Study Shows International Students Increasingly Important to Canada’s Higher Education Institutions

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International Students Increasingly Important to Canada’s Colleges and Universities: Study
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Canadian universities and colleges are increasingly wooing international students to study in Canada – especially those from China – to boost their bottom line, a Statistics Canada study reveals.

China is the source of more than half of all international students in Canada.

During the decade that closed at the end of the 2018-19 academic year, the growth in the number of international students attending Canadian universities and colleges far outstripped the growth in the number of Canadian students.

“Enrolments for Canadian students in formal programs grew by 10.9 per cent, from 1,486,602 to 1,648,923. Over the same period, the number of international students more than tripled, from 101,304 … to 318,153.”


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That’s led to a growth in the proportion of international students attending Canadian colleges and universities, from 6.4 per cent during the 2008-09 school year to 16.2 per cent a decade later. International students accounted for 57.2 per cent of the total growth in academic programs at Canadian colleges and universities during that time.

That’s been a boon for the bottom line of these educational institutions because international students pay much higher tuitions than Canadian students.

“Previous analysis has shown that the reliance of universities on tuition as a revenue source has grown over the past decade and that international students, who pay substantially higher tuition than domestic students, are an important element of this growth, contributing an estimated 40 per cent of all tuition fees and accounting for almost $4 billion in annual revenue for Canadian universities in 2018-19,” reads the report.


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Three scenarios developed by Statistics Canada of the possible impacts of the Covid-19 travel restrictions this year paint a bleak picture for Canadian universities and colleges.

A drop in international student enrolment of only 13 per cent this year could cost these educational institutions $377 million from those lost tuitions alone. And that’s the best-case scenario.

A more serious drop of 58 per cent in the number of international students at Canadians universities and colleges – even with the number of Canadian students remaining stable – would spell a loss of $3.4 billion in revenues.

Yet another scenario offered by the statistical research agency is a mixed bag of a more moderate drop in international student enrolment of 32 per cent accompanied by a drop in domestic students of 20 per cent.


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“In this scenario, the projected financial losses could amount to $3.1 billion or 6.9 per cent of projected revenues,” notes the report.

The actual impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on international student enrolments this year is still unknown.

But international students are important for more than just the revenues they bring to Canadian colleges and universities.

“International students increase the social and cultural diversity of campuses,” states the report. “In addition, while contributing to the local economy when studying in Canada, international students provide the country with a large pool of well-educated individuals who could contribute to Canada’s workforce and obtain permanent residency.

“According to a study that examined the rate of transition into permanent residence, almost one-third of international students with a bachelor’s degree and almost half of those with a master’s degree became permanent residents in the 10 years after their first study permit was issued.”

The most common fields of study for international students are business, management and public administration. The humanities have seen an overall drop in enrolments of 19.4 per cent over the decade that ended in May last year.

Business, management and public administration is consistently the top field of study for both Canadian and international students with much of the growth in these programs driven by international student enrolments.

During the decade that ended in May last year, the number of international student enrolments in these fields grew by 216.5 per cent, far outpacing the increase in the number of Canadian students at 7.7 per cent.

Canadian students were more likely to fuel growth in the healthcare fields during that decade than were international students. During that decade, domestic students accounted for 86.2 per cent of the growth in those fields.

International students attending approved colleges and universities can travel to Canada under a coronavirus travel restriction exemption in place since Oct. 20, 2020.

To be allowed into Canada, international students approved for a study permit must be attending a Designated Learning Institution with a COVID-19 readiness plan approved by their provincial or territorial government.

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