B.C. universities post $340 million worth of surpluses thanks to international student tuition

B.C. universities post $340 million worth of surpluses thanks to international student tuition

Students call for spending as international enrolment produces huge surpluses at many universities

British Columba’s universities and colleges have quietly raked in hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years, posting soaring surpluses thanks largely to increasing numbers of international students.

But as the coffers of B.C.’s universities and colleges have swelled, spending on student instruction and support hasn’t yet caught up, Black Press Media has found after analyzing of 25 post-secondary institutions’ financial statements dating back four years.

The rapid rise in international enrolment has prompted concerns about the pace of growth and the post-secondary experience for both domestic and foreign learners, with some even reporting an increase in xenophobia among local students. Two of the most-profitable mid-sized universities have already decided to re-evaluate their international ambitions, and the leader of the British Columbia Federation of Students says others should consider doing the same.

Combined surplus of $340 million

In 2018/2019, B.C. universities and colleges posted surpluses totaling more than $340 million, the financial statements show. That figure is more than double the $144 million in combined surpluses recorded in 2015/16.

Last fiscal year, the University of British Columbia alone recorded a $136 million surplus. That’s the largest in the province, but in line with the B.C. average, which saw universities take in about five per cent more than they spent last year.

Simon Fraser University, the University of Victoria, Kwantlen Polytechnic University, the University of the Fraser Valley, Thompson Rivers University, Langara College, Douglas College and BCIT all posted surpluses of more than $10 million. Three years ago, only the province’s three largest universities (UBC, UVic and SFU) posted eight-figure surpluses. And while UVic’s surplus was close to its 2018/2019 total, UBC and SFU’s income has doubled and tripled in the three years since. (The figures recorded here don’t include endowment contributions.)

How much did your local university make last year? We’ve collected easy-to-understand data on surpluses, profit margins and tuition revenue in one place. Click here.

RELATED: UFV & other B.C. universities post $340 million worth of surpluses thanks to international student tuition

• • •

Tuition fee revenue spikes

The financial statements show the newfound monetary success of the province’s universities is largely tied to dramatic increases in tuition revenue, which in turn has been driven largely by higher numbers of international students. At many universities popular with international students, fees from foreign students now make up the bulk of all tuition revenue.

While government transfers have grown, they’ve done so only modestly. Meanwhile, provincewide revenues from tuition and related student fees have increased by 37 per cent since 2016.

A handful of mid-sized universities have seen some of the largest increases. Surrey-based Kwantlen Polytechnic University saw tuition revenue rise by 83 per cent over the last three years, while TRU in Kamloops, Capilano University in North Vancouver and Langara College in Vancouver all saw tuition revenue increases of more than 50 per cent. At Kwantlen, TRU and Capilano, tuition revenue jumped by more than 20 per cent between 2017/18 and 2018/19. At UBC, tuition revenue rose by a quarter-billion dollars – a 45 per cent jump – in just three years.

The tuition fees have left universities flush, but the dramatic increase in international students has not been painless.

TRU, which posted an $18 million surplus last year, closed its summer programs to new international students this year. International students now comprise one-third of TRU’s enrolment and last year paid 59 per cent of the university’s total tuition revenue.

Matt Milovick, the university’s vice-president of administration of finance, told Kamloops This Week this spring that the number of international students that signed up for classes the previous summer had been “overwhelming.” The university has not been able to fill all the faculty positions it has created to meet the influx.

The University of the Fraser Valley, where the number of international students has doubled since 2015, has also put the brakes on international enrolment. Officials there now hope to hold the international student population to no more than 20 per cent of all enrolment until a long-term plan is crafted and a variety of concerns are addressed.

In September, a report issued by UFV’s vice-president of students, found a wide range of issues stemming from the dramatic rise in international enrolment.

Domestic students, international students and faculty said UFV needed to change course and provide more support and help. (Read her report at the bottom of this story.)

“One word sums up the overarching theme of what I heard and learned through this process: concern,” Alisa Webb wrote in the report.” Individuals and groups expressed concerns about UFV’s current approach to international admissions and enrolment, about the level of support available to faculty and staff as they navigate this change in classroom and campus composition, and about international student success and our efforts to support it.”

Webb said the university was struggling to give international students the support they need, that domestic students were growing frustrated by the struggles – sometimes perceived, sometimes real – of their international classmates, and that faculty and other staff were increasingly feeling overwhelmed.

Need to ‘get it right’

International students pay tuition at rates much higher than their Canadian classmates, but money is not all they bring to campus.

Their presence is seen to contribute to the goal of “internationalization,” a process that aims to ensure that campuses, classrooms and discussions feature a diversity of perspectives and experiences that reflects the broader world.

Webb was told the integration of foreign students at UFV is riddled with complex challenges, but that the value they bring to campuses makes it worth ensuring the university does its best to “get it right.”

Like many of their Canadian classmates, international students coming to UFV need more support than they have been given, Webb reported.

While all students must meet the same entrance requirements, certain groups have different needs to ensure they are ready to begin university study.

Many international students, Webb found, weren’t familiar with online coursework, the structure of courses and academic integrity standards. They also faced language challenges that made study – and communication with Canadian classmates – more difficult.

Those issues are manageable, Webb said. And many of them overlap with challenges encountered by domestic students, who faculty say are also often unprepared for university-level academic reading and writing.

Some local students have been less sympathetic, though. Webb reported faculty have noted rising frustration among Canadian learners in programs with many international students. The Canadians expressed frustration with their international classmates “perceived and/or actual ‘deficiencies,’” and Webb wrote that some professors “suggest that this is actually leading to intolerance and a rise of xenophobia.”

Webb reported that there needs to be more collaborative work to help support international students, and faculty and staff also need more training.

U.S. ‘nightmare’ driving students north

The financial successes and capacity struggles now facing many universities can be traced back to directives from now-ousted federal and provincial governments that called for Canada, and B.C., to significantly increase the number of international students in the country. But external forces – namely a certain U.S. president – have also played a large role.

Since assuming power in B.C., NDP have called in mandate letters for a “balanced approach” to international enrolment. But foreign-student counts have continued to increase quickly. Donald Trump may be partly to blame. Since his election, the American student visa process has become “a nightmare,” a lawyer working with student immigrants told CNBC earlier this year. Students looking for education outside of their home countries have increasingly turned to Canadian post-secondary institutions – and not just large universities in big cities.

Canada, Webb told The News, is now being seen as “the gold standard for education.”

More money, more risks

While tuition revenue has jumped about 37 per cent, spending on instruction and student supports (many financial statements lump the two categories together) has increased by only about 20 per cent over the last three years.

Some universities, like Capilano, have put their increased revenue toward facilities and other infrastructure upgrades. But many others have yet to spend the money.

One reason for the lag is that the scale of the increase has caught administrators off guard.

“We’ve been way more popular as a destination for students than we’ve anticipated,” Webb said, although she added that enrolment projections are improving.

UFV isn’t alone in that, budgets show.

Across the province, beancounters at B.C. universities and colleges underestimated tuition revenue to the tune of five per cent, or $109 million. A similar pattern took place the year prior.

The international student revenue may not be permanent or long-lasting has also led to conservatism when plans are made to spend that money.

Matt Milovick, the finance vice-president at Thompson Rivers University, warned earlier this year about the stability of international enrolments, and noted that the surpluses could disappear “overnight,” according to Kamloops This Week.

The risk is magnified when the bulk of students come from one region, like in the Fraser Valley, where students from India now make up three-quarters of international enrolment. It wasn’t always that way – just five years ago Chinese students once outnumbered their Indian counterparts.

International disputes, economic turmoil and other unpredictable events have the potential of driving away a large percentage of international students in a very short time. Five years ago, UFV had nearly 500 Chinese students and 50 from Saudi Arabia. By 2018/19, the Chinese figure had decreased by 60 per cent, while just 13 students from Saudi Arabia were studying at UFV.

Webb says it’s also difficult to know exactly what supports international students will need until they arrive in Canada. But she says the university is now ready to invest, with both her report and work done by a separate task force in hand.

“We’ve been able to direct financial resources so some of the things we’re seeing,” Webb says.

That means hiring new counsellors, accessibility advisors, adding transition supports and expandinig student orientation programs. In particular, Webb says the university will be ramping up its University 101 program, which aims to prepare incoming students for the academic rigours of post-secondary study.

Others should follow

Michael Olson, the executive director of the British Columbia Federation of Students, says other universities should also be moderating their international plans and considering the impact of largely unmanaged growth on their student populations.

He said universities need to pay particular attention to improving the experience for international students both to help them as individuals, and to reduce the risk that international enrolment (and revenues) will vanish, hurting both the bottom line of institutions and the economies of their surrounding communities.

“What we’re not really seeing in many cases is that increased money actually going toward services that are ensuring the success of those students who are coming in from other countries to our institutions.”

In a statement, the Ministry of Advanced Education said it is working on a “student-centered and sustainable strategic framework for international education.”

Olson said the province needs to better regulate international education and the tuition fees students pay, and that universities should look to increase the quality of the international student experience, rather than the quantity of those paying tuition.

“We rely on the spending of international students in our communities, the job creation that that spending brings in. But if we continue to treat these international students as cash cows, the same way they choose to come here, they can choose to stop coming here.”

Do you have something to add to this story, or something else we should report on? Email:
tolsen@abbynews.com


@ty_olsen
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Sept. 20 international student report by Tyler Olsen on Scribd

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Emergency crews were called to a semi-truck crash along the Trans-Canada Highway at Oyster Sto’Lo Road on Friday, Jan. 22. (Cole Schisler/Black Press)
Semi truck crashes off the side of the highway in Ladysmith

Driver taken to hospital as precaution after single-vehicle crash Friday

A person experiencing homelessness in downtown Nanaimo last week. (News Bulletin photo)
LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Change approach to combatting homelessness

Letter writers express frustration with status quo

Environment Canada is forecasting snow for the east Vancouver Island region the weekend of Jan. 23. (Black Press file)
Up to 15 cm of snow forecast for Nanaimo area this weekend

Snow to begin Saturday night, according to Environment Canada

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the legislature, Jan. 11, 2021. (B.C. government)
Vancouver Island smashes COVID-19 high: 47 new cases in a day

Blowing past previous records, Vancouver Island is not matching B.C.s downward trend

Nanaimo City Hall. (News Bulletin file photo)
City of Nanaimo councillors like new sustainable buying policy

Finance and audit committee recommends council approve new procurement policy

Toronto Public Health nurse Lalaine Agarin sets up for mass vaccination clinic in Toronto, Jan. 17, 2021. B.C. is set to to begin its large-scale immunization program for the general public starting in April. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
B.C.’s COVID-19 mass vaccinations expected to start in April

Clinics to immunize four million people by September

Police are searching for an alleged sex offender, Nicole Edwards, who they say has not returned to her Vancouver halfway house. (Police handout)
Police hunt for woman charged in ‘horrific’ assault who failed to return to Surrey halfway house

Call 911 immediately if you see alleged sex offender Nicole Edwards, police say

A screenshot from a local Instagram account video. The account appeared to be frequented by Mission students, and showed violent videos of students assaulting and bullying other students.
Parents, former students describe ‘culture of bullying’ in Mission school district

Nearly two dozen voices come forward speaking of abuse haunting the hallways in Mission, B.C.

Joe Biden, then the U.S. vice-president, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau take their seats at the start of the First Ministers and National Indigenous Leaders meeting in Ottawa, Friday, Dec. 9, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau, Biden to talk today as death of Keystone XL reverberates in Canada

President Joe Biden opposed the Keystone XL expansion as vice-president under Barack Obama

Prince Edward Island’s provincial flag flies on a flag pole in Ottawa, Friday July 3, 2020. A lozenge plant in Prince Edward Island has laid off 30 workers, citing an “almost non-existent” cold and cough season amid COVID-19 restrictions. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
‘Almost non-existent’ cold and cough season: P.E.I. lozenge plant lays off 30 workers

The apparent drop in winter colds across the country seems to have weakened demand for medicine and natural remedies

Robert Riley Saunders. (File)
Disgraced Kelowna social worker faces another class-action lawsuit

Zackary Alphonse claims he was not informed of resources available to him upon leaving government care

A specialized RCMP team is investigating a suspicious trailer, which might have connections to the illicit drug trade, found abandoned outside a Cache Creek motel. (Photo credit: <em>Journal</em> files)
Police probe U-Haul trailer linked to illicit drugs left outside Cache Creek motel

Hazardous materials found inside believed to be consistent with the production of illicit drugs

Premier John Horgan leaves the podium following his first press conference of the year as he comments on various questions from the media in the Press Gallery at B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, January 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Interprovincial travel restrictions a no-go, Horgan says after reviewing legal options

The B.C. NDP government sought legal advice as concerns of travel continue

SD62 bus driver Kerry Zado said it’s common to see drivers lose their patience and pass by his bus while he’s picking up students during the morning commute. (Aaron Guillen/News Staff)
Concerned Island school bus driver says people still pass while red lights flashing

All buses in Sooke School District outfitted with stop sign cameras

Most Read