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A Brief to the Ministry of Education from the BC Teachers’ Federation, August 2017 

International Students’ Future in BC’s Public Education System


International students are a big business in BC schools—at both at the K–12 level, and even more so for post-secondary education.

In the 2015–16 school year, more than $216 million was collected by BC public school districts in tuition and an equivalent amount was spent by the families of international students for homestays and other expenditures. The number of international students and the tuition they have paid to K–12 school districts has dramatically increased, growing from $55 million in 2001–02. Tuition charges are about twice the amount per student of the Ministry of Education grants for Canadian students.

The claim by government has been that education is the third largest international export from BC. Post-secondary students—including universities and English language schools—are the biggest share of these, but the K–12 contribution is significant.

The rationale for recruiting international students has included at least three elements:  they contribute to a rich diversity in our schools, they represent an investment in the future by building links that will pay off with future business and cultural connections, and their tuition provides a top-up for education budgets that have been consistently underfunded.

While lip service has sometimes been paid to diversity and future business connections, the most significant factor has been budgetary—the tuition of international students has been the only avenue for school districts to gain significant funding additional to government grants. Some districts have elaborate recruiting programs, including using agents in target countries who sign up the students, often at recruiting fairs, as well as sending administrators to target countries as part of the recruitment of students.

The revenue collected by districts has created inequalities in BC's public education system because nearly all the international students attend schools in the Metro Vancouver and Vancouver Island districts. One district, at the high end, has supplemented its provincial grants by about 15%. Many other districts in the province have had no international students and no extra revenue from this source.

A number of current changes require an examination of the future of international students in the K–12 system. For more than a decade, the province had more qualified teachers than teacher jobs and estimates from districts identified more than 300 teacher positions funded through international students. The reinstatement of the provisions of the BCTF collective agreement have reduced dramatically any "surplus" of teachers.

Similarly, class-size limits increase the need for classrooms and some schools may find they no longer have room for as many international students (most international students are in secondary schools).

The issue of equity needs to be addressed as well. Districts without international students in the past are often those with declining enrolments, extra classrooms, and less diverse student populations. Building an infrastructure to recruit and support international students is often beyond the capabilities of the smaller school districts. If the province wants to continue incorporating significant numbers of international students as well as increase equity and diversity, the Ministry of Education will need to take on more responsibility for the infrastructure to support this direction.

Key recommendation

Recommendation 1

That the Ministry of Education hold a policy summit on the future of international students in the public K–12 system to make recommendations on policy directions.

Further reading

Appendix 2: Charts showing numbers of students and tuition income since 2001–02.

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