Canadian school boards and universities are relaxing admission criteria for international students, a measure aimed at bringing in much-needed new revenue.

The Toronto District School Board says it is negotiating a partnership with the University of Toronto that would include waiving the required English proficiency exam for foreign students who have completed two years of high school at the Toronto board.

Limestone District School Board in Kingston, Ont., has partnered with Queens University, which pays a portion of the board’s recruiting costs, and the first year of the partnered program begins this fall. Students studying at one of the board’s schools receive conditional acceptance into Queens’ faculty of arts and science at the beginning of Grade 12. As part of the partnership, Queens reduced its required score for language proficiency.

Over the past decade, the number of foreign students in Canadian secondary schools has increased by 30 per cent as boards seek revenue to make up for budget shortfalls caused by declines in enrolment.

Internationally, Canada’s main rivals in the battle for foreign students’ are the United States, the U.K. and Australia.

Cal Bowry, who oversees the Limestone-Queens pathway program, said working with Queens helps distinguish the board from the many others across Canada that offer international programs.

“We’re, in a way, competing with each other for top-quality students,” he said.

The new partnerships formalize what many foreign students who attend high school in Canada are already planning, said Bonnie McKie, the executive director of the Canadian Association of Public Schools International.

In Ms. McKie’s experience, students from Asia in particular will stay in Canadian high schools for multiple years through graduation and then move to postsecondary, while Latin American and European students tend to stay for only a semester or two.

Interest is also emerging from new areas, including Thailand, Vietnam, Turkey and Chile.

“Many of them are thinking longer term, of course, their goal may not be a high school diploma, it would be postsecondary education,” Ms. McKie said.

In 2012 alone, more than 23,000 new foreign students attended high school in Canada, most from China, Korea, Mexico, Germany and Brazil. The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board has grown to more than 1,000 foreign students from 35 in 1999. The Vancouver School Board’s international recruitment began more than a decade ago, and has expanded over the past five years to more than 15,000.

One year of tuition for a foreign student can be as high as $13,000, with total revenues from this source for the Vancouver School Board expected to reach $20-million in the upcoming academic year.

“We’ve been putting a lot of attention into marketing of [the international student program] because it’s a serious revenue source. It’s one of the only few revenue sources the school board has,” said Mike Lombardi, the vice-chair of the Vancouver school board.

Finding a way for high-school students to move straight to postsecondary also saves money on travel and admission costs, said Randall Martin, executive director of the British Columbia Council for International Education.

“That’s sort of the business case now, is why make everybody recruit students more than once, why not just do it once and just make logical pathways or transitions for them throughout the system?” he said.

The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, for example, shares marketing materials and information on which countries it is recruiting from with Carleton University, the University of Ottawa and Algonquin College, and also offers conditional acceptance to Carleton before students arrive in Ottawa if they meet all the requirements for the degree program.

In times of reduced enrolment in Canada, the revenue from foreign students is saving teachers’ jobs, Mr. Martin said.

“You’re keeping schools open and you’re keeping classrooms open because of this population,” he said.

High school enrolment fell by nearly 3,000 students over the past 10 years in North Vancouver’s district school board, and superintendent John Lewis said it is expected to decline for the next few years.

Vancouver, Ottawa-Carlton, Limestone and the Toronto District School Board are also experiencing downward enrolment because of demographic shifts.

The TDSB unanimously passed an internationalization and global strategy in April, including a goal to increase the number of foreign students in its schools, which took in 1,534 in 2012-13.

Foreign students say the university partnership strategy led them to pick Canada. Felix Li, 18, arrived from Tianjin, China, in July, and will be the first student in the Limestone-Queens pathway program this fall. He said that, from a young age, he wanted to study business at a Canadian university and “the business school of Queens is one of the best in Canada, even in the world.”

Mr. Li said he chose Limestone because the lower requirement for the language test was attractive.

The Globe and Mail
Published Tuesday, Aug. 12 2014, 8:07 PM EDT
Last updated Wednesday, Aug. 13 2014, 5:54 AM EDT