B.C.: Government of China has stepped into B.C. teachers’ strike
The government of China has stepped into the B.C. teachers’ strike and that is raising concern about a major source of lucrative international students for B.C. school boards.
Officials from the Chinese Consulate in Vancouver met recently with Education Ministry officials to express concerns about the teachers’ strike, which has delayed the start of the school year by nearly two weeks, with no end in sight.
Several Chinese parents asked the consulate to intervene, consulate officials said. They added that they met with B.C. officials on Friday to “relay the concerns of the parents to local administrators.”
The concerns will likely be cause for alarm for the Liberal government, which set a goal to raise the number of international students by 50 per cent over four years. International students are valued both for their immediate contributions to the economy in the form of tuition fees and living expenses, and for their potential as immigrants to Canada.
While B.C. does not collect data on the country of origin of international students, a ministry report from 2012 lists the top sources as South Korea and China.
The international student market is fickle and the financial stakes are high.
In 2003, education officials in New Zealand held an emergency meeting to try to save the international student sector after the number of Chinese students fell dramatically. This happened after a politician in New Zealand made anti-Asian remarks and tougher immigration laws and stringent English language laws were introduced, attracting negative attention in China.
Students in B.C. have already missed 20 days of school between last June and this September due to the school strike.
In Vancouver alone, there are 1,473 international students who have paid $13,000 in tuition to attend public school this year. Across B.C. there are about 14,000 international students in kindergarten through Grade 12, 11,000 of whom are in public schools.
Tuition fees from international students are an important source of revenue for school boards, with the Vancouver board grossing several million dollars a year from the program, money that assists with programs for all students.
“The economic benefit of growth in international education provides a major boost to B. C. communities,” the ministry report says.
When asked about the meeting between the ministry and the Chinese officials, Education Minister Peter Fassbender said he understands the past few months have been challenging for students and families both from here and abroad.
“In B.C. we are very proud of our world-class education system and the strong reputation we have here in Canada and around the world. In the long run, the best way to maintain this reputation is to reach a negotiated agreement that provides teachers with a fair wage increase and improved supports for classroom needs,” Fassbender said in a statement.
The head of the association representing private schools in B.C. said he would not be surprised to hear that foreign students are unhappy, given that most of the international students in B.C. prepaid school districts for classes that have been cancelled.
It’s another example of how “economically, our province is going to pay dearly for the strike,” said Peter Froese, executive director of the Federation of Independent School Associations.
“With the Asian community, all of these students have to pay in advance so they are paying their $13,000 or $15,000 up front and they should be in classes and they are not,” he said. “Some of the schools are saying they’re not giving refunds. That puts the purchaser who has bought the service at a big disadvantage, and that’s a bit of a concern out there.”