BC mulls changes to K-12 international education

July 18, 2013

British Columbia secondary school boards and independent schools engaged in international student recruitment have resisted suggestions of fixed agent commissions and programme fees, according to the publication of roundtable discussions by the province’s Ministry of Education.

The ministry has identified two key priorities for the future of secondary international education in the province: providing quality assurance through development of standards of practice; and supporting the government objective to increase international enrolment by 50 per cent by 2015/16.

All BC school districts and independent schools were invited to attend the roundtables to discuss specific proposals in achieving these targets, and a total of 125 delegates participated in the discussions in four different locations.

The suggestion of fixed agent fees was dismissed by participants as they argued that relationships with agents had been built up over many years, and smaller and rural districts reported that they need to offer higher commissions in order to be able to compete with the larger urban programmes. For similar reasons, participants expressed concerns over suggestions of fixed province-wide tuition fees. Meanwhile, it was suggested a standard legally vetted agent contract with some flexibility for local customisation would be useful for the sector.

Many of the school boards related that self-imposed capacity limits in terms of schools space, accommodation and educational support services would make the 50 per cent growth target unrealistic, and recommended a revision of this. Schools and districts agreed that setting enrolment limits to a fixed percentage would not be appropriate, and it was noted that the sector is too dependent on two major markets: Korea and China.

There was general agreement that a quality assurance framework would be helpful, as long as it was not too prescriptive and allowed for regional variables. The valuable role that agents already play in this area was noted in the report: “A number of participants indicated that market forces provide quality assurance to some degree, as recruiting agents are not likely to send students to programmes that they believe are not offering quality educational services adequately.”

The discussions also focussed on the alignment of offshore and onshore programmes, following ministry proposals that any student in an offshore BC programme, 80 per cent of which are in China, must attend BC for at least one semester.

There were concerns expressed that accommodating these 2,500 students would impact on onshore enrolment targets, would constrain ethnic diversity, and that one semester may not be long enough to have significant development on language proficiency.

In terms of promotional strategies, it was suggested that the Ministry could invest in marketing the region as a whole. “Provincial branding, along with incorporating the unique opportunities available within the region, could be of value in marketing and recruitment,” the report said. The promotion of post-secondary pathways and educational opportunities in the vocational trades were highlighted as possible avenues to promote.

In the report, BC’s Ministry of Education said that the K-12 secondary sectors serves approximately 13,000 students, with 47 of the 60 school districts involved. It estimated that in the 2011/12 academic year international students generated CAN$139 million (US$133 million) in tuition fees in the public system and a further CAN$29 million (US$27.8 million) for independent schools.

The Ministry said that policy options will be finalised using the roundtable results and further consultations.

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