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Study: International student enrolment in postsecondary education programs prior to COVID-19

Released: 2020-06-15

Canadian universities and colleges have become increasingly cosmopolitan over the past decade. International students accounted for 14.7% of total university enrolment in 2017/2018, up from 8.2% in 2008/2009. At the college level, international student enrolment rose from 5.2% to 13.2% over the same period.

A new study provides a snapshot of where these international students came from and what they were studying prior to the onset of the pandemic.

In the wake of COVID-19, prospective international students may be more likely to stay home as they have yet to invest in a Canadian postsecondary education. The data suggest that international enrolments comprise an even larger share of new enrolments than total enrolments. Almost one-quarter (23.8%) of new university enrolments and 16.3% of new college enrolments were international students in 2017/2018.

China was the main source country of international students for 11 of the 12 broad university program areas in 2017/2018, often by a wide margin. At the college level, India was the primary source in 9 of the 12 areas, with China often a close second.

Certain academic programs also rely heavily on international student enrolment. For example, almost one-third of enrolments in "Mathematics, Computer and Information Sciences" were international at both the university (31.6%) and college (30.8%) level in 2017/2018.

International students pay substantially higher tuition fees than their Canadian-born counterparts, and these fees have helped reduce some of the gap between rising operating expenses and stagnant provincial grants over the past decade.

Products

The research article "International Student Enrolment in Postsecondary Education Programs Prior to COVID-19," published as part of the series Economic Insights (Catalogue number11-626-X), is now available.

The short summary article "Which postsecondary programs had high levels of international student enrolment prior to COVID-19?," published as part of the series StatCan COVID-19: Data to Insights for a Better Canada (Catalogue number45280001), is also now available.

Contact information

For more information contact us (toll-free 1-800-263-1136; 514-283-8300; STATCAN.infostats-infostats.STATCAN@canada.ca).

To enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact Marc Frenette (marc.frenette@canada.ca), Social Analysis and Modelling Division.

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