COMMENT: BC Colleges supports increasing international education in BC but let's get it right
Increasing places for international students in our post-secondary system is good for British Columbia, however, it needs to be done right. On the one hand, increasing international education adds revenue to our provincial economy, a benefit for all British Columbians.
On the other, it places greater strain on our already stretched-to-the-max post-secondary system. In order for international education to be successful, government needs to give our public colleges access to the revenues they earn from international education and allow reinvestment in infrastructure and student services at the local level. Without the proper infrastructure and services in place to support our own students and those we welcome from abroad, we will fail both groups.
The province’s targeted increase to international education of 50 per cent in 4 years translates to roughly 47,000 new students, generating 9,000 direct jobs and approximately $500 million in revenue to the provincial economy. However, for international education to be a lasting success, it cannot just be seen as the cash cow that some have suggested.
British Columbia must succeed where other jurisdictions have failed. International students enrich and diversify our communities. Their presence in our colleges has a powerful impact socially and economically, as they expose our students to different cultures and provide global connections and links back to their home countries. It is our responsibility to give international students an experience in our province that is second to none. Which, in addition to providing them with a first rate education in a safe environment, means ensuring they receive the services they need for success, such as; English language training, community support, career counseling and housing.
Ultimately, our success will be measured on how many international students stay and complete their education and how many put down roots in BC, find work or start new businesses with links to their country of origin. This is where we as a province will reap the long-term benefits. If we approach this correctly, the end result will be the settlement of locally educated and trained international students who will join the skilled workforce BC’s employers desperately need. This is the ultimate win.
The key is to ensure that appropriate student services and infrastructure are available. Our province’s post-secondary system is one of the best in the world. And, BC is viewed as one of the safest, most stable places for overseas parents to send their children. However, over the past few years, many of our institutions have made cuts in services and put off needed capital improvements to satisfy flat or decreased budgets and significant reductions in annual capital allowances from government.
These services and capital allowances need to be restored to previous levels. If our colleges are given the flexibility to act entrepreneurially and generate new revenue streams, like international education, their bottom lines can be improved. Additionally, if government gives colleges access to their retained earnings to reinvest in the required infrastructure and services, colleges can make investments in the areas that are best suited to their student population and communities.
New public sector accounting policies threaten our institutions’ ability to properly utilize these new revenues. These new revenues are a win for both domestic and international students, faculty, local communities and business and the full potential needs to be realized.
To achieve the targeted 50 per cent increase in international students an international marketing campaign will be required that first builds a Canadian and then a British Columbian education brand that encompasses all regions of the province.
In order to achieve the desired increase in international students, government needs to ensure that potential students are made aware of the comprehensive range or programs available outside of the traditional offerings. BC’s 11 public colleges serve more than 70 communities and offer a diverse range of programming including, university study, baccalaureate degrees, to career, technical and trades education. Encouraging international students to come to BC to study and eventually settle will ultimately benefit BC’s employers, giving them access to locally trained skilled workers.
International education is a good thing for British Columbia. It exposes students from BC to diverse cultures and opens up global connections on an individual basis. It brings in revenues to our post-secondary system that can be used to improve programming, infrastructure and services to the benefit of institutions, faculty, students and communities. And, if done correctly, helps to build a population of locally, educated and skilled workers that BC’s employers need now and in the future. Let’s work together and get this right.
By Jim Reed, President of BC Colleges.