Could Canada’s International Enrollment Growth Go Cold?

With its high quality of education, affordability, and concerted efforts to attract skilled immigrants, it is not surprising that Canada is a top destination for international students.  From 2008 to 2012, the number of incoming international students to Canada increased 32%.  Canada now accounts for 4.7% of the global total of international students enrolled at the tertiary level according to an OECD report [1].

These numbers, however, mask a disconcerting trend for international student mobility to Canada; the country’s universities are becoming less diverse even as international enrollment continues to increase. Moreover, the bulk of growth is concentrated in only two provinces, Ontario and Quebec.

International Students in Canada

Three countries, China, India and South Korea, comprised 44% of international students in 2012, up from 38% in 2008.  From 2008 to 2012 Chinese and Indian enrollment grew a phenomenal 86% and 308% respectively, but Korean enrollment decreased by 48%.  The growth of international enrollment for students from countries other than China and India was only 6.3% over the same period, a staggering difference from the 32% growth one sees if they are included in the calculations.

Disparities Between the Provinces

International Student Enrollment in Canada [2]The most popular provinces for international students have long been Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia, which combined accounted for 75% of international students in Canada in 2012.  While British Columbia was nearly at parity with Ontario in terms of total international enrollment in 2008, its growth has been a modest 4% between 2008 and 2012 as compared to Ontario at 70%, registering a drop in enrollments between 2011 and 2012. International student enrollment in Quebec has grown a healthy 30% over the same period (2008-2012).

Homogenization and its Effects

As WES Research & Advisory Services demonstrated in its third report [3], over-reliance on a few source countries could have considerable consequences for the international diversity of a country’s institutions of higher learning.  Factors such as an economic downturn in China or India, the improvement of domestic systems of education, or even the reduction of college-aged Chinese students due to the one child policy could all lead to a reduction in interest in overseas study. Recruiting from a diverse range of countries, particularly from emerging markets, could hedge against a sudden decline in international enrollment.

Provinces outside of Ontario should follow its example and make a concerted effort to attract more international students, who bring skills and revenue to the province.  They should do so, however, in a strategic manner, by recruiting from a more diverse set of countries.

Data Source:  Citizenship and Immigration Canada

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