Foreign students boost business of education in B.C.

July 27, 2017

By Patrick Blennerhassett, Business in Vancouver |

B.C. continues its reign as Canada’s top choice for foreign students.

While domestic enrolment numbers across the Lower Mainland’s top universities have flatlined, international students are flocking to schools across the province in record numbers. According to a study by the provincial government, one-third of all international students who come to Canada to attend public and private K-12 schools and post-secondary institutions choose British Columbia.

Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) is one of the schools reaping the direct benefit of international attention. With 8,990 students, KPU is B.C.’s fourth-largest university for full-time undergraduate enrolment, behind the University of British Columbia (35,070), the University of Victoria (14,220) and Simon Fraser University (12,880), and has posted an increase in international students for more than five consecutive years. During the 2010-11 school year, KPU had 1,340 international students, and by the 2015-16 year that number had reached 2,291. The school has four main campuses (Richmond, Surrey, Langley and KPU Tech in Cloverdale) spread across 42 square kilometres.

Salvador Ferreras, KPU’s provost and academic vice-president, said demographics play a large part in the stagnant enrolment of domestic students. During the 2010-11 academic year, KPU had 17,759 domestic students, a number that dropped to 17,023 for the 2015-16 year. Ferreras said the bulk of British Columbians are entering retirement as opposed to entering post-secondary education.

“We are experiencing in a sense what a lot of everybody else is experiencing,” he said. “We’re insulated a little bit because school districts such as Langley and Surrey have an increase of families moving in, a lot of immigrant families, and there’s still a lot of kids in the system. But we won’t see that increase for a few years.”

However, KPU’s international- student head count, which has grown 68% over the past five years, is also a big reason the school has seen an increase in total revenue. KPU’s total revenue in 2016 was $157 million, a $4 million increase year-over-year. International students are not subsidized by the provincial government and, according to Statistics Canada, pay roughly four times more than their domestic counterparts. The average tuition fee for a local undergraduate student in Canada for the 2015-16 school year was $6,373, and for international students, that number was $23,589.

Ferreras said one country has taken the lead in sending students to KPU.

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