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Dan Peng is an international student enrolled at Simon Fraser University.Jimmy Jeong/The Globe and Mail

For the first time since Simon Fraser University began accepting international students, the school did not open its spring term to them because the cap for international students for the whole year was filled in August.

International students' demand for positions at British Columbia postsecondary institutions has significantly increased in recent years and schools must juggle that increasing demand while remaining committed to the number of spaces they offer to domestic students.

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Dan Peng is an international student from China currently studying at a local college affiliated with Simon Fraser. She aims to get into Simon Fraser's business program next fall and her studies at Fraser International College guarantee her a position there as long as she keeps her grades up. But she says the cutoff is alarming.

"I am a little bit worried," she said in an interview. "I think [I need] to check my e-mails frequently and keep myself updated about the application information. Meanwhile, I need to keep a high GPA."

Leanne Dalton, SFU's senior director for student success and strategic support, said caps on the number of international students are necessary because "it's extremely challenging" to guarantee there are enough supports in place for them, including accommodation and counselling support. By early August, far earlier than expected, those caps for the year had been reached.

"It's a difficult decision to not open our application to international applicants for this Spring 2018 term," she said. "The demand of international students has been really strong the last couple of years … and we had good retention [this year]."

At both Simon Fraser and the University of British Columbia, there are separate enrolment quotas for domestic and foreign students. Attracting foreign students has become an important recruitment method for schools because of the significantly higher tuition they pay, but school administrators are adamant that preferential treatment is not given to foreign students.

Ms. Dalton noted the SFU takes about 1,300 to 1,600 incoming international students each year. But this year, with good retention of both domestic and international students, fewer spaces are left for new arrivals from outside Canada. SFU's enrolment for domestic students for the 2018 spring term is not affected.

The total number of international undergraduate students at SFU has more than doubled in a decade. In 2007, 2,082 international students made up 9.6 per cent of the total number of students at SFU; by 2016, 4,688 international students made up 18.5 per cent of the total.

The latest data available from Statistics Canada show that from 2010-15, the number of domestic students enrolled at Canada's postsecondary institutions hasn't changed much, hovering around 1.8 million. But the number of international students jumped from 155,547 to 214,782.

Ms. Peng said that despite the stress of not knowing whether she will have a place at SFU next fall, it's nothing compared to the competition and demands of entering a good university in China.

In China this year, about 9.4 million students registered for the national university entrance exam. According to a Chinaese government website, the average admission rate of top universities there in 2015 was 11.8 per cent.

A UBC report on foreign students notes the school enrolls the third-largest number of international students in North America after University of Toronto and New York University. There are about 14,400 international students out of a total population of 62,000, the school said.

Pamela Ratner, UBC vice-provost and associate vice-president, enrolment and academic facilities, said that normally one in four UBC students is international. She said it's an important program.

"We think that we learn from one another and to have people here from 150 countries [in our classrooms] enhances our understanding of the world and intercultural understanding," she said.

For most undergraduate programs at UBC, international students pay $1,163.76 for each credit, compared with $172.99 for domestic students.

The UBC report says that, in the 2016/17 fiscal year, a total of $234-million was received from international undergraduate students, and $221-million was from domestic undergraduates.

"[International students] pay so much more so we can hire more faculty and have more support services in place," Dr. Ratner said.

Dr. Ratner stated there is no competition for seats between domestic and international students because they belong to different admission streams.

The provincial government funds universities and determines the number of domestic spaces.

Michael McDonald, executive director at the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, said the growing number of international students simply adds more students in Canada's institutions, which benefits some thinly populated areas in the country.

"It's not international students taking spots from our own students but more adding to more students who are able to attend our institutions," he said. "And for many areas, such as many schools in Atlantic Canada, we've seen a large increase of enrolment of international students that help them maintain their institutions to bring new people to their regions of the country."

B.C.'s Advanced Education, Skills and Training Minister Melanie Mark said in an e-mail that a two-way flow of students, educators and ideas between B.C. and other countries contributes to diversity, innovation and global awareness.

She said the rapid increase in the number of international students over the past few years has created a complex situation, and her mandate letter requires her to look at all of the pressure points in the postsecondary education system, and make sure all students in B.C. are getting the best education.

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