Barry Low
The Navigator

Domestic student enrollment at VIU is dwindling—the international student community, however, is refusing to follow suit. The international student population on campus is balancing the continuing drop in domestic student enrollment. Could VIU become primarily an academic study centre for international students? Hypothetically, yes, in future decades. The following numbers have been rounded for readability.

During the 2008-2009 academic year, there were 18,600 domestic students at VIU. By 2012-2013, those numbers dropped to 15,400—a decrease of 3200 students, or 17 per cent of the total domestic student population.

VIU’s international student community at VIU in 2008-2009 numbered 1250. By 2012-2013, the number of international students enrolled grew to 1700—an increase of 26 per cent in only four years. During the 2012-2013 academic year, that number increased again by another nine per cent. The University of British Columbia had a five per cent growth in international enrollment over the same period. While VIU has been able to maintain high visibility as a study destination for international students, Camosun College eclipsed our campus with an astounding growth of 35.7 per cent over the previous year.

Nationally, the top source country remains China, which represented 30 per cent of Canada’s international student population in 2012—a total equal to India, Korea, and Saudi Arabia combined, which follow as the next highest. As a study destination, Canada came in seventh behind other nations such as the United States, United Kingdom, China, France, and Germany.

The economic impact that international students have on Canada is astounding; in 2010, $8 billion was generated, and accounted for 81,000 jobs. In a separate 2012 study taken in British Columbia, the economic impact was $2.1 billion and created more than 23,400 jobs.

Clearly, VIU’s popularity on the international scene has been growing, and so have the benefits for Nanaimo. International students graduate from a variety of VIU programs and pursue successful careers in Canada or internationally, their graduation creates available seats, and selling VIU generates applications to admission for those seats and is integral to maintaining or increasing international enrollment.

Dr. Geoff Wilmshurst, International Director of Camosun College in Victoria, has had the largest hand in increasing the number of international students from less than 400 two years ago to 800 today. When Wilmshurst first stepped into the position in 2011, international enrolment was declining—despite the campus’ reputation with domestic students and connections with downtown Victoria. He accomplished this by revamping the structure—increasing the number of overseas recruitment agents from ten to 100, streamlining the system to provide better service, and pulling out the stoppers to speed up the application process.

While Camosun College is a clearly successful comeback, its newfound reputation has not dissuaded overseas students from enrolling in VIU, yet we’re still up nine per cent over 2012-2013. What continues keeping VIU/Nanaimo in the contender’s corner? We have a beautiful city. The waterfront walk is spectacular with its marinas and shops, eateries and places to stop for a glass of wine. Downtown is a ten minute walk from the bus exchange.

The programs at VIU are taught in classroom sizes of between 40-70 seats. With instruction in ESL (English as a Second Language), MBA (Master of Business Administration) and BBA (Bachelor of Business Administration studies). VIU also has an extensive selection in other program areas and courses. Some international students admit they would prefer being with their friends who study at different universities. A young woman remarked that maybe VIU was a better choice because, without her friends nearby, she spends more time studying and she can always drive to Victoria to visit. An ESL student interviewed by Camosun College said that it was easier for her to learn English here because there aren’t many other Chinese people. The first student and her circle of friends indicate that VIU is not an unusually popular study destination for international students. Each campus, she said, has its own micro-culture and environmental beauty, and that is what makes Canadian universities popular destinations.

A 2013 survey conducted by the Canadian Bureau for International Education (CBIE) found that 80 per cent of 1509 international students’ responses indicated that Canada was their first and only choice as a university study destination. 91 per cent said they were satisfied or very satisfied with their educational experience in Canada, and 96 per cent of the indicated they would recommend Canada to others as a study destination.

“VIU is young in the university world,” answered a South Asian student. “You are unknown, not unpopular. Your name, Vancouver Island University, is not being marketed widely enough. You’ve been better known as Malaspina University-College.”

Another student from India told me that when she announced to her friends back home that she would be going to Vancouver Island University, they looked at her quizzically. It wasn’t until she told them that VIU used to be Malaspina that they recognized the name.

A student from South Asia said that many international students have been studying hard in ESL, MBA, BBA, and other career course choices. “We’ve been busy learning the Canadian culture at VIU, touring places, participating in our own social culture… like Starbucks,” he laughed. “We’re busy from 6am until 11pm almost every day. We don’t have time to think about our expectations.”