The Canadian province of British Columbia plans to increase its international student population by 50 percent over the next four years through closer educational cooperation with China.
With B.C. Education Minister George Abbott arriving in Shanghai Saturday to begin a 10-day mission throughout the country, the aim of his trip is to strengthen relationships with Chinese school districts, education service providers, educational agencies, as well as students and teachers.
The western province currently has 94,000 international students, ranging from kindergarten pupils to university graduates, and aims to increase the number by 47,000 by the 2015-2016 school year.
"International education is win-win for all involved," Abbott said Friday before departing for his trip that includes stops in Dalian, Tianjin and Beijing.
"International students enrich the learning and living experiences for all involved and provide significant social, cultural, and economic benefits to communities throughout the province," he said.
According to the latest figure available from the B.C. Ministry of Education, international students contributed 1.8 billion Canadian dollars (abount 1.81 billion U.S. dollars) to the province's economy in 2010.
With each 10-percent increase in international students, the province estimates it creates 1,800 new jobs and a contribution of 100 million Canadian dollars (abount 100.8 million U.S. dollars) to the local economy.
During his trip, Abbott will also sign four memorandums of understanding to lay the groundwork for new B.C.-certified offshore schools in China. The schools, in Shanghai, Hebei and Guangxi, are the newest additions to a network of 24 schools currently in the country.
These kindergarten to Grade 12 (K-12) schools deliver a B.C. curriculum taught by native-English speaking teachers and offer a B.C. Dogwood graduation diploma that is recognized worldwide.
In addition, with China introducing a new education reform and development program aimed at opening up Chinese education to the outside world through exchanges and collaboration, Abbott said the plan would create more opportunities for B.C. students to study abroad. About 10 percent of the province's 4.53 million people are of Chinese origin.
"China has a new, innovative plan for education that places great emphasis on opening Chinese education to the outside world through student exchanges and collaboration," Abbott said. "Our message will be that British Columbia is in an ideal position to help the Chinese government meet its education objectives."
With the B.C.'s low birthrate and aging population, part of the underlying reason for this recruitment drive is that it is hoped that many of the students will choose to stay upon completing their education and contribute to the province's workforce.
Over the next decade, B.C. estimates there will be more than one million new job openings in the province. However, there are currently only 650,000 students enrolled in its educational system. Professions particularly in demand include various industrial trades, health care, engineering and food, among others.
With the great international reputation of the province's K-12 system for international education, Abbott added this leaves students welled prepared for post-secondary opportunities in either B.C. or around the world.
"We offer a multicultural environment, a safe, welcoming home to international students, choice in programming, and high-quality education ranked by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) as among the top five in the world in some disciplines," he said.
"International students can benefit from B.C.'s world-class K-12 education system, whether they study in B.C. or attend our offshore schools. This mission will help us to refine and finalize our jobs plan strategy for international education, particularly with respect to the K-12 sector," he added.