2021 was a year of continued challenges for everyone as we all tried to recover from the pandemic and adapt to many new circumstances. But it’s the next two years that will define the success of our post-pandemic recovery and Canada’s future economic growth.
“Newcomers, especially international students, are one of the main ways we can help resolve Canada’s current and projected skilled labour shortage.“
A large part of Canada’s future is connected to attracting international students to Canadian institutions. Newcomers, especially international students, are one of the main ways we can help resolve Canada’s current and projected skilled labour shortage. It’s also important to keep in mind that international students have a huge impact on the Canadian economy. In 2018, international students in Canada contributed $22.3 billion to the economy through tuition payments, accommodation costs, and discretionary spending.
Despite border restrictions still being up in the air as the pandemic drags on, international students are eager to restart their study plans and enroll abroad. Recent data points to pent-up demand from international students. Here at ApplyBoard, student application volumes are booming for Canadian institutions. From March to October 2021, student applications on our platform for institutions in Canada grew by over 200% compared to the same period in 2020. It’s clear that Canada remains a top destination for international students. The entire industry has also seen a rebound in student visa approval rates compared to 2020. Canadian visa approval rates rose by 15 percentage points in the first half of 2021.
Despite fears that the pandemic would cause a catastrophic decline in international numbers worldwide, the international education sector proved to be more resilient than ever. We have observed a healthy spike in new students enrolled for Fall 2021 and Winter 2022 across major destination markets, including Canada. Before the pandemic, the Canadian higher education industry benefited from Canada’s competitive work-permit programs, inclusive immigration policies, strong multicultural representation, and affordable cost of living. Throughout 2020, the general perception on how Canada managed the pandemic was positive and our government played an important role in influencing how comfortable students feel about attending school in Canada. Recent studies show that 65% of students see Canada as a more attractive destination because of how it has handled the vaccine rollout.
This data tells us that our nation has taken the appropriate steps to be seen as a favourable and safe destination amongst international students. And higher education institutions in Canada can reinforce this perception. How? By continuing to prioritize a students’ physical health through vaccination mandates, offering a mix of course delivery methods at competitive tuition rates, and investing in more resources for instructors.
“Institutions should do more to promote in-demand careers and help students solve labour gaps.”
There are also several ways Canadian higher education institutions can improve their competitiveness within the international education landscape. Institutions should do more to promote in-demand careers and help students solve labour gaps. Job vacancies in Canada surged past 700,000 in the first half of 2021 and there is a high demand for healthcare and skilled trades workers in Canada. Attracting newcomers into these fields will be critical for Canada’s post-pandemic recovery and long-term growth. Promoting these fields and creating more incentives, like scholarships and co-op placements for these areas of study, is a strong step in the right direction and can help students plan for their post-graduation careers.
As a former international student, I know that sometimes the industry loses sight of the primary intention for many international students: making a new home for yourself. For many students, achieving permanent residency (PR) is their main goal, along with finding employment. This means that institutions should recommend Express Entry PR programs and identify key labour shortages in their marketing materials while increasing the amount of scholarship opportunities available to international students.
For Canadian institutions to attract more international students, I believe we need to continue to promote some of the main advantages of studying in and moving to Canada. And our work permit programs are a big selling point. Canada’s Post-Graduation Work Permit Program (PGWPP) is a huge mark of success for Canada. This program offers international students the opportunity to start on the pathway to permanent residency by offering them a chance to gain real work experience. These valuable post-graduation work opportunities have helped drive a rapid growth of interest amongst international students to study in Canada. From 2000 to 2019, the number of study permit holders in Canada rose from just over 100,000 to nearly 700,000.
The Atlantic Canada region has also had a lot of success in recent years with their regional pathway programs for international students and it shows. The Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program, and Study and Stay programs, help international graduates secure work and continue their journey towards permanent residency. Besides Newfoundland and Labrador, every Atlantic Canada province in Canada has experienced its highest year-over-year population growth since 1971 in 2021.
“Expanding recruitment and diversification efforts to new markets will help institutions grow and thrive.”
But institutions shouldn’t just rely on popular government programs. The sector also needs to pay attention to growing student populations across the world and foster relationships with recruitment partners in these emerging countries. Our report, titled A Future of Opportunity: Top Trends in International Education for 2022 and Beyond, shares which emerging markets we believe will boom in the coming years. While students from China and India will continue to dominate international education globally, the pandemic has shown the importance of diversifying student recruitment. Institutions need to protect themselves against the unpredictability of world events and the complex intricacies that come along with changes in government policies. Expanding recruitment and diversification efforts to new markets will help institutions grow and thrive. In the report, we identify Nigeria, Kenya, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, and Indonesia as high-growth-potential markets in the years to come as international student populations from these countries surge post-pandemic. It’s important to keep in mind that the more diversified our student population is, the more our nation will build strong, interconnected communities with a new global view that allows our entire country to thrive.
Overall, listening to what students are interested in and what they view as an optimal study abroad experience is crucial to Canada’s continued success. Whether more scholarships or resources are needed to help navigate students throughout the post-pandemic world, it will be crucial for Canada’s long-term growth to retain and attract international students. Higher education institutions should continue to showcase their dedication and commitment to welcoming students from around the world through their actions.
“Canada needs to continue to keep up this good work so that we can thrive in the future.”And, although I might be biased as a former international student and an entrepreneur, I truly believe that international education creates mutually beneficial relationships for all of us. International students not only build a better future for themselves, but they also enrich the economies and cultures of the countries they graduate in. International students are driving key developments around the world. Their impact is real, and Canada needs to continue to keep up this good work so that we can thrive in the future