Rivers University, international students contributed $1.2 million in 2010/11 toward TRU construction activity, and that “TRU is able to expand its offerings to Canadian students by at least 25 per cent as a result of international student enrolment.”

This has paid real dividends. For example, TRU’s ability to offer a useful summer school course menu to Canadian students rests on international student demand.

Attracting more international students is also worthwhile for reasons that transcend economics and increased academic opportunities for B.C. students.

Just as infrastructure investments are referred to as the “international gateway,” I like to think of attracting international students as a “social gateway.”

Aggressively pursuing immigration and enhanced relationships with new and emerging economies will be absolutely fundamental for B.C.’s continuing prosperity. When these international students graduate, many will return home. With the benefit of a quality education, many will go on to become business and political leaders—with familiarity, contacts and fond memories of B.C.

At the same time, some of these students will choose to stay and build careers in British Columbia.

They will help offset the impacts of our aging population and ensure employers continue to have access to a highly-skilled workforce.

Canada has always relied on immigration; increasing international students in B.C. is one way of continuing to attract the world’s best and brightest.

Government, taxpayers and B.C. students will benefit from more international students: increased government revenue, more jobs, improving the diversity of education and of our communities, the list goes on.

You might say it’s a test worth studying for.

Ben Stewart is the Liberal MLA for Westside-Kelowna.



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