The growth of international student enrolment may have been a saving grace for northern B.C. colleges and universities in 2017.
According to newly released data from the Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills & Training, B.C. colleges and universities saw a 20 per cent jump in the head count of international students during the 2016/2017 academic year. The total increase in international students this year was likely even greater; the numbers released by the ministry do not take into account research universities, including UBC and SFU, which have some of the largest international student counts in Canada.
The College of New Caledonia saw a particularly strong year; international numbers rose 56 per cent this year, from 517 to 925.
CNC's international student population represents 13 per cent of the total student population, according to the ministry.
Unlike most post-secondary institutions in the province, UNBC's international student numbers have been dropping. According to 2016 figures, the total international population at UNBC stands at 286, a drop of 14 per cent from 2010. A recent Maclean's ranking found that UNBC had the second lowest percentage in Canada (2.2 per cent) of international students in their first year of an undergraduate program.
B.C.'s increase in international numbers has come at a time when domestic enrolment numbers have flatlined.
Since 2011-12, the number of domestic full-time equivalent students at CNC has dropped by 28 per cent, from 2,278 to 1,630. UNBC has fared better in terms of attracting domestic students but has seen its number of domestic full-time equivalent students drop by nine per cent, from 2,884 to 2,632 during the same time period.
This decrease has occurred at universities and colleges throughout Canada, as the population of individuals in the 18-24 age group has seen a significant drop. All of this has meant a decrease in tuition dollars from domestic students.
Faced with increasing cuts to post-secondary funding over the last 15 years, Canadian universities and colleges have invested heavily in promoting their brands in countries like China, India, Brazil, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria. These investments have proven profitable; international students now contribute $9.3 billion to the Canadian economy each year, and create more than 122,000 jobs.
Canadian colleges and universities have also drawn considerable revenue from international students. According to Statistics Canada, international students pay, on average, close to four times the tuition of their domestic counterparts. UNBC international students, who comprise just under 10 per cent of the entire student population, contribute 22 per cent of the tuition revenue to university coffers.
Overseas recruiting efforts have also been greatly helped by changes to Canada's immigration system.
In late 2016, immigration officials changed the points system for the express entry program, which was designed to attract skilled workers to Canada. Express entry now favours younger skilled workers who have received post-secondary training within the country.
Canada has also gained popularity amongst students and foreign recruiters; a recent survey of student recruitment agents in 107 countries found that Canada registered a higher increase in foreign student interest than any other country in 2017.
The instability in the United States under the Trump administration, as well as the 2016 Brexit vote, may have helped Canadian post-secondary institutions in drawing students away from these markets in 2017.
However, the appeal of Canadian institutions, whose tuition rates are significantly lower than those in the U.S. and the U.K., has been a more significant driver, according to the ICEF Monitor, an international education trade publication.