Thunder Bay

Lakehead University 1st Ontario site for Chinese private school operator

A large operator of private schools in China opened its third high school on a Canadian university campus when it launched its site at Lakehead University this month, and officials with the northwestern Ontario institution say it will help strengthen international student recruiting in Asia.

Maple Leaf Education opened private high school for Grades 10-12 at Lakehead in September

Lakehead University vice president David Barnett says strengthening the school's profile in China is behind a growing partnership with Maple Leaf Education, which operates dozens of private schools in China.

A large operator of private schools in China opened its third high school on a Canadian university campus when it launched its site at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay this month, and officials with the northwestern Ontario institution say it will help strengthen international student recruiting in Asia.

Maple Leaf Education has taught the British Columbia curriculum at its private schools in China and other countries since the mid-1990s, but opened its first two high schools in Canada at B.C. universities in 2016 and 2017. Earlier in September, Maple Leaf's Lakehead site opened with the first cohort of 33 Chinese students in Grades 10, 11 and 12.

The school in Thunder Bay will teach the Ontario high school curriculum.

The main benefit to Lakehead isn't necessarily that those students will transition to the university after they graduate, said David Barnett, the interim provost and vice president of academics at Lakehead, adding that he expects very few will.

What the partnership will do, Barnett said, is raise Lakehead's profile in China — a large market for international students, and one where Lakehead recruits heavily.

"Moreover than getting just the students that maybe want to stick around and go to university here, this is ... the largest school provider in China for private education," Barnett said of Maple Leaf Education. "The affiliation ... is certainly a great way for us to explore international student recruitment more broadly in China and beyond."

Maple Leaf leases space at the university's Avila Centre.

Canadian universities are increasingly relying on international student enrolment to sustain themselves, with one 2017 report projecting that the pool of university-aged prospective students from northern Ontario communities will continue to decline and likely won't recover.

Within the past decade, "we've gone from maybe 100, 150 students to close to 1,500 students now," Barnett said. "China's a clearly important part of that and one of the early locations we went in to."

Lakehead has also had a relationship with Maple Leaf Education for over a decade, Barnett said, which includes graduates from their schools in China coming to study in Thunder Bay.

Opportunity to learn on a university campus

The cohort at the Lakehead site will expand in subsequent years and include students from other countries as well, said Stuart McIlmoyle, the president of Maple Leaf's North American operations.

The school on-campus allows students to get a taste of university life while completing high school in North America, he said.

"They're focused on high school graduation, but with that opportunity to be able to be on a university campus," he said. "At our B.C. university partners, students are able to have that dual credit experience where they're taking university courses from a select suite of courses and they're able to receive high school credit for those courses."

McIlmoyle said something like that could also come to the Thunder Bay campus as well.

The opportunity for the students, however, isn't cheap. McIlmoyle said annual tuition is $19,800 Cdn — and with board, the uniform, insurance and out-of-school activities, the yearly cost generally sits around $35,000.

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