COVID-19 exodus of international students leaves $10-million budget hole

North and West Van school districts project massive revenue shortfalls

An exodus of fee-paying international students because of COVID-19 could have serious financial impacts to North Shore school districts.

Both North Vancouver and West Vancouver school districts are looking at multimillion-dollar holes in their budgets next year because they will likely lose a large portion of their international student enrolment.

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Altogether the losses are expected to add up to about $10 million in revenue that the North Shore school districts count on to balance their budgets – a $4-million loss in West Vancouver and a $6-million loss in North Vancouver.

International students who come from countries around the world and pay up to $16,000 in tuition to study in local public schools have been a mainstay in North and West Vancouver school districts for decades.

But with restrictions on international travel in place because of COVID-19 and a halt to the federal government’s processing of foreign student visas, numbers of international students are expected to plummet in September.

West Vancouver usually has about 530 international students on top of its approximately 6,800 regular students, while North Vancouver usually has about 625 international students in addition to just under 15,000 regular students.

But when COVID-19 travel restrictions hit, “we had a lot of students leave,” said Michael Frankowski, director of the West Vancouver Schools’ international student program.

Over 60 per cent of international high school students left, while 15 per cent of elementary students – who must live in Canada with at least one parent – also left.

Currently West Vancouver school officials say their best guess is that international student enrolment will be down by 45 per cent.

In North Vancouver, superintendent Mark Pearmain told trustees he is estimating the district will have just 230 international students – or less than 40 per cent of its past enrolment – come September.

Those students are already in Canada and already have government study permits.

Superintendents of both school districts say there’s still interest from foreign students in coming to study on the North Shore. But there are also a series of obstacles, ranging from closed borders, lack of available flights and the federal government’s student visa processing at a standstill.

The sudden decline in international students has both school districts looking at the possibility of laying off teachers next year.

“If there were fewer students, there would be fewer staff as well,” said Chris Kennedy, superintendent of the West Vancouver School District.

Scott Stanley, executive director of human resources at the North Vancouver School District, said the school district could be forced to lay off about 20 teachers in North Vancouver.

Layoff notices to some teachers have already gone out.

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