International education is a rapidly growing multi-billion dollar industry the provincial government likens to the lumber and mining sector and a major education management firm is hoping to cash in on its booming growth right here in Richmond.
Vancouver-based CIBT Education Group, whose most recognizable school is Sprott Shaw College, is hoping to attract international students to Richmond with a new development it's dubbing a "Global Education Centre."
The company is in the planning stages of building a 313-room hotel, largely designed for private post-secondary international students, in addition to a nine-storey campus building that will house classrooms for a number of private education companies, offices for education agents as well as student amenities such as a cafeteria, fitness centre and digital library.
Consider it a one-stop shop for learning. "We feel there are so many education institutions in Vancouver, being a world-class city, but they're all fragmented and spread out. The super centre concept is to aggregate maybe eight to 12 of these institutions - whether it's public or private and ESL or career-oriented," said CIBT President and CEO Toby Chu.
While the proposed development - to be built at the corner of No. 3 Road and Bridgeport Road - is still in the planning stage and under review by city staff, it didn't stop Chu from announcing another venture with a commercial hotel development on nearby Capstan Way this week. According to Chu a memorandum of understanding was signed between CIBT and the site's developer to rent out another 62 "student hotel suites" capable of accommodating up to 248 K-12 students in the summer months. Students would be able to walk to GEC, which would act as the hub.
Chu said the larger $120 million GEC development was initially proposed as a student dormitory but the city has the land zoned only for hotel use as it's under an airport flight path. That means the new proposal has CIBT operating a de-facto hotel that will nonetheless primarily cater to temporary students, Chu said.
If all goes accordingly GEC could be up and running in about four years.
Coun. Linda Barnes said if the proposal reaches city council many questions will be asked.
"There are always some issues around having any large group of people on a temporary basis coming into the community. It will have to have some discussion and work done to make sure it's a viable project," said Barnes.
According to the B.C. International Education Strategy of 2012 the government's goal is to increase the international student population to 140,000 by 2016. As of 2012 there were about 107,000 students and of that an estimated 47,000 were with private language schools - the prospective majority of GEC residents.
According to a government study, in 2012 international students contributed $2.1 billion to the economy - a 17 per cent increase from 2010. By comparison copper ore mining accounted for $1.9 billion in 2012.
Globally, the international education industry is expected to grow by 118 per cent by 2025, according to the study's sources.
A provincial government study noted private language school students are the highest spenders (compared to public K-12 or post-secondary school students) and are believed to contribute an annual average of about $33,000 to the economy.
However, one of the problems often cited within the industry is a lack of adequate housing, which according to Chu and education critics, is among the biggest problems damaging the industry's image in B.C. "The demand for housing far outstrips the supply," said Chu, who notes homestay mills exist in Metro Vancouver, where a single house will be entirely rented out to up to 10 international students, while the hosts provide minimal resources.
"It's terrible. It's becoming a problem for our education business. It's also hurting the public school image as well," said Chu.
The GEC hotel will follow models of micro-apartments typically found in South Korea and Japan.