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The Importance of International Students in the K to 12 Education Sector in Canada

Overview of the economic benefits of the internationalization of the primary and secondary school sectors

By Jeff Davis

This article will briefly discuss the importance of international students within K to 12 schools, and also the impact on the Canadian economy and local communities. This first section of this article explains how international students enrich school communities and support the internationalization efforts of K to 12 school districts. The second part of this article provides an overview of the economic benefits related to hosting international students in Canadian K to 12 schools in British Columbia.

According to the data from the Canadian Association of Public Schools International (CAPS-I), there are 127 public school districts hosting international students who are members of CAPS-I. Table 2.1 provides a breakdown of international programs by province.

Table 2.1
Canadian Association of Public Schools International: Members by Province


* The Province of Nova Scotia administers a provincial international program

Between 2007 and 2013, the top ten source countries for K to 12 school districts in Canada were: China, Korea, Mexico, Japan, Germany, Brazil, Vietnam, Taiwan, Nigeria, and France (CAPS-I, 2015). BC and Ontario continue to be the most active provinces with regard to the number of students and international programs.

Learning opportunities

Knight (2004) defined internationalization “as the process of integrating an international, intercultural, or global dimension into the purpose, functions, or delivery of post-secondary education” (p. 2). Recently, Kootenay Lake School District recently conducted a strategic internal review to support the development of an internationalization strategy at the K to 12 school district level (Kootenay Lake School District, 2015).

There is growing recognition in the K to 12 sector that international students enrich school communities by creating intercultural or global learning opportunities for local students and communities. These opportunities may also enhance what OECD (2016) describes as global competence which is defined as:

The capacity to analyse global and intercultural issues critically and from multiple perspectives, to understand how differences affect perceptions, judgments, and ideas of self and others, and to engage in open, appropriate and effective interactions with others from different backgrounds on the basis of a shared respect for human dignity. (p. 4)
In Canada’s K to 12 school districts there is a movement towards creating structured learning opportunities to support global competency. International students in Canadian K to 12 schools support these initiatives.

The Ottawa-Carleton and Calgary School Board’s International Certificate Programs are examples of successful initiatives which support the development of global and intercultural competencies. International students create opportunities for our local Canadian students to develop long-lasting friendships with individuals and groups coming from cultural origins that are different from their own. This may support the development of global networks and more peaceful and harmonious relations between countries. The majority of students in the K to 12 system live with home-stay families and this creates another avenue for local communities to develop global competence as international students live with host families for the duration of their studies in Canada.

Economic impact

The economic impact of international students at the post-secondary and K to 12 level in Canada cannot be understated. According to Global Affairs Canada (2016),
In 2014, expenditures in Canada associated with international students (all sectors) amounted to $11.4 billion, which in turn contributed $9.3 billion to Canada’s GDP and provided significant economic benefits to every region of the country. It also helped sustain some 123,000 jobs across Canada and generated $2.1 billion in tax revenues for all levels of government. To put this in perspective, $11.4 billion in educational service exports was equivalent to 11.9 percent of Canada’s total service exports. In 2014 this was greater than Canada’s wheat, lumber or financial services exports, and was roughly equal to Canada’s exports of auto parts. (p. 1)

International students are acknowledged as generating considerable funds that subsidize public spending in K to 12 school districts (Kunin, 2010, 2013). The economic benefits to the hosting school district are significant—the fees that international students remit enhance existing school district programs and create jobs for teachers and support staff. According to Kunin (2013), during the 2011-2012 school year international students in the K to 12 sector in British Columbia spent $182,363,821 on tuition fees.

International students in British Columbia

Currently, 47 of 60 school districts in BC host international students (BC Ministry of Education, 2013). BC’s K to 12 international education sector serves 18,711 international students (BC Ministry of Education, 2016). BC school districts still have the operational capacity or space available in public schools to host international students. International programs help maintain the K to 12 public education system in BC by filling spots in school districts where space is available.

In summary, international students in our K to 12 schools support learning opportunities and the development of global and intercultural competencies. This presents tremendous opportunities for our local students to have international experiences in their own communities. The economic contributions of international students to Canada cannot be overlooked. These contributions promote job growth and prosperity for our local communities which occur because international students choose Canada as a destination for their educational endeavours.


Jeff Davis is the Director of the International Student Program for the Greater Victoria School District and the Vice President of CAPS-I. He has worked in Greater Victoria School District’s International Program for the past ten years. Prior to that, he was an educator in Japan for five years and also worked at the Nagasaki Foundation for the Promotion of Peace. He started his career in education as a teacher in the Maple Ridge School District.



British Columbia Ministry of Education. (2013). K-12 international education regional roundtables. Victoria, BC: Author.

British Columbia Ministry of Education. (2016). International education and home-stay in BC. Victoria, BC: Author.

Canadian Association for Public Schools International. (2015). A comparative market assessment of international K to 12 students in Canada. San Carlos, CA: The Illuminate Consulting Group.

Global Affairs Canada. (2016). Economic impact of international education in Canada – 2016 update. Retrieved from:

Kootenay Lake School District. (2015). International program review. Paper presented at the British Columbia Council for International Education, Summer Seminar, Whistler, BC: Author.

Kunin, R. (2010). The economic impact of international education in British Columbia. Report of the British Columbia Council for International Education. Vancouver, BC.

Kunin, R. (2013). An update on the economic impact of international education in British Columbia. Report of the British Columbia Council for International Education, Vancouver, BC.
OEDC (2016). OECD: Global competency for an inclusive world. Retrieved from:


Lucie Morillon
Lucie Morillon is the Bilingual Content & Communications Co-ordinator for CERIC. With a passion for quality content, she connects with her online communities and provides strong resources to engage members – and always encourages new ones to get involved. She identifies, creates and curates the content destined for the ContactPoint website, the weekly CareerWise newsletter and Careering magazine.

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