Thompson Rivers University has 25 per cent more international students on campus this fall, with 2,336 enrolled this semester, up from 1,873 last year, according to TRU vice-president international Baihua Chadwick.
With 8,325 students on campus in total, international students now make up 28 per cent of TRU’s on-campus population. The number of Aboriginal students on campus has also increased by 10 per cent, from 683 last fall to 753 this semester. Chadwick said that while the number of domestic students hasn’t increased much, their numbers remain steady.
“Our university has seen a very healthy increase in all students,” Chadwick said. “Overall our university is doing well on the student recruitment side. Of course internationals have seen the largest increase.”
Chadwick attributes these increases to a number of factors, both internal and external.
“You analyze the market, you target certain countries, you hire good people who work hard. Those are all internal factors that we can control,” Chadwick said. “But there are also very important external factors, for example, the political climate of other countries and the governmental policies of our own country.”
While the rise of nationalism south of the border and security issues in Europe may be contributing to TRU’s influx of international students, Randall Martin, the executive director of the B.C. Council for International Education, believes that the increase may also have to do with our low dollar.
“Compared to competitor nations like the U.S., U.K. and Australia, our dollar hasn’t been too strong. So we’re seen as a high quality, affordable destination for international students,” Martin said.
The streamlining of Canada’s VISA application process within the last few years has also contributed, according to both Martin and Chadwick.
“I think the fact that TRU has seen a large increase in students from [India and China] can be attributed to the expedited visa program,” Martin said.
India and China both remain as TRU’s top two source countries for international students, with India surpassing China as the top contributor this year – something Chadwick attributes to targeted marketing.
“India is our largest source country. Obviously there are a number of reasons. We targeted India a number of years ago when the return was very small,” Chadwick said. “With their population of young people and their education system we knew the demand would be huge.”
This increase in international enrolment isn’t something unique to TRU, either. Although the university has seen the largest increase in international enrolment of B.C. institutions, according to B.C. Alliance of Students chairperson Caitlin McCutchen, the trend is shared across B.C. and the country.
“It definitely is a trend. International enrolment is skyrocketing. More international students are enrolling than domestic at some institutions,” she said. “A lot of universities are actively marketing and recruiting in international pools. They can charge significantly more for tuition, and they can use that to supplement a lack of core funding from the province.”
While increases in international enrolment may remain steady or even grow in the next few years, McCutchen warns that institutions must be prepared for the stress such increases may have on their operational capacity.
“It may put a strain on class sizes and resources for students,” she said. “It definitely can’t keep increasing like this.”
Chadwick isn’t quite as concerned with the pressure international enrolment may put on TRU, yet she added that TRU must be prepared to handle the situation if these increases become a trend.
“The worst thing an institution can do is to invite these young people from around the world and not be prepared, not be able to provide that experience,” Chadwick said. “It would be even worse to jeopardize the education of Canadian students. We don’t want to take any of their seats away. We must prepare to handle it.”