COVID-19 could be a “gut shot” to B.C. schools and universities that rely on fees from international students, an immigration expert said Thursday, as two private post-secondary schools in Vancouver closed their doors because of a case of the novel coronavirus.
University Canada West said a student is in quarantine after being visited by her father. The father tested positive for COVID-19 after arriving from overseas for a visit and developing symptoms, according to Dr. Bonnie Henry, the provincial health officer. The student’s roommate is also in quarantine.
The business school and an arts and design school in the same building on West Pender Street will be closed for three days to do a deep cleaning.
“Students and staff who may have been in close contact with the affected students have been identified and contacted with information and advice,” said a UCW media release.
B.C. schools and universities said the coronavirus outbreak hasn’t significantly affected their international student programs, but administrators are monitoring the situation with an eye toward September enrolment.
At Simon Fraser University, a university-wide planning group is looking at possible impacts from the virus, including finances, said Angela Wilson, senior director of media relations and public affairs. SFU has not seen declining enrolment since visa offices have been closed in China and Iran, but they are monitoring the situation closely.
UBC has not seen any enrolment drops, but the situation is constantly evolving, said the director of university affairs, Matthew Ramsey.
UBC is working with prospective international students on a “case by case basis” to help those who may be experiencing difficulties getting their applications together, extending some deadlines to the end of March.
Ramsey could not say how many applications have been affected. UBC typically doesn’t have solid enrolment numbers until November.
“We are watching this really, really carefully,” he said about the virus, adding the university is following the advice of Canadian health authorities, including the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.
In January, UBC created a working group of people from across campus to discuss issues related to the virus, including how classes and exams might be offered using technology if attendance was no longer advisable.
Impacts on the Vancouver school district’s international student program “are minimal at present,” according to a statement provided to Postmedia.
“VSB programs are linear and the majority of international students arrive in August to study here. Given our enrolment timelines, it’s too early to provide enrolment details (for the) next school year.”
But Vancouver immigration lawyer Richard Kurland said the coronavirus should be a concern for schools and universities as the closure of some Canadian visa application centres abroad will make it difficult for students hoping to attend school here.
“Canadian schools are about to experience a cash crunch,” he said. “Stopping the visa application centres is like shutting off the water flow. They might not feel it yet, but it’s coming.”
Kurland said international students who are currently studying in Canada may not be able to return home. Students are not allowed to work more than 20 hours per week off campus.
“That should be lifted immediately. They should be entitled to work to support themselves,” he said.
Several school districts have cancelled field trips because of the virus, including Vancouver, Surrey and Burnaby. Overseas trips have been cancelled as well as those to New York City, Seattle, Burlington and Vancouver, Washington.
Also this week, the annual Asia-Pacific Association for International Education conference scheduled to be held in Vancouver later this month was postponed to March 2021. More than 2,500 people were registered to attend, said a news release.
In 2018, the B.C. government said the province had attracted more foreign students per capita than anywhere else in Canada — 130,000 in total — stating they inject $2 billion each year into the economy, creating 29,000 jobs.
In 2016, 28 per cent of UBC’s first-year contingent were foreign students.
A report on B.C. international students published in 2018 found that 13.7 per cent of post-secondary students in B.C. in 2016-17 were from outside Canada, as well as 7.7 per cent of the graduating Grade 12s. China (38 per cent) and India (21 per cent) were the two main sources of international students studying in B.C.
With Postmedia files