Trouble for the Canadian economy
as international students numbers decline 

di Priscilla Pajdo del April 8, 2021

TORONTO - Education in Canada is big business. International students contribute more than $21 billion each year to the Canadian economy and promote diversity within communities. The pandemic has presented a variety of challenges for international students resulting in a drop in enrollment numbers. The effects could have a negative economic impact.

In 2020, the Canadian Bureau for International Education (CBIE) reports there were 530,540 international students in Canada at all levels of study. That represents a 17% drop compared to one-year earlier, prior to the pandemic. This decrease contrasts with what has happened in the past decade.

Over the course of ten years, international student enrollment in Canadian universities and colleges have been on the rise. According to Statistic Canada, between the 2008/2009 to 2018/2019 academic period, the number of international students enrolled in formal programs more than tripled from 101,304 in 2008/2009 to 318,153 in 2018/2019. Furthermore, the number of students coming from abroad in 2018/2019 had increased by 14%, compared to the year prior.

It is international students who drive the growth in Canadian post secondary education enrollment. Fueling Canada’s diversity and enhancing the talent pool, the majority of international students (34%), come from India, followed by China at 22%.

The number one destination for the incoming students (46%) are educational institutions in Ontario. Another 22% head to British Columbia with Quebec, at 15%, rounding out the top 3 destinations for learners from abroad.

However, the Covid-19 pandemic and the imposed restrictions has prompted changes in education instruction resulting in a shift to remote learning. The adaptation to the online format which applied to the end of the 2019/2020 academic year has continued into the current academic period.

The absence of some 93,000 international students on Canadian campuses, in the 2020/2021 academic year, impose a significant dent on educational institutions’ revenue stream.

Data from Statistic Canada (StatsCan) suggest roughly 16% of all post-secondary students in the country come from abroad. It is this portion of students that pay substantially higher tuition fees than those paid by domestic students.

Previous analyses by StatsCan suggest international students contributed an estimated 40% (so a drop of 17% represents an annual revenue loss of approximately $4 Billion for Canadian institutions) of all university tuition fees. It is not an amount easily recoverable.

The imposed travel rules to mitigate the spread of Covid-19 further complicate matters for international students. All incoming international travellers must self-quarantine for 14 days. Those arriving by air must self quarantine at designated hotels for 3-days while awaiting Covid-19 test results. The cost for a 3-day hotel-quarantine is roughly $2000, over and above tuition fees. This alone has thousands of international students postponing, deferring or rethinking their studies abroad.

Should numbers continue to decline, they could have debilitating repercussions for the Canadian economy and negatively affect the growth of a stronger, more skilled and diversified workforce.

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