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Canada: record permit issuance but diversification initiatives impacted

Canadian study permits for citizens of India more than doubled in 2021 compared to the previous year, according to statistics from IRCC.

Virtual recruitment efforts have been a boon for institutions, according to CBIE. Photo: iStock

"[There is] nascent growth in numbers of international students arriving from emerging countries such as Bangladesh, the Philippines, Mexico, Colombia, and Algeria"

A total of 447,085 study permits became effective across 2021, up from 400,920 in 2019, the year before the pandemic. As reported by CIC News, the figures for last year broke the record for the most new study permits taking effect.

It is not clear however whether all these students were in the country while they held active visas. Immigration minister Sean Fraser told Language Canada’s conference in March that Canada “brought in 300,000 international students in 2021”.

The Canadian Bureau for International Education said it is optimistic about the future of international education in Canada.

“At the end of 2021, Canada saw a return to pre-pandemic numbers of international students”

“At the end of 2021, Canada saw a return to pre-pandemic numbers of international students, demonstrating our sector’s commitment to welcoming students back on our campuses in a safe and timely manner,” Melissa Payne, director of Membership, Research and Learning, told The PIE.

“Canada continues to be seen as ‘safe and stable’ and an ‘open and welcoming’ country and these remain important factors in student decision-making.”

Canadian politicians continue to remind how important international students and migrants are to the current administration’s aims, with Fraser stating that young people arriving in Canada will help to solve its “demographic problem”.

“Students also positively perceive Canada’s pandemic response, in particular, sector efforts in building a responsive and flexible immigration policy framework which continues to drive interest in our country as a study destination,” Payne added.

“In a world economy increasingly powered by ideas, Canada is in an enviable – if still assailable – position globally,” Marc LeBlanc, senior government and international relations officer at Universities Canada told The PIE.

“We are a country of open communities, we have an accessible, world-class, bilingual post-secondary education system. We also have strong public support for international students and have maintained a policy environment that is welcoming to international students and encourages them to build a life in Canada.”

Founder and CEO of Higher Education Strategy Associates Alex Usher urged caution on the latest IRCC data source as one that needs to be “interpreted with a lot of care”.

“My initial thought is that these stats are ‘visas issued’,” he said.

“We don’t know how much of this is a genuine permanent increase in demand and how much of it is making up for 2020 and how much of it is about processing a backlog. Like, the five biggest months for visa issuance in history were August through December. Wait another six months, before getting too excited would be my advice.”

However, the statistics also could spark concern for some around the diversification of Canada’s international student cohort.

“We would be remiss, however, not to recognise the impact of the pandemic as it relates to the roll-out of diversification initiatives outlined in the government of Canada’s international education strategy,” Payne told The PIE.

Canada’s strategy – released in 2019 – featured a number of priorities, one of which was diversifying the source countries from which international students come to Canada, in addition to their fields, levels of study, and location of study within Canada.

The broad choice of high-quality institutions across the country is Canada’s strength, LeBlanc suggested.

“These strengths must be leveraged to help advance our market diversification efforts. We need a ‘Team Canada approach’ that involves all levels of government, universities and the business community to attract the brightest minds to institutions across Canada,” he added.

Regarding the diversity of source markets for students, Payne highlighted that a majority come from India and China, “with nascent growth in numbers of international students arriving from emerging countries such as Bangladesh, the Philippines, Mexico, Colombia, and Algeria”.

Usher said that international student numbers at universities and colleges have been 70% India and China for “a few years now”.

“What’s changed is that the balance is now more India than China,” he said, while the reverse used to be true.

Universities Canada is “proposing that the federal government scale up investments in the international education strategy to continue building Canada’s brand as a global study destination in priority markets”, which will in turn support market diversification efforts.

“With proper investments, we can build on these important steps to grow and diversify our international student pools,” LeBlanc said.

“In our federal advocacy, we’re also underscoring that disruptions to the international student market present an opportunity for Canada to rebuild markets and to diversify its international student recruitment efforts to new markets.”

“Disruptions to the international student market present an opportunity for Canada to rebuild markets and to diversify

Virtual recruitment efforts have enabled institutions to expand “their reach and connections with potential students in countries and regions not typically accessible by traditional recruiting efforts”, Payne continued.

“This has had a positive effect on institutional diversification strategies,” Payne noted.

“Canada values the diversity of knowledge, skills and experiences of international students and graduates. The international education community recognises the ethical responsibility that we have in supporting students who come to our country to achieve their personal, academic and professional goals.”

Canada’s institutions, governments, and sector stakeholders are helping to address challenges confronting international students through their “holistic approaches to building accountability and creating inclusive environments on campus and within the wider community”, she added.

Usher concluded that Canada is “not significantly different from Australia or New Zealand” in terms of its high numbers coming from India and China.

“European countries have access to a more diverse student body because they have ex-empires in Africa which are sort of captive markets (e.g France, UK) or they have what you might call intellectual hinterlands (Germany has lots of students from Eastern Europe, Russia has them from the ‘stans, US from Latin America, etc),” he said.

“We don’t, and neither do Australia or New Zealand, so we concentrate on the two big markets outside those hinterlands.

“The government of Canada’s international educational strategy has close to zero impact on institutional recruitment activities,” Usher suggested. “Any statements about wanting more balanced intake are not much more than pious phrases.

“Institutions go where it is easiest to enrol students and make money, and at the moment, that destination is India.”

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