TRU works to attract international learners

It’s hard not to get excited listening to Dr. Ray Sanders talk about the next step TRU Williams Lake campus is taking.

It’s hard not to get excited listening to Dr. Ray Sanders talk about the next step Thompson Rivers University Williams Lake campus is taking when it comes to attracting new students.

On May 2, a delegation of 11 agents from all of the world, including regions in places such as China, India and Saudia Arabia, will be in the city for an afternoon to see what the community has to offer international students.

Sitting in his office on a Tuesday afternoon, Sanders, who is the campus director, says Williams Lake can offer a true Canadian experience and he believes what international students will see when they get here will “blow them away,” the idea being to show them that Williams Lake is a great place to live and study.

The delegation has been to Kamloops before, but this will be the first time TRU is furthering the opportunity to include Williams Lake.

“That’s huge for us,” Sanders says.

Williams Lake, he adds, is a community that rallies around causes.

“I know from all my experiences in international education, as I assess what we have here in Williams Lake, it’s just a secret waiting to be told.”

The tour will kick off the push to attract international students set by the campus. In three years, the hope is to have 300 enrolled.

Kamloops, he explains, has reaped economic benefits of around $88 million generated annually in the community from the foreign students, who arrive with a single suitcase, and then proceed to purchase things they need and pay for rent.

Around 1,400 international students are enrolled there.

For Williams Lake, that could be an infusion of $12 million once there were 300 students attending school here.

“We’re fortunate that we’re able to bring Williams Lake campus into the TRU World fold,” Sanders says.

When Sanders is asked why he would pursue bringing international students to the community, he holds up three fingers.

First, to globalize the existing Canadian students’ view; second, to expand that global view into the community; and three, to increase the critical mass of the campus’s enrollment.

“We’re not displacing our existing students, but the infusion of more students will give us the opportunity to offer more programs,” he explains.

The plan is have eight to 10 students enrolled in the licenced practical nursing program in the fall of 2012.

By January, it’s anticipated the first big push of students will arrive because it will take time for students to obtain visas.

Sanders also believes the influx of international students will cause the faculty to think in new ways, and even the city to think in new ways.

“Another benefit of having international students is the long-term relationships that are built in the community.”

The initiative is also being prompted by the premier’s office, he says.

There are a handful of foreign students enrolled in Williams Lake who may have arrived in the community with a spouse, but the May 2 event will really be the first deliberate attempt to recruit.

Housing, he admits, will be a serious issue. However, he points to how many locals have opened up their homes to exchange students.

“This community brings in quite a few exchange students throughout the year and many local service clubs help with that.”

In the long run the plan is to build housing, but there’s a chicken-and-the-egg dilemma — does the university wait until the students are enrolled, and then build housing?

Once there are 300 students, it will catch the attention of the folks needed to build housing, Sanders says, adding the school year will run year-round because foreign students, once they arrive, don’t go home until they are finished their studies.

Grateful that TRU already has its TRU World program, Sanders says Williams Lake does not have to start from scratch.

When he arrived in Williams Lake a year and a half ago, student enrollment was down, and TRU World was getting too full so it made sense to ask if Williams Lake could be part of the program.

“TRU World has even paid for a Williams Lake website, which will be up and running fairly soon,” Sanders adds.