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International student enrolment rebounding on North Shore

More students are arriving from Europe, fewer from China this year as numbers of fee-paying foreign students slowly increases in SD45, SD44
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International student enrolment is on the rise in SD45 and SD44.

After taking a big hit in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, international student programs are rebounding in North Shore schools, with numbers up between 40 and 50 per cent over last year.

Numbers of international students enrolled in West Vancouver are up 40 per cent this year, compared to last year, says Michael Frankowski, director of international education for the West Vancouver School District.

This year, 454 international students are enrolled in West Vancouver schools, up from 301 students last year. Prior to the pandemic, the West Vancouver would typically host about 525 international students.

International student fees will contribute approximately $7 million to West Vancouver school district coffers this year. That’s roughly $1 million less than the school district would have received pre-COVID, but also $2 million more than last year’s international tuition fees added up to.

New students arriving for the first time (as opposed to foreign students who are already in the district and continuing their studies) now make up 50 per cent of international students in the district, said Frankowski.

Earlier in the pandemic as borders closed and visas became difficult to obtain, the number of new students had dropped as low as 20 per cent.

North Vancouver School District has had a similar experience with international student enrolment.

Typically, before the pandemic, North Vancouver schools would host up to 725 fee-paying international students annually.

Last year, only about half of that number of students enrolled, mainly due to travel and visa restrictions.

International student enrolment did increase in the second half of the year, as border restrictions began easing, resulting in more students than originally expected, according to a staff report.

This year, however, the school district is on track for an increase in enrolment - to a projected 530 international students.

Some of those students are expected in the second half of the school year, but "We are certainly expecting them and planning for them to come," said North Vancouver schools superintendent Mark Pearmain. "We're certainly not back where we were pre-COVID, but its very nice to see how our program is coming back."

Tuition fees from those students are expected to bring in approximately $6 million in revenue.

That's good news for the school district.

In the five years prior to the last school year, international student revenue averaged $10.5 million in North Vancouver, making up almost seven per cent of all revenue. Last year that figure fell by almost 50 per cent, to $5.8 million – a $4.8 million loss – which made up less than four per cent of total revenue.

Along with the change in numbers of students, there have also been changes to the geographical mix of international students arriving in West Vancouver, said Frankowski.

The school district has seen the biggest declines in students from Asia, including China and Korea, as well as from Brazil, as those countries battle both the virus and fears surrounding it, and the economic fallout of the pandemic.

Recoveries have been more pronounced in Europe, and the mix of international students reflects that, said Frankowski, with more students arriving from Europe, Thailand and Mexico this year.

The pandemic has presented other challenges to international student programs. Homestay families have been harder to find, as residents becoming more cautious about whom they invite into their homes or occupy spaces as new home offices.

This year, Frankowski said the last student was placed with a homestay family on the second day of classes. “That’s never happened before,” he said.

In August, Frankowski supervised 26 students who were required to quarantine at a hotel for 14 days upon arrival in Canada.

Some students arrived already vaccinated with vaccines recognized by Health Canada, and were taught how to carry their vaccine passport information. Others coming from countries where vaccines weren’t approved for teens or with vaccines not recognized in Canada were able to get vaccinated here, said Frankowski.

“Kids who did not come in vaccinated were quick to uptake,” he said.

He said if Health Canada recognizes Chinese-developed vaccines, predominantly used in Asian countries, it could have a significant impact on international student enrolment from those countries.

On Oct. 15, the West Vancouver school district opened applications for international students for next school year beginning in September 2022. Applications in North Vancouver School District opened Oct. 1.