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Uneven distribution of growth in language school enrolments across Canada

The annual survey from Languages Canada shows language schools in the country saw a slight 1% increase in student numbers to 135,425 enrolments in 2016. But, in line with global trends, language providers reported a decline in student week average over the year.

Languages Canada reported a 1% growth in enrolments at language schools.Winnipeg (pictured) is the largest city in Manitoba - a province which experienced a 7% increase in enrolments. Photo: flickr/ajbatac.

For the fourth year in a row, Japan, Brazil and China were the top three source countries

The modest growth across Canada masks substantial gains and losses in individual provinces, however. Ontario saw student numbers grow 8% while British Columbia and Manitoba both saw increases of 7%.

Alberta, meanwhile, saw a 17% drop in enrolments, Nova Scotia experienced a 5% decrease and Saskatchewan saw a 4% decline. The number of students in Quebec maintained from 2015.

The organisation, which represents 80% of the country’s public and private language providers, said policy changes enacted in 2014 are still impacting the country’s language industry.

“The effect of changes to the King Abdullah Scholarship Program can’t be understated”

“Canada’s need to accommodate our federal-provincial jurisdictions that intersect immigration, trade, and education mean slow change in legislation and regulations for the sector,” executive director Gonzalo Peralta told The PIE News.

“The low increase is likely signalling that the changes made by Canada’s immigration ministry in 2014 and which had a dramatic (and adverse) impact on the country’s language education sector have finally been ‘digested’ and we can now finally enter a period of growth.”

Last year’s figures follow a small decline of 1% the year before, after slight growth in 2014 on the back of two years of double digit losses across the country.

In 2014, the government passed regulations banning language schools from providing popular co-op programs that allow students to combine work and study. It also delegated quality provision to the provinces, requiring they designate providers allowed to admit international students.

In some provinces, the solution has sparked pushback due to overly burdensome compliance requirements, providers have said.

Peralta noted, however, that comparing the same Languages Canada members that contributed to 2015 reporting, there was a 4% increase in students. “Which is respectable but below what could be expected based on global trends,” he said.

Similar to reports from providers in the UK, Malta and Ireland, Canada’s junior market has surged causing student week totals to drop. Junior student enrolments reached 12,632 in 2016, up from 10,540 in 2015 contributing to a decline in the average length of stay to 11.1 weeks from 11.8 in 2015.

Peralta added that a decline in students going to public sector member programs – that historically book longer stays – has impacted the overall student week average, as has the decline in KASP students.

“The effect of changes to the King Abdullah Scholarship Program can’t be understated,” he said, adding that anecdotal reports from members suggest that students are entering with a higher level of language education thanks to improved language education in their home country.

For the fourth year in a row, Japan, Brazil and China were the top three source countries sending 21,200, 20,700 and 15,400 students each, respectively. South Korea followed sending 15,000 students and Mexico 9,000.

Despite overall drops, year-over-year growth from 2015 was reported for students from Japan, Brazil, Mexico, Taiwan, Colombia and Turkey, especially in Mexico and Colombia – a trend that has continued through 2017.

“Based on word of mouth from members, this year and particularly this summer has been a very busy one, especially from Latin American markets,” said Peralta. “We expect the numbers from Mexico to increase next year.”

“Canada is one of the best destinations for Chilean students because we don’t need a visa”

Maria del Carmen de la Torre, executive director of International English Adventures in Puebla, Mexico, said she has seen a growth in demand to study in Canada, congruent with members’ reports.

“Summer programs were very successful,” she told The PIE News. “Sales started in February and finished with lots of late bookings. Everybody wants to go to Canada to improve their English. Parents hardly choose the US for their teenagers.”

Elsewhere in the region, Javier Carmon, co-founder of ESL Chile, said Canada is becoming one of the top three destinations for Chilean students.

“We are expecting to send more students to Canada,” he said. “Canada is one of the best destinations for Chilean students because we don’t need a visa, we only have to apply for Electronic Travel Authorization and we get a 99.9% acceptance.

“Canada I would say is the best price / quality relationship for our market.”

Shifting political winds in competitor countries is also giving Canadian providers reason to be optimistic for 2017, said Peralta.

“The impact of Brexit and policies from the UK along with the Trump effect is undeniable and while it hurt our colleagues from those countries it has benefitted Canada and other destinations,” he said. “We anticipate the numbers for 2017 to be higher year-on-year.”

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