Foreign students provide a cosmopolitan learning environment on campus and help support many programs
When Chika Fujimoto was deciding on where to pursue her English studies, she was impressed by the support for foreign students at Langara College.
“The International Education Department provides a lot of support,” the 19-year-old from Yokohama said. The English studies and business student tried other colleges but after talking to a Langara adviser, felt that the school offered more support for international students.
She also liked the intimacy of the school. “I feel I can have a closer relationship with professors and classmates.”
International students like Fujimoto are a vital source of revenue for B.C.’s post-secondary institutions. To keep a steady flow of students coming through the doors, universities and colleges have adopted a number of approaches. These include providing support systems for students, recruiting through social media and tailoring courses to international students.
International students have more options than ever before.
“The scope of global education is really changing,” Ajay Patel, head of international education at Langara, said. “What we’re seeing a lot of is student mobility, where a student is able to study what they want where they want.”
Roughly 12 per cent of Langara’s student body is made up of international students, many from China and India.
At the B.C. Institute of Technology, just under 10 per cent of the school’s full-time students are international.
Paul Dangerfield, vice-president of education, research and international at BCIT, said that the school is looking at ways to increase its number of international students. One strategy is to create a bridging program that will allow landed immigrants in industries such as engineering and accounting to use their credentials here.
In some cases, foreign students are needed to prop up courses. “The aerospace industry in British Columbia is quite small,” Dangerfield said. “We wouldn’t be able to realistically and financially sustain a number of our aerospace programs if we weren’t able to bring in international students. It’s a way for us to help the international community get graduates who are qualified to either Canadian or international standards accredited. At the same time it helps support an industry where we don’t need a full graduating class of perhaps 30 or 40 or 50 grads a year, but we only need to put 20 or 30 grads into the industry.”
Neville Yang is enrolled in the school’s aerospace mechanical engineering program. Originally from China, he took Grade 11 and 12 in Vancouver then went into the BCIT program. “They have a lot of services for us, like how to apply for study permits, and how to work in Canada,” Yang said.
He knew while in high school that he wanted to be an engineer but not what kind until he came across the AME program. He already had friends at BCIT and liked what they told him about the school’s mix of classroom and practical teaching.
At UBC’s main campus, 14 per cent of the undergrad population is international students. “We have a recruitment team that visits more than 1,000 schools in a year,” Karen McKellin, director of international student initiative at UBC, said.
“That’s sort of the core of the idea, to go directly to schools. We’ve certainly adopted social media platforms, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube. We do more e-recruitment, where we’re engaging virtually with students or schools we can’t get to, and inviting students to join us for online chats.”
The cultural exchange works both ways. “I don’t think any Canadian student would want to go to a university that only has Canadian students,” McKellin said. “Part of the attraction of UBC is its cosmopolitanism. When you come here, you’re going to mix with students from a lot of different countries, and that enriches the dialogue and discussions on the campus.”
In the long-term, McKellin said, Canada has a lot to teach.
“We have peaceful ways of settling disputes, we care about people who can’t take care of themselves, and so we have good health care. We try to address issues of sustainability, and ways to preserve the environment. And those are values that students who spend time with us can see are working.”
“The global experience benefits everyone,” Langara’s Patel agreed. “Foreign students bring different experiences, different lenses. You’re learning about other cultures, other customs. It’s something you can use at a later date. When an international student comes here, they go back to become the next generation of leaders. And they’re going to remember their time in Vancouver. They’re going to have opportunities to leverage. This whole kind of continuum is intangible and tough to measure, but the ties can become really strong.”
“It’s a good way to innovate and learn how to be more productive,” Dangerfield said. “We have faculty who are working in Brazil and learning about digital arts, and how branding and advertising is done in the southern hemisphere. You’re seeing more and more as the world becomes global, it’s absolutely critical for us to become global as well.”
Chika Fujimoto volunteers with the International Office at Langara, where she plans events and mingles with other students. “I feel like I’m contributing something, which really feels good.”
She’s met people from China, Indonesia, Thailand, Korea and India. “If I were in Japan I can only meet Japanese people, or maybe one or two students from other countries. Now I am here, meeting not only Canadian people, but people from all over the world.”
After her English studies, Fujimoto would like to complete a degree in international trade. She hasn’t decided if she’ll stay here or not. “My mind is not set in one country yet.”