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Another double-digit growth for Canada, but diversity concerns raised

Canada registered another double-digit jump in study permit holders in 2018 with India driving growth and snatching the top position from China, recently-released IRCC figures show, but some stakeholders are now worried about diversity.

The industry has been registering double-digit growth since 2015. Photo: Brian/Wikimedia Commons

China and India accounted for more than double the amount of students in Canada than all of the other top-10 countries put together

According to the figures, there were 572, 415 study permit holders in Canada on December 31 2018 – a 16% jump from the previous year.

India overtook China, with 172,625 study permit holders in the country, a 40% increase since 2017, compared to China’s 142,985 and 2% growth. The country was already on a strong growth trajectory for the past 4 years and had been growing much faster than China.

“The new data from IRCC clearly demonstrate the continuing attractiveness of Canada as a study destination,” newly appointed president and CEO of CBIE Larissa Bezo told The PIE.

“Canada boasts of being a diversified intercultural nation, but in recent years, this diversity is being lost”

Reputation for quality and good value, but most importantly as a safe and tolerant country, all played into Canada’s success.

Bezo added that India’s growth is no surprise. “It is a trend we have been monitoring,” she said, particularly at college level.

In Ontario, Sheridan College’s international business development and partnership manager Gabriela Facchini told The PIE News that she watched the figures “with mixed feelings.”

“Although I am glad that overall the number of student permit holders is up significantly, I wish the increase had been concentrated on markets other than India or China,” she said.

“Canada boasts of being a diversified intercultural nation, but in recent years, this diversity is being lost with big increase of only two nationalities.”

Facchini explained that Canadian institutions are too reliant on Chinese and Indian students, who can constitute between 30% and 70% of the total international student population.

Indeed, the IRCC figures show that together, China and India accounted for more than double the amount of students in Canada than all of the other top-10 countries put together.

Facchini added that the recently extended biometric requirements potentially compound this problem, due to the lack of accessibility to visa centres in certain countries.

“I want to see continued increases in the numbers of study permit holders in the years to come but I think the federal government needs to re-think their strategy of where this increases should be coming from,” she said.

The regional manager for the Americas at Niagara College, Fernando Gama, explained that the predominance of one nationality may prevent diversification efforts, a risk colleges in Ontario may face if the already predominant Indian population keeps growing at this rate, he said.

“Most domestic and international students are not comfortable when one culture is predominant above all others, as this takes away from a truly multicultural environment,” he said.

“Welcoming a diverse group of international students…is more than just good business practice”

But as Denise Amyot, president and CEO of CICan, noted, the figures still bring some good news for diversification efforts.

“We are very encouraged to see increased numbers coming from most of the 47 source markets with more than 1000 students in Canada, including very strong growth in Bangladesh, Iran, Vietnam and Algeria,” she said.

“Welcoming a diverse group of international students to Canadian college and institute campuses is more than just good business practice.”

Vietnam and Iran registered impressive growth rates, at 45% and 47% respectively.

However, over-reliance on one market isn’t a problem just for diversification .

“This growth of Indian students is too quick and too soon, which poses risk not only for institutions but also for students. A change in visa policies or regulatory requirements may create serious reversal of trends,” Studyportals’ executive vice-president of global engagement and research Rahul Choudaha told The PIE.

“This is the prime time for institutions to identify and invest in alternative countries to mitigate some of the risks.”

Choudaha explained that Canadian colleges, offering technical and career-oriented programs with cheaper fees than universities and pathways to residence are a winning card for price-sensitive Indian students – while “prestige-conscious” Chinese students are not enrolling at the same rate, he explained.

And another risk is that price sensitivity, coupled with a higher likelihood to pursue migration avenues, could leave Indian students and the industry vulnerable to a potential increase of exploitative practices by rogue providers, as Higher Education Strategy Associates Alex Usher warned.

“The risk, I think, is that we get a lot of low-quality providers coming into the system to try to take advantage of that,” he told The PIE.

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