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Canada books 20% growth in 2017

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • Driven by continuing strong numbers from China and a notable expansion of Indian enrolments, Canada hosted a record 494,000 foreign students in 2017
  • This represents 20% growth over the year before, and a 41% increase since 2015
  • It also means that the country has met its goal to host 450,000 students by 2022 several years ahead of schedule

There were indications all along that Canadian recruiters were in for a strong year in 2017. And now the latest figures from Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) confirm another year of very strong growth.

As of 31 December 2017, there were 494,525 international students enrolled in Canadian institutions and schools. This represents an increase of 20% over the year before, and officially marks that the country has reached its long-term target – to host 450,000 foreign students by 2022 – a full five years ahead of schedule.

Taking a longer view, the number of international students in Canada has increased by just under 120% between 2010 and 2017, and by 41% between 2015 and 2017 alone.

“This clearly demonstrates the continuing attractiveness of Canada as a study destination,” said Canadian Bureau for International Education (CBIE) President Karen McBride. “Our research shows that international students choose Canada because of the quality of the Canadian education system and our reputation as a safe and tolerant country. This reputation is especially attractive now, given a changing global climate.”

As the following graphic reflects, China and India remain the most important drivers of Canada’s continuing growth.

Major sending markets for international students in Canada, 2017. Source: CBIE

Canada’s fastest-growing markets in 2017 were Vietnam (+89%), India (+63%), and Iran (+45%). India, however, is the big story as its 63% growth comes off an already large base of just over 76,000 students in 2016. There are now nearly 124,000 Indian students enrolled in Canada, up from 48,500 in 2015.

Vietnam continues to show strong growth as well, with nearly 15,000 students in the country in 2017, which represents a near-tripling of enrolment over the three years from 2015.

There are other notable growth areas as well, including Iran and Bangladesh. While promising for the future, many of these are on relatively small base enrolments from 2015 and 2016.

Canada’s fastest-growing markets for 2017. Source: CBIE

CBIE’s highlights the growth in higher education enrolments in particular, noting that, “The total number of post-secondary students in Canada is 370,975, a 20% jump over 31 December 2016. Canada now holds the fourth highest spot as receiver of post-secondary international students after the US, UK, and China, surpassing Australia and France.”

Measuring economic impact

Meanwhile, an updated economic impact estimate from Global Affairs Canada (GAC) lags behind the 2017 numbers by a year. Working off 2016 enrolment levels, GAC estimates that international students spent CDN$15.5 billion (US$12 billion) on tuition, accommodation, and discretionary spending in 2016, as compared to an estimated CDN$12.8 billion (US$10 billion) in overall spending the year before.

This more or less tracks with the 17.5% increase in international enrolment in Canada over those two years. A simple extension of the 2016 estimate would suggest that the direct economic impact of international students in Canada was likely in the area of CDN$18.5 billion (US$14.2 billion) in 2017. This point is reinforced by the GAC study, which notes that, “A 10% increase or decrease in spending by international students results in an approximately 10-11% change in economic impacts.”

This level of spending supported nearly 170,000 jobs across the country in 2016, and total spending by international students is now equivalent to nearly 15% of all of Canada’s service exports.

This means in turn that education is now the fourth largest export sector in the Canadian economy, after only auto manufacturing, oil, and gold mining. “Canada is known for its exports from resource sectors like oil, natural gas, logging and forestry,” notes the report. “Few people realise that international student spending also makes a substantial contribution. In 2016, the total amount of international student spending surpassed the value of Canada’s exports in lumber, liquefied petroleum or hydrocarbon gases, [aerospace], and wheat.”

For additional background, please see:

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