UBC powerful draw for international students

International students indicated overwhelming interest in UBC at several educational fairs held throughout Asia earlier this year, says the co-ordinator of UBC's international student recruitment initiative.

UBC representatives attended five educational fairs in January -- one each in Taiwan, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia -- with a total estimated attendance of 8,100 students.

"UBC was the largest draw at each of the fairs," says Don Wehrung, a professor of Commerce and Business Administration who was appointed last November to spearhead the university's drive for international students.

"About 45 per cent of the students attending spoke to UBC representatives who were vying with anywhere from 25 to 50 other Canadian educational institutions."

Although interest was expressed in almost all areas taught at UBC, demand for information on English language programs, engineering, business and computer science was particularly high, he said. Also, interest in graduate programs exceeded that for undergraduate programs in some countries.

Initially, UBC's international student recruitment efforts will focus on Pacific Rim countries where UBC enjoys a high recognition factor, although students from all nations will be encouraged to apply.

Marketing and operational strategies to make UBC competitive with other institutions seeking a broader-based international student body are being developed, including a streamlined application and admission process.

"The steering committee is exploring ways of providing one-stop shopping at both the undergraduate and graduate levels to ensure that students receive a quicker response, recognizing that this can affect their decision as to which institution they attend," Wehrung says.

Other considerations in the overall strategic plan for UBC's international student recruitment initiative include space planning, funding issues and UBC's language requirement standards.

"Many universities in the U.S., Australia and the United Kingdom offer conditional acceptances to applicants who have strong academic records but English language proficiency that is slightly below normal entrance standards," Wehrung explains.

"These applicants are required to attend ESL classes for several months before beginning their academic programs, and they must still pass a language proficiency test similar to UBC's Language Proficiency Index (LPI). Perhaps we should consider this type of option."

Currently, all undergraduate degree programs at UBC require at least three credits of first-year English; most require six. Before enrolling in any first-year English course, students must complete the LPI and achieve a minimum score of 30 out of 40 on the essay section of the exam.

Despite these challenges, Wehrung stressed that operational strategies for expansion at the international level will not be at the expense of domestic students or encroach on academic standards.

Currently, there are 650 international students in undergraduate programs at UBC representing 2.6 per cent of the total undergraduate enrolment, and another 341 in exchange programs. UBC's Board of Governors has approved expanding spaces for international students in each undergraduate program to up to 15 per cent of total enrolment.

Twenty-two per cent of the total graduate enrolment -- or 1,333 students -- are from other nations.