University students a major retail market

International students at the University of the Fraser Valley are pumping about $32 million a year into the local economy, says UFV president Mark Evered.

International students at the University of the Fraser Valley are pumping about $32 million a year into the local economy, says UFV president Mark Evered.

“That’s a lot of money coming into the businesses of the Fraser Valley,” he said, at a Chilliwack Chamber of Commerce lunch last week.

Most of the 800 international students attend classes at UFV’s Abbotsford campus, he said, but programs are being developed that would see more coming to Chilliwack’s new $40-million campus, which will open later this year.

“Let’s be frank, these are not poor students,” Evered said, and each spends about $40,000 a year, $13,000 on tuition and the remainder on accommodation, food, clothing, cars and family visits.

Evered was talking to the chamber about the unique “partnership” UFV has with Chilliwack, and with each of the communities it serves in the Fraser Valley.

The university has a total student population of about 16,000 plus 1,500 staff, making it larger than some B.C. communities, such as Comox, Terrace and Salmon Arm.

And these young students form a major market, not only for sales, but as a pool of trained, creative talent for the future.

Evered said the training students get in trades or professions at UFV is a “portal to this new world.”

“If we get it right, they’ll be building the economy and the businesses here that we can be proud of,” he said.

So the university sees its role as going “well beyond traditional eduction,” he said, to form an integral part of the social, cultural, economic and environmental development of the Fraser Valley.

“We owe you a first-class university that serves your region,” he said.

UFV has grown in the past 20 years, from a community college holding classes in church basements and storefronts, to a full, degree-granting university because of the tenacity of local residents, Evered said.

“We’re no longer a little university,” he said, and pointed to a recently signed agreement with a Dutch university that is just the kind of partnership “with industry, with universities, and with the community … that’s the kind of university we’re trying to build.”

But he added that funding for UFV will continue to be an issue as government resources are stretched thin.

The B.C. government currently contributes $56 million annually, or just over half of UFV’s $100-million budget. Only one-quarter comes from student tuition, the remaining one-quarter is raised by donations and other fundraising endeavors.

“The reality is we’re going to have to find other ways to fund our institutions,” Evered said.

He asked the business community to take an active role in the university’s goal of serving the region, through donations or by hiring students.

“Only together can we make this your university,” he said.

rfreeman@theprogress.com