International students in British Columbia pour $1.77-billion into provincial GDP, according to new report

By Marina Wang

A new report produced by the British Columbia Federation of Students found that international students contributed substantially to the province’s economy: in 2015 international students added $3.117-billion in spending, created 26,000 jobs and contributed $1.77-billion to the province’s GDP. In light of this, the report emphasized the importance of regulating rising tuition fees to prevent a crash in this economic pillar.

“After 16 years of cuts in funding to public colleges and universities and a replacement of those lost resources with revenue from international education, there is now a direct economic dependence on international students,” reads the report. “The nature of BC’s dependence on foreign funding for its post-secondary system exposes the province to substantial risks. Even small changes in the market for international students could leave institutions across the province with pronounced deficits and affect education provided to BC citizens.”

B.C. hosts a third of Canada’s international students, which was estimated to be 113,095 in 2015, a 38 per cent increase since 2011. While international students only made up around 12 per cent of the student population, they accounted for nearly half of post-secondary institution’s revenue.

Provincial policy prevents tuition from increasing over 2 per cent a year for domestic students, but no such regulation is set for international students. According to the report, international students can pay nearly five times more tuition than a domestic student.

The report looked at a Bachelor of Economics degree as an example: at the University of British Columbia, the total tuition, ancillary fees and cost of living added up to around $210,000 over a four year period (between 2016 and 2020). Simon Fraser University came in second at $190,000, followed by University of Victoria at $165,000.

Furthermore, hikes in tuition fees are often unpredictable: post-secondary institutions often use international student fees as a fail-safe against unforeseen expenses, so increases in international fees vary each year making it difficult for international students to budget over a four year degree.

According to the report, 71 per cent of graduate and 63 per cent of undergraduates had difficulty adjusting to the high cost of living in B.C., and the unpredictable fee increases were cited as a major contributor to financial stress.
The study also outlined a case from Australia as forewarning. Between 2008 and 2009 Australia had a sharp increase in international students, but as mistreatment and lack of support for international students boiled over, a series of publicized attacks occurred targeting students from India. The Indian government issued a travel warning, subsequently tanking revenues from international students and resulting in a “major shock to Australia’s economy” according to the report.

“Policy-makers must understand that the current system of international education, unregulated and unpredictable, is irresponsible because it introduces great economic risk and instability to the province and the country,” reads the report.