The number of international students coming to B.C. continues to grow, and they are playing an important part in the growth of the Okanagan Skaha School District.
Not only does the international program give local students a chance to interact with peers from different cultures, the international students also add to the district’s bottom line, which helps deliver services to all students.
“The costs also go up with these students, but last year, I think we were at about a profit of $150,000, and we expect a profit of well over $200,000 this year,” said Bonnie Roller Routley, secretary-treasurer for the school district. She added that Okanagan Skaha is attracting more students.
“I believe the last two years, we had around 55, perhaps 60,” said Roller Routley, who estimated 80 international students in the 2016-17 budget”It took a big jump this year”
Penticton, she explained, is not as far off the beaten path as you might think. The district employs agents, and there is also a dedicated website to attract students from kindergarten age to Grade 12.
Jeff Guy, principal of the international program to was off to Seoul and then Tokyo this week to meet with some of those agents, and attend an educational fairs where he could meet families that want to send their children here.
Guy said there are a number of factors that make Penticton desirable for international students.
“There is so many things for them to do, the quality of our school system is great,” said Guy adding that he likes to focus on the smaller size of the international program in Penticton and Summerland schools.
Students who come to Okanagan Skaha, he explained, aren’t arriving here to find the schools filled with other students from their home country, negating the cultural interaction that is part of the experience.
“Someone described us as kind of a boutique (program),” said Guy, who first objected to the label. “A boutique is something that is special, it usually has a unique product, it is high quality. Now I like it when they call us that. “
Guy said the largest group of students come from Germany, though the number of Mexican students is on the rise.
“The world is changing. We would do our kids a disservice not to expose them to other cultures,” said Guy. “Exposing our kids to different languages, different ways of thinking, even in some cases different religions, it is an eyeopener for them.
“It really is mutually beneficial.”
“Students from around the world are increasingly realizing the value of the high-quality post-secondary education that is offered in British Columbia,” said Advanced Education Minister Andrew Wilkinson. “International students bring a range of social, cultural and economic benefits to classrooms, campuses and communities throughout our province.”
According to the province’s figures, 130,053 international students came to B.C. in 2015, a 44 per cent increase over 90,037 in 2010. The target was a 50 per cent increase by 2016, but that won’t be confirmed until the province releases those figures later this year.
International students make a large contribution to the provincial economy, spending $3.5 billion on tuition and expenses in 2015. According to a provincial press release, that equals a $2-billion contribution to the provincial GDP and supported 29,300 jobs.
By comparison, international student spending in 2010 amounted to $2.1 billion, supported 17,900 jobs and contributed $1.2 billion to the provincial GDP.
“International students bring a wide range of experiences and cultural diversity to our schools and communities,” said Education Minister Mike Bernier. “These students enhance our global perspectives and connections, and their presence helps lay the groundwork for a prosperous and economically diverse future for B.C.”
As a service industry, international education is considered to be an “export” from B.C. since funds that support the industry come from outside Canada. In 2015, the export of B.C. international education services was equivalent to nearly 10 per cent of the total value of goods exported by the province. It ranked third when compared with the export of goods, following wood products, and mineral fuels and oils.