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A student walks down a hallway at Vaughan Road Academy on May 23 2017.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Public high schools across the country are welcoming a growing number of international students in an effort to build valuable relationships and – in some cases – boost revenue.

Though international students make up only a small fraction of high schoolers, administrators in Ontario and British Columbia say they've seen a spike in recent years, with some school boards reporting their ranks have doubled.

The Toronto District School Board, which has one of the largest such programs in the country, says it sees an increase in its international population of five to 10 per cent each year, with close to 2,000 foreign students attending last year.

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The Thames Valley District School Board in southwestern Ontario has experienced growth of "more than 100 per cent" since launching its international program three years ago, going from 133 students to 293, it said.

In B.C., the Surrey school district says some 1,000 international students are enrolled in its facilities – roughly twice as many as in 2009.

School boards say they are making concerted efforts to draw more international students to their halls, participating in recruiting events around the globe, partnering with education agents and working to identify emerging markets.

"Every province, including the territories, they have international student programs," said Smita Sengupta of the Toronto District School Board. "This is a trend in school boards in Ontario as well as throughout Canada."

Vancouver, Surrey, B.C., and Coquitlam, B.C., are among the most popular school districts for international students, with Toronto and nearby York Region also ranking high, according to the Canadian Association of Public Schools – International, an organization representing 133 public school districts across Canada with international student programs.

Boosting diversity is part of the appeal for school boards such as the Thames Valley, said Sarah Noad, the board's international business development officer.

"Our local students benefit so much by learning about new cultures, being introduced to students from other countries," Noad said. "They gain new communication skills and learn different global perspectives and ideas and these are all needed to succeed in a more globally interconnected world."

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While forging lasting connections is a top motivator, some boards say there are also financial benefits to bringing in international students, who pay between $11,000 and $14,000 each year in school fees and insurance.

"It obviously creates a number of teacher jobs, it covers the costs of the program ... but it does leave behind a significant amount of money to the school district," which supports other school initiatives, said Angela Olson, manager of international education for Surrey Schools in B.C.

International students poured $5.21-million into the coffers of Edmonton public schools in the 2015-16 school year, an increase of 22 per cent over the previous year, according to the school board's budget.

"The bulk of the financial resources, specifically 67.3 per cent, were distributed to schools serving international students, thereby employing teachers and ensuring strong English language and other programming for all students," it said.

David Johnson, an education economist at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the extra revenue may, in some school boards, help offset the effects of dwindling domestic enrolment.

Not all international students pay fees, however. Some come on student exchanges, or as refugee claimants. What's more, some only stay for a year or two.

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Traditionally, most have come from Korea or China, but recently more have arrived from Vietnam, school boards said. Some countries that were previously more disposed to send students to the United States have refocused their attention on Canada after the U.S. election, said Olson, of the Surrey school board.

For students, enrolling in a Canadian high school may be part of a broader plan to seek an education – and a life – here, administrators and experts say, noting many go on to apply to Canadian universities.

"You improve your English and you probably have easier access to Canadian post-secondary if you put in a year or two at a Canadian high school," said Johnson.

"The post-secondary institution has lots of experience interpreting those student records, whereas if you apply from outside the country... it's just a whole lot harder to figure out what they've taken and what they've not taken and what their grades mean," he said.

Some 175,000 international students are enrolled in Canadian universities, more than double compared to a decade ago, though it's not known how many attended a Canadian high school, according to Universities Canada.

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