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Record low learners at Languages Canada members in 2021

Languages Canada members have only around a third of the number of students they had pre-pandemic, a report has found, yet the sector shows optimism for recovery.

For Languages Canada members, for the first time in several years, Japan was the largest source country. Photo: Unsplash

For the first time in several years, Japan was the largest source country with 6,414 students enrolled

The 2021 Annual Report on Language Education in Canada, provides a thorough understanding of the impact of Covid-19 on both the language education sector in Canada and on international students.

The report found that in 2021, Languages Canada members enrolled 57,423 students – the lowest number since the association began collecting student data via the annual members’ survey in 2008 and a 12.4% decrease from the previous year.

This figure is approximately one third of the number of students in 2019.

Public sector members suffered the most with a 28.4% decrease from 2020 versus a 5% decrease in student numbers for private Languages Canada members. The report cites the cause for this as the ban on face-to-face learning for public colleges and universities and a lack of access to federal wage and rent subsidies.

Despite this drop in numbers, Languages Canada is confident about the future of Canada’s language education sector as it emerged from 2021 with “optimism for recovery and growth into 2022”, citing the report as “a testament to the extraordinary resilience” of members.

The report noted that Canada gained global market share in the English language travel sector over the pandemic, from 12% in 2019 to 17% in 2020 and experienced less decline in student numbers in 2021 than competitor markets – the UK, Australia and Ireland.

In a statement, Languages Canada said “with most border restrictions and quarantine requirements eased by fall 2021, Canada is positioned as a top choice destination for English and French language students”.

At the time of the survey, the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic was still being felt throughout the international education industry.

“Border reopening to international students in 2020 helped the sector to face smaller drops in student numbers”

However, “Canada’s border reopening to international students in 2020 helped the sector to face smaller drops in student numbers”, according to Languages Canada.

The report explored trends within Canada’s source markets and found a reordering of Canada’s top source markets.

For Languages Canada members, for the first time in several years, Japan was the largest source country with 6,414 students enrolled, a 15.2% increase on the previous year.

Colombia was second and was the market which showed the most impressive growth in the top five source countries with a 72% increase in student numbers over 2020, making it the first time it has been in the top five, with 6,247 students.

Providers in Australia also saw some limited success in the Latin American country in 2020, with a 0.2% rise in students. However, later in the pandemic they recorded a 24.2% decline in new starts from Colombia.

The top five in the latest Languages Canada report was completed by China with 6,030 enrolments, Mexico with 4,661 and Brazil with 4,326.

Brazil dropped from second place in 2020 to fifth place in 2021, with student numbers decreasing by 44% from 2020 to 2021.

Student numbers from China also decreased significantly by 32% from 2020 to 2021, as a result of restrictive travel policies.

“Fortunately, many programs received government financial support and we were successful in lobbying for the easing of border restrictions by fall 2021,” executive director of Languages Canada, Gonzalo Peralta told The PIE.

“This gave our members the best possible conditions we could hope for in an incredibly difficult context and they distinguished themselves through resilience and ingenuity.”

According to the report, Languages Canada members most frequently cited visa processing delays and visa refusals as their biggest challenge. In June 2022, The PIE reported that the country was trying to process a back log of 2.1 million applications.

The report is based on the responses of 189 members of Language Canada of which there are 216, an increase from 206 members in 2020.

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