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.

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