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Languages Canada proposes ‘Study Safe Corridor’ as numbers dip

Languages Canada has proposed an initiative to bring 40,000 students into the country to learn languages in order to “save decades of investment and a sector that promotes our official languages and values”.

Canada occupied the fourth spot worldwide in terms of ELT destinations in 2019, attracting approximately 12% of all English language learners, the report said. Photo: Pexels

Public sector programs welcomed 10% fewer – some 4,000 – students in 2019 compared with 2018

The proposal came as a survey indicated member schools saw a drop in both total student numbers and weeks in 2019, with four of the top five source countries recording falls in student numbers.

“What occurred in 2019 is such a far cry from the current reality of 2020”

Overall student numbers dropped to 155,383 in 2019, representing a 3.9% reduction compared with the previous year, and student weeks decreased by 8% to 1,522,785, a survey by the organisation with BONARD has shown.

However, the results are “a far cry from the current reality of 2020”, Languages Canada said, as it proposed ‘Study Safe Corridor’ to bring 40,000 students to the country’s language providers by March 31, 2021.

Speaking with The PIE News, Gonzalo Peralta at Languages Canada explained that the pro-active association had fixed on that number because of “negative and positive capacity – what can we handle and what will make a difference”.

“We need to save as many programs as possible, can we reduce the loss of members from 75% by year end to 20% or fewer?” he stated.

The association has previously warned that language education is “falling through the cracks”, and it says the proposal is a safe way to bring students into the country.

The Study Safe Corridor proposes a three-step scheme – depart safe, arrive safe, and study safe – to ensure that students comply with safe travel requirements and mandatory quarantine on arrival to Canada and are supported and monitored throughout their stay.

The initiative is an “adaptation to survive and thrive in the new post-pandemic context”, the organisation said.

The survey showed in contrast to 2018 where public sector programs saw 21% year-on-year student number growth, in 2019 student intake “dipped noticeably” for public providers. They welcomed 10% – some 4,000 – fewer students than in 2018, the report noted.

Private sector programs hosted 1.8% fewer language students (enrolling a total of 116,226), while the student week volume dropped by 7.2% as a result of shorter stays, it continued.

Only two provinces – Quebec and Saskatchewan – saw an uptick in enrolments, with the major host regions of British Columbia and Ontario seeing 3,658 (-7%) and 730 (-1%) fewer students, respectively.

While four in five students continued to hail from Asia or Latin America, Asia increased its share of student numbers from 41% of all students in 2018 to 44% in 2019. Students from the continent also enjoyed the longest average stays in Canada, the survey showed.

Brazil remained the number one source country for students despite its number dropping, but Mexico and Colombia both increased numbers of students they sent, as outlined in the graphic above.

“Student volume from the Middle East fell considerably,” the report added, explaining that the “most salient development” in the top 10 rankings was Saudi Arabia dropping from 9th to 22nd place, with student numbers declining by 78%.

Vietnam too dropped, to 2016 levels.

Education agencies remained the major booking source for language students, however, the share fell from 66% in 2018 to 59% in 2019.

Agencies accounted for 66% of bookings at private sector programs in 2019, but direct bookings increased slightly from 27% in 2018 to 28% in 2019.

As in 2018, student visa refusals represented the top concern for language programs in Canada, the survey added, with those surveyed reporting a total of 6,374 refusals.

“The highest number of visa refusals was registered for Brazil,” it explained. “However, considering the top 10 source markets with the highest number of visa refusals, Brazil was the only one which actually saw a reduction of such cases in 2019.”

“What occurred in 2019 is such a far cry from the current reality of 2020 that to speak of 155,000 students or over 1.5 million student weeks only serves to highlight how vulnerable our sector is to global forces,” Peralta wrote in the report.

“At the same time, what our members have accomplished in 2020 to care for students and for staff speaks to the core values we hold. And the drive to adapt and innovate to face a new context is a sign of our resilience and strength.

“There is no doubt that the next few years will bear little resemblance the one described in this report,” he said, nonetheless the research is a “way of informing the strategies that will shape our future”.

Additional reporting by Kerrie Kennedy

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