Initial steps are being taken towards establishing an international high school on the University of Northern British Columbia campus.
If all works out, a school large enough for 50 to 100 students in Grade 9-12 will be up and running on a pilot project basis by as soon as September 2018, UNBC Provost Dan Ryan said Tuesday.
But he stressed the initiative is still in the "very early investigative stage."
He said UNBC is working with a firm that operates 23 such schools in China, catering to about 16,000 students. Ryan declined to provide the firm's name because an agreement is not yet in place, but "they're very experienced at this."
The longer-term intent is to get the students ready to pursue their post-secondary education in Canada. By they time they're ready for university, they'll have spent four years learning in English.
"They'll be more at home, they'll be more familiar with the place, so the transition to the university would be better," Ryan said.
Roughly 8-9 per cent of UNBC's student population is from out-of-country and the university would like to see that grow to 15-20 per cent.
Because the students pay more in tuition fees than domestic ones, Ryan said they represent a bit of a revenue stream for UNBC but added that's not the reason the university is attracted to the idea.
Rather, he said it's a way to help Canadian students gain a "global perspective" by having students from elsewhere in the classroom.
"They get to appreciate different cultures, different points of view," Ryan said. "They get to see how different cultures think and then they have that opportunity to exchange ideas.
"And that's critical, especially in some of the disciplines we have up here on campus. People are going to have to be working with that global perspective and if they don't see it when they're studying, it'll be much harder when they're in the work world to develop that."
The success of the Canadian education system appears to be a draw for many students from abroad.
"It is different from the Asian system, they concentrate on different things," Ryan said. "I think they do have the opportunity to learn in Canada, experience a different part of the world and quite frankly get their English language skills up to a level where they're comfortable with them."
A representative from the firm has visited UNBC and was "very impressed" with the campus and the community, according to Ryan.
At the outset, space for the school and its students would be leased from UNBC and over the three-to-four year pilot project stage, the firm will decide if it's worth continuing.
"If it gets to that stage, those students would then move out of the UNBC space and they would have their own space for it," Ryan said.