Smaller schools shouldn’t target international students

They serve should serve niche domestic markets


Often times, so much of our attention into post-secondary issues is focused on the large research-intensive schools that it’s easy to forget there’s a whole other world out there of mid-level universities, focusing on the undergraduate level, where changes in policy affect just as many students. Which is why a little nugget from Thompson Rivers University (TRU) caught my eye.

“I would like to see an improvement on the domestic side in the next few years,” said Ulrich Scheck, Provost and VP Academic, to Kamloops this Week. The numbers bear out that TRU has seen international enrolment rise 15 per cent in the last year, while domestic numbers have slightly dropped. These changes make sense from a pure market perspective—TRU became a full university in 2005, and is undoubtedly more attractive to international students than before. And at the same time, the fees for internationals ($450 per credit, as opposed to $121.15 for domestics) makes it attractive for the university, even discounting the built-in subsidies received by TRU for domestic students.

But does it make sense? UBC is a giant school, a key economic driver for all of British Columbia, and has spent 20 years building connections throughout Asia to ensure bright international students come to Canada. Increasing international seats while keeping domestic enrollment static make sense. TRU, on the other hand, serves Kamloops, the fifth largest city—in British Columbia. It simply serves a different niche than UBC, and just because it’s called a university doesn’t mean it should be pursuing the same strategies.

This isn’t to say that international students shouldn’t be welcome at smaller schools. But a heavy push for them only really makes sense in the context of a globally competitive university—your Waterloos, Toronto, et al.


Smaller schools shouldn’t target international students

  1. You have upheld the fine tradition of Macleans in showing your complete ignorance of what is really happening in universities that have stepped outside the traditional box you have defined with your outdated ranking criteria. Not only is TRU the fourth largest provincial university in BC, it’s a truly comprehensive institution that is regarded nationally and internationally for what it has been doing in the ‘internationalization’ of campus and curriculum. When it comes to the undergraduate university experience, why would any Canadian student want to be just another number in the 300+ seat classrooms of that giant school you seem to revere, when they have the option of a personal campus and a caring community, like TRU and Kamloops. Contrary to your highly uninformed opinion, this university doesn’t just serve Kamloops – it brings students from across Canada and the world (students from 75 different countries!) to Kamloops, and then takes Canadian and international students together into the global reality – literally and figuratively – that is our world today. Bigger is not better when it comes to the undergraduate university of today, and encouraging our students to become globally minded citizens (which is what TRU is doing) is quite different from just being globally competitive in recruiting students – which you mistakenly think is the exclusive domain of the arrogant giants among us!

  2. Justin McElroy says that Thompson Rivers University (TRU) shouldn’t recruit international students. The message seems to be that TRU, and by implication Kamloops BC, is too small to compete, that they should know their places and not try to rise above them. This is an interesting stance since TRU has more learners enrolled than most, if not all, of the individual universities in Atlantic Canada. By this reasoning would Mr. McElroy deny all small universities in small urban centres across Canada such as Acadia in Wolfville, University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, and St. Mary’s in Halifax the right to recruit international students?

    Canadian universities large and small are recruiting international students for very good reasons. Canada’s university graduates face a life and work environment where the fruits of their minds and labour will compete in a global market. The enrolment of international students at their university enables Canadian students to meet and learn from people from different cultures, with different life experiences, languages and worldviews. This is just one of the ways that universities prepare our graduates for their future in the global living room. The presence of international students also helps enlarge the student body and thus achieve the critical mass that universities need to offer more choices of courses and programs for domestic students. International students usually pay much higher fees which contribute to funding the infrastructure created by Canadian taxpayers. Some stay in Canada after graduation and contribute to our society. If they return home they are great ambassadors for Canada. Leaders with whom I recently had the chance to meet in India call it the “brain chain”. A Knowledge Society arises from a building a strong, vibrant and sustainable post-secondary education infrastructure.

    TRU set out to recruit international students in 1983, and is now regarded as a pioneer by other Canadian universities and its methods and treatment of international students are highly regarded as innovative models of best practice. Nearly 13% of TRU’s student body is international which is about the same as UBC and SFU and much smaller than that of McGill and SMU. Just as many domestic students prefer smaller more intimate universities in smaller and often more economical urban centers, so too do many international students. It’s not about size; it’s about quality and diversification and the opportunity to pursue a post-secondary education in a safe, interesting place.

    All of the reasons that Mr. McElroy gives for UBC to recruit internationally also apply to TRU and other “small” universities in Canada. We are all building stronger universities and economies in Canada. TRU and Kamloops should not be denied international students just because we are not as big as UBC and Vancouver; international students actively search for what TRU and Kamloops has to offer. After all, Waterloo was once a small university in a small centre and look at it now. At TRU we are planning for a successful future for our students both domestic and international, for the University and for Kamloops. International students will continue to be important to us.

  3. As a TRU student, I have to agree with some of what was said. I do not agree because TRU shouldn’t be competetive or whatever. I agree because I think TRU is sacrificing the quality of the student it is recruiting. I am a canadian born and raised student. In the program I was in, more then 50% of the students were international students. Cheating was a major problem. I watched quiz after quiz as the International students continued to cheat, yet they were not disciplined and even when they were caught red-handed, they weren’t kicked out. I 100% support TRU bringing in International students if they bring in students who have Canadian ethical beliefs. I don’t want to have to worry everytime I throw a piece of paper in the garbage that another student is going to steal it. I think the push to recruit international students because of the money they bring in is compromising the educational experience of the domestic students. I’m sorry but its the truth. I love TRU and want to see the University continue to grow. The small class sizes and 95% of the teachers totally rock, but. . . the cheating has got to go. I think the only way to make it stop is kick out every student who cheats, domestic or International. Put better monitoring for cheating in place. Video tape all quizzes, tests, mid-terms and finals to catch the cheaters. Finally stop recruiting all International Students and start only recruiting those international students that will contribute to academic excellence at the University. Pick quality students over quantity.