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Canada had another strong year of growth in 2019

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • Canada’s foreign enrolment reached a record high of 642,480 last year
  • India and, to a lesser extent, a number of key emerging markets, contributed nearly all of that year-over-year growth
  • While China remains a key sending market for Canada, Chinese numbers, in contrast, were essentially flat between 2018 and 2019
Canada had another strong year of growth in 2019

New data shows that Canada is now behind only the US and Australia – and essentially vying with the UK for third place – among the world’s top study destinations.

New Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) data shows that the number of international students in Canada grew by 13% year-over-year, making 2019 the fourth year of double-digit growth for the country’s foreign enrolment. Over the past five years, international student numbers in Canadian institutions and schools have grown by 82% to reach 642,480 as of December 2019. This makes Canada the fastest-growing among the world’s leading study destinations for the period 2014 through 2019.

Of the 74,350 international students added to the country’s enrolment base in 2019, about 65% are from India alone. The following table highlights the biggest growth stories of the year as well as how much larger each country’s contribution to Canadian enrolments is now compared with 2015.

Selected growth markets for Canada, 2015–2019. Source: IRCC
Selected growth markets for Canada, 2015–2019. Source: IRCC

Notably absent from that table is China. While Chinese students still make up a huge proportion of the international student population in Canada – 141,400 or 22% of total enrolment for 2019 – their numbers did not grow last year. After years and years of steady growth, Chinese numbers in Canada were essentially flat between 2018 and 2019, and even declined slightly over the two years from 141,995 to 141,400.

The lack of growth is worth commenting on. It dovetails with a few other trends:

  • China remains the world’s largest contributor of international students. It sent 369,550 to the US in 2018/19 (+1.7%), 120,385 to the UK in 2018/19 (+13%) and more than 200,000 to Australia in 2019. Canada, like these other top destinations, continues to be heavily reliant – and vulnerable to changes in – the Chinese market.
  • The impact of the Covid-19 virus on Chinese outbound is already being felt and will continue to affect the international education marketplace for some time.

For example, a late-2019 report from consultancy Education Rethink examined student visa data (or their closest equivalent) for Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States to provide insights regarding the extent of the slowdown – especially relative to growth trends from other source markets.

The report, entitled Rethinking China: The End of the Affair, observed that,

“When viewed in the aggregate, growth in Chinese student demand for the four major English-language study destinations has slowed considerably since 2016…The number of student visas or their closest equivalent issued to Chinese nationals for the US, UK, Canada and Australia grew a total of 4.5% from 2016 through the latest period for which data is available in 2019. This may not sound like much of a slowdown, but consider that the number of total outbound Chinese students grew 22% from 2016 to 2018 alone. Chinese students continue to go abroad in droves, but they are increasingly looking beyond the traditional destination markets.”

Was 2019 truly more diverse?

Canada’s current internationalisation strategy emphasises student market diversification, and this year’s IRCC data might well be evidence of this plan solidifying on Canadian campuses. Notably, Colombia, Vietnam, and the Philippines were highlighted as high-priority markets in the strategy document, and the number of students from these countries rose substantially. There were 40% more Colombians in 2019 than 2018, 7% more Vietnamese, and 54% more Filipino students. Numbers over five years are even more astounding; for example, there were 345% more Vietnamese students in Canada in 2019 than in 2015.

Not coincidentally perhaps, Vietnam and the Philippines are also on the list of countries where students are able to access the Student Direct Stream (SDS), an expanding programme available in selected markets that aims to streamline the application process and speed processing times for Canadian study permits.

It is, from a risk management perspective, a healthy trend that a wider field of emerging markets is contributing to the continuing growth for Canada. On the other hand, the country’s foreign student base continues to rely heavily on Chinese and Indian enrolments. Together, China and India accounted for nearly six in ten foreign students in Canada in 2019, suggesting that the strategy to diversify further remains an important and pressing priority for Canadian educators.

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