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British Columbia B.C. universities grapple with flood of new international students

As B.C. seeks to lure almost 50,000 new international students by 2015, the head of an association representing many of the province's key universities says its members will have to figure out how to accommodate their share of the new arrivals.

"That's one of the questions we definitely need to look at," Robin Ciceri, president of the Research Universities' Council, said on Tuesday. She was reacting to an announcement by Premier Christy Clark on the economic spinoffs associated with attracting additional foreign students.

"The physical capacity is certainly something to be looked at and that's going to be part of the discussions with the ministry," she said.

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But Ms. Ciceri insisted that domestic students would not be displaced. "Domestic students are a priority."

The association represents B.C.'s research-intensive universities, including Simon Fraser University, the University of British Columbia, the University of Victoria and the University of Northern British Columbia. Ms. Clark made her announcement at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops.

On the second day of her jobs-plan tour, Ms. Clark said British Columbia will increase the number of international students – now at 94,000 per year – by 50 per cent over four years, which would suggest an increase of 47,000 by the end of the fourth year.

A spokesman for the Advanced Education Ministry broke down the 94,000 number this way: 39,000 are postsecondary students; 43,000 are students attending short-term programs, mostly language schools; and 12,000 are in the K-12 system.

John Hepburn, a research and international vice-president for the University of British Columbia, said his school can handle its share of the influx. However, he was concerned about the university's capacity to absorb new students in the business and arts streams.

He also noted that UBC, which has 45,000 full-time students, won't relax its admissions standards to facilitate Ms. Clark's targets.

The Premier linked the student commitment to job creation, saying that the current population of international students has led to the creation of 22,000 jobs and has contributed $1.25-billion to the provincial economy.

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Each 10-per-cent increase would equal 1,800 new jobs and a $100-million boost to the provincial GDP, a provincial statement said.

Ms. Clark talked about the strategy for boosting the student numbers, promising to create an international education council, rallying B.C.'s nine international trade offices to the effort, and personally selling B.C. as an education destination in pending travels that include a trade mission to India and China in November.

"I am going to be out there selling TRU and our postsecondary institutions in a way that they haven't been sold before," she said.

Ms. Clark said the cost for the entire project will be disclosed Thursday when she fully releases details of her jobs program, but the government says it has found the money from current expenditures.

Advanced Education Minister Naomi Yamamoto said international student programs recover costs, noting students at the postsecondary level pay up to four times the tuition of domestic students.

She said that Thompson Rivers University linked $1.2-million in construction activity last year to revenues from its international students, as well as a 25-per-cent increase in academic programming for all students.

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NDP finance critic Bruce Ralston said it was hard to see how the commitment would square with the financial restraint that Finance Minister Kevin Falcon has said is government policy in light of the demise of the HST.

Ms. Yamamoto was dismissive of observations by the NDP that Tuesday's commitment merely recycles a Liberal commitment made in 2008. "It's a new initiative in terms of the focus we are putting on it," she said.

Ms. Ciceri of the Research Universities' Council, said her association has talked to the government about the plan. She said she expected there will be discussions concerning capacity, but noted that members have their own strategies to deal with that issue.

Ms. Clark also announced a commitment to more effectively spend money on labour market and training programs

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