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Canada: pandemic sees first decline in decade

International student enrolments declined for the first time in over a decade in Canada during the pandemic, according to new data.

International student enrolments decreased by 4% in the 2020/21 academic year. Photo: Pexels

The pandemic particularly impacted programs that required work-integrated learning

Figures released by Statistics Canada show that international student enrolments decreased by 4% in the 2020/21 academic year, largely due to travel restrictions and the closure of visa application centres.

Colleges were impacted more than universities, with 142,308 international students enrolling in 2020/21, down 7% from the previous year. In contrast, 231,291 enrolled in universities, marking a 2% decline.

The change is more pronounced among those who registered for postsecondary education for the first time (-22%), compared to students enrolling in the next level of study having already completed a Canadian program.

The number of new international students taking Canadian courses via the internet or offshore campuses more than quadrupled from 1,323 in 2019/20 to 5,439 in 2020/21, as many institutions shifted to online learning.

“Canada did an exceptional job of caring for international students”

Total enrolments among domestic and international students in public colleges and universities decreased by almost 1% in 2020/21 compared to the previous year. Some universities saw small increases in the number of Canadian students enrolling for the first time.

The pandemic particularly impacted programs that required work-integrated learning, such as technical training courses, and subject areas that normally involve a work placement including business, health, education and conservation.

Since the easing of travel restrictions in 2021, demand for Canadian education continues to grow among international students. The country’s immigration department processed over 452,000 study permit applications in the first eight months of 2022, compared to 367,000 in August 2021 – a record at the time.

“Canada did an exceptional job of caring for international students [during the pandemic] and that contributes directly to building our brand,” said Paul Davidson, president of Universities Canada, speaking at The PIE Live North America in October. “It was very unusual in the first part of the pandemic in enabling online registration [and] enabling eligibility for postgraduate work permits through online curriculum.”

Correction (GMT Dec 2, 10:35): This article previously stated colleges enrolled 142,308 new international students in 2020/21. The number in fact referred to total enrolments and not new entrants. 

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