Abbotsford schools rank 24th for international enrolment in B.C.

But school board not too worried about attracting more high-revenue students from abroad

The Abbotsford school district’s international tuition sits at around average among B.C. school districts, according to a recent B.C. Teachers’ Federation report, which points to international tuition as an indicator of inequality among districts.

Overall international enrolment in public education has almost quadrupled in B.C., rising from around 4,083 full-time equivalent international students in 2001/02 to more than 15,580 in the 2016/17 school year, the BCTF report says, calling international education B.C.’s third largest export.

But between jurisdictions, international tuition ranges from 12 per cent of all revenue for West Vancouver, down to zero per cent in several, largely northern, districts.

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Out of around 60 districts in total, the Abbotsford school district sits at around 24th highest, with three per cent of its revenue – $5.5 million – coming from international tuition, according to the report.

“One measure of the impact of student revenues is the percentage of the district budget that is supplemented by international student funds. International student tuition is generally $15,000 for an academic year, nearly twice the amount the province provides for each Canadian student,” the BCTF report notes.

“The district with the largest supplement is West Vancouver, which already has the highest socio-economic status in the province. Its bonus is 12 per cent, based on $8.8 million in revenue on top of the funding provided by the government to educate students in this district.”

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A notable difference is in the size of the districts. While 12 per cent of West Vancouver’s revenue equates to $8.8 million, Coquitlam generates 11 per cent of its total revenue from international tuition, which generates over $34 million.

Richmond, a school district closer to the size of Abbotsford’s, generates nine per cent of its total revenue from international tuition, at around $17 million.

But Abbotsford board of education chair Shirley Wilson said there’s no rush to seek any flux of international students. Wilson said amping up international tuition revenue stream may be important for other districts to replace declining enrolment.

“Some districts have had a declining enrolment – we’ve been fairly flat,” Wilson said. “That’s really important, because some districts have said, ‘We’re declining; we don’t want to eliminate programs.’ So they’ve found other revenue sources. That’s not been our situation.

“Our situation has been: We’re fairly flat and we can carry on at the level that we’re carrying on at.”

Still, that doesn’t mean there’s no desire to bring in further international enrolment in the district. As noted by the BCTF report, Abbotsford’s international tuition, at around $14,500 per year per student, brings far more revenue per student than the Ministry of Education provides in grants, averaged out at around $8,800 per student.

“It’s always the eye is on the prize, which is student achievement. Which is why we’ve always endeavoured to ensure that we have some buffer in our budget so that we can continue to provide these programs – not offer them for a year, and say, ‘Now what?’” Wilson said.

But she said that doesn’t come at the expense of local students, who Wilson said will always come first, stating that the board will not sacrifice programming or space for local students to enhance international tuition.

“It’s a fine balance. We also don’t want to take off more than we can chew, because we can’t start too many things too big and then not be able to complete them,” Wilson said.

“Our district – are we comfortable where we are? I’m going to give you a tentative yes, but that’s with a caveat that there’s always room for improvement. We’ve always run a very lean district. The boards that have come before me and likely the boards that will follow have always said that we are going to be as cost-efficient as we can.”

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Dustin Godfrey | Reporter

@dustinrgodfrey

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