A West Coast approach to relations with China

Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin put the spotlight on education during his 10-day delegation to China this month.

After a similar delegation trip in 2010, the mayor visited China again on Oct. 20 to create opportunities for Victoria’s education, tourism and high tech sectors. Joining him were 25 delegates — representatives from the city, UVic, Royal Roads University, Camosun College, the Greater Victoria Development Agency, the B.C. International Trade and Investment Office and others.

The high-tech industry is Victoria’s largest, bringing in $2.65 billion a year, with tourism coming second at $1.9 billion annually.

Explaining the reason for this trip’s focus on education, Fortin says, “It’s an opportunity to attract international students,” who he estimates contribute $1 million per month to our local economy.

Seventy-seven per cent of UVic students come from away, whether that is up-island, somewhere else in B.C. or other countries. According to UVic, more than 1 600 international students from 100 countries choose UVic every year.

“Victoria is a tourist town, a government town. I think sometimes people forget it’s a university town,” Fortin says. He adds that it is “important . . . to maintain the infrastructure to help universities succeed and hopefully not raise tuitions.”

During the delegation to China two years ago, Fortin signed an agreement with the city of Changsha to promote education, science and technology, tourism and trade between the two cities.

That same agreement included a partnership between UVic and two universities based in Changsha (a memorandum of understanding with Hunan University and a letter of intent with Changsha University) to mutually promote each other’s business school’s executive programs. So far, UVic has hosted two groups of MBA students from Hunan University.

This year, Saul Klein, the Dean of UVic’s business school, worked on deepening this partnership to include degree and non-degree programs.

“I had a very productive meeting with the dean of the business school at Hunan University and his senior team,” says Klein, who also visited partner schools in Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou.

When encouraging investment in Victoria, Fortin says the West Coast lifestyle is an important part of the city’s brand.

“Specifically in Changsha, lots of university students and young people are involved in really expanding the economy. They’re very interested in ‘how do we get microbreweries,’ ‘how do we develop local markets and organic food’ — all that West Coast lifestyle that’s now perceived as good for you as an individual but also important for your economy to attract people,” explains Fortin.

Victoria’s discussions in China about tourism will also trickle benefits into education, says Fortin.

“We often say everyone begins as a tourist in Victoria and will end up as a student, investor or resident,” he says.

Dallas Gislason, economic development officer of the Greater Victoria Development Agency, says the long-term implications of being an education destination include having an alumni network around the world.

“It puts Victoria on the map internationally and gives us a solid network that will pay off for decades as young people are educated . . . in Victoria, then go off to Singapore . . . and all these other cities around the world,” says Gislason.

Fortin says it’s important to have local contacts in China to work with.

“It helps you get in the market [in China], and it helps you to get through the government regulations. Those opportunities for joint ventures and partnerships are extremely important for those local firms [in Victoria] that want to develop markets and sell products and ideas in China,” says Fortin.

When asked about his thoughts on Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s controversial Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Act — which will give China significant power over our country’s politics and natural resources — Fortin says Victoria’s focus is on supporting local businesses.

“It’s where our economy’s future is. We’re on the ground to help the little guys, and we see that as our role in Victoria,” he says.

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