B.C.’s new Minister of Advanced Education, Andrew Wilkinson, has been on the job for a month now. All too often Ministers of Advanced Education get so wrapped up – or more to the point “bogged down” – in the much larger university and colleges side of their portfolio that it can often take a year or more before they realize how significant the international education part of their portfolio is to the overall B.C. economy. It is important for all of us in B.C. to realize the economic significance of the international “English as a Second Language” (ESL) industry in B.C.
Let me explain why.
Language instruction for international students in B.C. is directly responsible for one billion dollars in economic activity every year. It is the province’s fourth largest export industry and employs 24,000 British Columbians.
Add in the economic activity that international students generate when they eat in B.C. restaurants, travel all over the province, and the “Home Stay” income received by thousands of B.C. families and that figure balloons to more than $3 billion in economic activity for B.C.
For thousands of home stay parents, the home stay income helps to pay mortgages and put food on the table; and the relationships that grow from home stays make our world a little smaller.
Thousands of students who visit B.C. and then go back to their home countries are walking talking commercials that entice others to visit our province – effectively mini ambassadors that we send all over the world!
However, all of this economic activity – from the staff employed by the 100 plus language schools in B.C. to tourism and “Home Stay” – could be lost if the Province does not take steps to allow the industry to flourish and innovate rather than add overburdening regulations, hurdles, and debilitating taxes and fees.
Currently the industry successfully “self-regulates” under the guidance of the governments Educational Quality Assurance (EQA) program and the industry’s own regulatory and accreditation association, Languages Canada.
With the current fear that government regulatory changes will add substantial costs and burdens, language schools are unable to budget or plan effectively to welcome international language students on study permits to learn about, enjoy and help drive the economy of B.C. and Canada.
The provincial government needs to allow the industry to innovate and grow as Nova Scotia has done with legislation or as Alberta has done with industry supported regulations.
B.C.’s private Language schools report that agents abroad are starting to direct educational language tourism students to Australia, the UK and even the USA rather than risk working with the uncertainty of B.C.
B.C. complies with the new Citizenship and Immigration Canada regulations and protects international students with a world recognized, self-regulated accreditation along with further financial assurances through Languages Canada and our own EQA assurance program.
Let’s strive to strengthen what we already have!
At a time of economic uncertainty, Minister Wilkinson should be working with language schools to grow and innovate this three billion dollar industry rather than considering bureaucratic changes that could cause it to stagnate and shut down.
* Jonathan Kolbe is Executive Director of the International Language Academy of Canada