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International Student Enrolment Didn’t Plummet after All

VIRAL SURPRISE: One of many ways the pandemic made us rethink our assumptions. A Tyee series.

Katie Hyslop 29 Dec

Katie Hyslop is a reporter for The Tyee. Reach her here.

[Editor’s note: As we look back on a year of living with COVID-19 in our midst, Tyee writers each day share ways in which the coronavirus defied their expectations about science, politics and human nature.]

Post-secondary students’ unions have long sounded the alarm over colleges and universities’ reliance on sky-high international student tuition fees to keep the lights on, warning it would come back to bite institutions someday.

I thought that day had arrived with COVID-19.

British Columbia, where in-person post-secondary classes have been suspended since March 17, has about 152,000 international students. These students contributed $2.7 billion to our provincial gross domestic product in 2017, supporting 35,000 jobs in B.C.

They mean even more to the institutions themselves: almost half of tuition fee revenue comes from international students, who make up just 20 per cent of the student population.

So with campuses going virtual and national borders shutting down, I thought for sure the international student enrolment would plummet. Particularly in the fall after post-secondary institutions made the decision not to resume in-person classes.

But I was wrong.

Sure, numbers did go down: Thompson Rivers University estimated a 21 to 23 per cent drop in international student enrolment this fall, while the University of Victoria’s international student enrolment dropped by one per cent. But it was hardly the catastrophic decline I predicted.

Still, there have been challenges for institutions and international students. Any drop in enrolment means a drop in revenue for schools: Thompson Rivers was looking at a $12 million loss back in September.

And students have faced all sorts of challenges, from being stuck in Canada to stuck at home, unable to access resources deemed controversial in their country, or unable to secure the coveted post-graduation work permit that brings so many students to Canada in the first place.

It will be a while before everyone has access to the vaccine and in-person classes resume as normal. But it seems, at least for now, that paying three to five times the tuition domestic students pay for the same online classes is worth it for international students.

Tomorrow’s viral surprise: City or country?

Dear Tyee readers: comments are closed until Jan. 4 to give our moderators a much-needed holiday break. Best wishes to you and yours.  [Tyee]

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