Chapter C
Access to education, participation and progression

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C1. International students
C2. Transitions to the labour market

C1 International students


This indicator presents international students as a proportion of enrolment in tertiary education in accordance with the three International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) categories,Note 1 which represent enrolments in colleges and universities.Note 2 Changes in the number of international students over time are also presented, as well as their distribution by province of study and by region of origin.

Students choose to pursue their education abroad for many reasons. Some may do so because they wish to explore different cultures, societies and languages while improving their employment prospects. Others, particularly those in developing countries, may actually need to leave their home country to pursue a tertiary education. Growing recognition of the importance of tertiary education as a determinant of higher earnings and employability has led to a growing demand, one that educational institutions in some countries may find difficult to meet. At the same time, the globalization of markets has increased demand for workers with broader knowledge and competencies, with work increasingly performed by teams that span regions and countries.

Several factors may contribute to the choice of country for study. The language spoken and used in instruction, the quality of education offered, the tuition fees and cost of living, and the immigration policy of the destination country are all important factors. Other factors include recognition of foreign degrees, future jobs opportunities, and any geographical, trade and cultural links between countries.

International students are generally well received because they represent an additional source of revenue for the institutions they attend. They may also contribute to the viability of programs when the domestic student base is somewhat limited. In Canada, as in other countries that belong to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), many institutions and governments are now actively marketing their educational programs to attract such students. In addition to the economic benefits they may provide, international and foreign students also add to the social and cultural dimensions of the communities in which they study. They may become future citizens, or they may become unofficial ambassadors when they return home.


International students in tertiary education

In Canada in 2010, over 100,000 international students were registered in tertiary programmes, and the vast majority of them (72.2%) were in tertiary-type A programmes (Chart C.1.1; Table C.1.1). They accounted for 7.5% of all students enrolled in tertiary education, a proportion slightly above the average for OECD countries (6.9%). The proportion of international students among all tertiary enrolments varied widely in the OECD countries, from 19.8% in Australia to less than 1% in Chile.Note 3  In Canada, the concept of “international students” includes non-permanent residents, such as those with a study permit. It also includes those enrolled in a Canadian program from a Canadian institution that is not located in Canada (also known as “offshore students”) as well as non-Canadian students studying via the Internet (see the “Definitions sources and methodology” section of this indicator for detailed definitions).

Although this analysis focuses on international students, it should be noted that, in 2010, Canada was hosting 4.7% of all “foreign” students”Note 4 (i.e., all students who are educated in a country for which they do not hold citizenship) enrolled in tertiary programmes, compared with 4.6% in 2000. This was the sixth largest share after the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, France and Australia. Worldwide, the number of students enrolled outside their country of citizenship increased from 2.1 to 4.3 million between 2000 and 2011, an increase of 105.9%. In Canada, the concept of “foreign students” includes all “international students”, plus all students who are landed immigrant/permanent residents (see the “Definitions sources and methodology” section of this indicator for detailed definitions).

Across the provinces, the proportion of international students enrolled in the tertiary education systems ranged from 5.3% in Saskatchewan to 14.4% in Prince Edward Island. International students accounted for a higher share of total tertiary enrolment than in Canada and OECD countries in general in four provinces: Prince Edward Island (14.4%), New Brunswick (11.2%), British Columbia (10.5%) and Nova Scotia (8.8%). The figures for Canada were drawn from the Postsecondary Student Information System (PSIS) (for more information see the “Definitions, sources and methodology” section for this indicator, as well as the “ISCED classifications and descriptions” for PSIS in the Notes to readers section).

International students and type of tertiary education

In Canada, international students accounted for about one-fifth (21.8%) of the enrolment in ISCED 6 (advanced research programmes), a much higher proportion of enrolment than in ISCED 5A (tertiary-type A, 7.2%) and ISCED 5B (tertiary-type B, 6.4%) programmes. This pattern is observed in almost all provinces (Table C.1.1; Chart C.1.2). Correspondingly, across the OECD countries in general, 19.6% of students in advanced research programmes were international students, as were 6.9% of tertiary-type A and 3.6% of tertiary-type B students. While patterns vary across OECD countries, in some, like Australia (a key competitor to Canada in the market for international students), high proportions of international students were enrolled in both tertiary-type A (20.8%) and advanced research programmes (30.7%).

Seven of the provinces registered a higher proportion of international students in advanced research programmes (ISCED 6) than OECD countries in general (19.6%). Alberta (31.9%), Newfoundland and Labrador (29.4%), and British Columbia (28.4%) had the highest proportions of international students in advanced research programmes. From an international perspective, Switzerland (49.5%), the United Kingdom (40.9%) and New Zealand (39.7%) had the highest proportions in this category.

Generally, there was less variation across the provinces in the proportion of international students enrolled in the ISCED 5A and 5B programmes. In tertiary-type A programmes, in all provinces, they accounted for between 5.6% and 12.7% of tertiary-type A students, with New Brunswick, British Columbia and Nova Scotia registering the highest proportions. With respect to tertiary-type B programmes, international students in the majority of the provinces accounted for less than the Canadian average of 6.4%; the major exception was Prince Edward Island, where 26.7% of tertiary type B students were from abroad in 2010 (Table C.1.1; Chart C.1.2).

Change in the number of international students

The number of international students who were pursuing tertiary programmes in Canada rose from 43,794 to 106,974 between 2001 and 2010, an increase of 10.4% a year on average (Table C.1.1). During this period, there were five provinces reporting higher average annual growth rates than the Canadian average. The number of international students rose by an average annual growth rate of 23.5% in Prince Edward Island, 14.2% in Ontario, 12.0% in Newfoundland and Labrador, 11.9% in Manitoba and 11.1% in Alberta, while the rates for the other provinces varied between 5.1% and 8.9%.

Origin and province of study of international students in Canada

In 2010, of the total number of international students enrolled at the tertiary level in Canada, 58.7% were from Asia, 13.0% from Europe, 11.9% were from Africa, 8.1% from North America, 7.8% from Latin America and the Caribbean, and 0.5% from Oceania (Chart C.1.3; Table C.1.2).Note 5 Students from China represented the largest group of international students in Canada, accounting for 26.9% of international students in Canada, followed by students from the United States (7.7%), France (7.4%), India (6.0%), and South Korea (4.4%). The high proportion of Asian students in Canada is also mirrored in the OECD countries, where Asia is generally the largest source of international students, accounting for over half (52.0%) of the total.Note 6

Ontario (39.6%), Quebec (21.4%) and British Columbia (17.3%) attracted the highest proportions of international students in 2010 (Table C.1.2; Chart C.1.1). Together they hosted more than three-quarters (78.4%) of the international students enrolled in tertiary education in Canada. For most provinces with the exception of Quebec and New Brunswick, Asia provided the highest proportion of international students, generally followed by Africa and North America (Chart C.1.4). The mix is different in Quebec, with Europe and Africa providing more international students than Asia. In New Brunswick, the region of Latin America and the Caribbean provided the highest number of international students, followed by Asia.

China provided the highest proportions of international students to all provinces except for Quebec and New Brunswick (ranging from 29.0% in Ontario to 71.9% in Prince Edward Island). In Quebec, not surprisingly, more than one-quarter (29.3%) of international students enrolled in tertiary programs were from France. In New Brunswick, in 2010 and for the last 10 years, Trinidad and Tobago provided a significant number of international students.

In 2010, Ontario was the most popular province of study for international students from Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Oceania. Quebec hosted the highest proportions of European, African, and North American students. This is mainly attributable to students from the French-speaking countries of Africa and France who were enrolled in francophone universities and colleges in Quebec, and to students from the United States who were attracted to the English universities in Quebec. The highest proportions of Japanese and Taiwanese students were enrolled in universities and colleges in British Columbia.

Definitions, sources and methodology

This indicator examines the proportion of international students in the different categories of tertiary education. It also provides insight into the change in the number of international and foreign students between 2001 and 2010.

International students are those who are pursuing education in a country other than their country of residence or the country in which they were previously educated. In Canada, the concept of “international students” includes non-permanent residents,Note 7 such as those with a study permit. It also includes those enrolled in a Canadian program from a Canadian institution that is not located in Canada (also known as “offshore students”) as well as non-Canadian students studying via the Internet.

Foreign students correspond to a broader concept that includes students who are educated in a country for which they do not hold citizenship. In Canada, the concept of “foreign students” includes all “international students”, plus all students who are landed immigrant/permanent residents.Note 8

The proportion of enrolment at a given education level accounted for by international students is obtained by dividing the number of students who are not Canadian citizens and who are not permanent residents of Canada by the total number of students at that level, and multiplying this ratio by 100. The total number of students includes all individuals educated in Canada, whether they are Canadian citizens or foreign nationals, but it excludes all Canadian citizens who are educated abroad.

The Canadian data were drawn from Statistics Canada’s Postsecondary Student Information System (PSIS), which covers only public postsecondary institutions. As not all institutions currently provide data to PSIS, results for some jurisdictions rely in part on estimates. Due to certain methodological adjustments that have been made to the PSIS collection tool to improve reporting and mapping to ISCED, comparisons of results with those from previous years should not be made.

The OECD data on foreign students and international students reflect the 2010/2011 academic year (2009/2010 for Canada) and are drawn from the UOE collection of statistical data on education, which was carried out by the OECD in 2012. In Canada and other OECD countries, domestic and international students are usually counted on a specific day or period of the year (e.g., the PSIS enrolment data reflect the number of students who were enrolled in courses between September 30 and December 1, 2009, for the academic year 2009/2010). This procedure may not capture the total number of international students as some students may study abroad for less than a full academic year (e.g., those that enter in the winter or spring terms).

Note: The corresponding OECD indicator is C4, Who studies abroad and where?.

C2 Transitions to the labour market


This indicator focuses on transitions from education to the working world. The percentages of individuals between 15 and 29 years of age who are considered to be “in education” or “not in education” are presented, along with their respective employment situations. Such information can be helpful in understanding how young adults may combine school and work, or how they may transition from one to the other. The “not in education” portion of this population is further examined with a focus on those individuals who are neither employed nor in education (or training), a group sometimes referred to as the “NEET” population.

In Canada and most other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, education policy-makers strive to encourage young people to complete at least their secondary education. As successfully reaching this milestone has become the norm for students in the majority of OECD countries, those who fail to do so will likely have much more difficulty when they enter the labour market, where lacking a high school education is usually an impediment to finding a job.

Recognition of the importance of postsecondary education for economic and social success—both for individuals and society—is widespread. However, the decisions that young people make regarding their education are often influenced by economic conditions.  They may, for example, be inclined to leave school and enter the work force when the labour market is strong, or they may decide to continue with or return to their education when the labour market is weak and it is more difficult to find a job.

The transition from school to work is not always an easy process, and complexity may be added by a combination of factors including personal circumstances, the type and length of schooling received, and the labour market and overall economic conditions that younger people may face. It is also important to find ways to understand how this complexity may affect the NEET group, particularly the youngest members, as teens aged 15 to 19 will have both lower educational attainment and less work experience than young adults in their twenties.


Young adults in education, not in education

This international indicator portrays the education and employment status of young adults aged 15 to 29 to view some aspects of their transition from school to the working world. In Canada in 2011, 43.7% of young adults in this age group were still involved in education (Table C.2.1), a proportion that, of course, varies considerably between the youngest and oldest individuals (Chart C.2.1.1, Chart C.2.1.2 and Chart C.2.1.3). The most recent international average for the OECD countries,Note 9 which includes Canada, was slightly higher, with 47.2% of 15- to 29-year-olds in education (Table C.2.1).

As expected, the majority of youth aged 15 to 19 are still pursuing their education; the 2011 international estimate is 85.6%. In 2011, about 8 in 10 Canadian youth (81.4%) in this age range were “in education”, which means that the remaining youth (18.6%) were no longer pursuing a formal education (Table C.2.1; Chart C.2.1.1). The overall OECD average for “not in education” 15- to 19-year-olds was 14.4%, close to the estimate recorded for the United States at 13.8%. Canada’s “not in education” figure may seem somewhat high at first glance, given that school attendance is compulsory until at least age 16 in most of the country and until age 18 in New Brunswick, Ontario, Manitoba and Nunavut. But many in this 15-to-19 age group could actually be high school graduates who had not yet pursued any further education. And some of these 15- to 19-year-olds were employed in 2011 (10.9% of the 18.6% “not in education”). All figures for Canada were drawn from the Labour Force Survey (LFS) (for more information, see the “Definitions, sources and methodology” for this indicator and the Notes to readers section of this report).

The proportion of young adults “in education” was much lower among those aged 20 to 24 compared with their younger counterparts, dropping by about half to approximately 4 in 10 individuals, both in Canada (40.1%) and internationally (44.2%) (Table C.2.1; Chart C.2.1.2). In Canada in 2011, 45.3% of individuals aged 20 to 24 were “not in education” and employed, reflecting the transition into the working world; the corresponding OECD average was 37.5%. Not surprisingly, the “in education” numbers are lowest among those aged 25 to 29, as it is even more likely that young people in this age group will have moved out of education and into employment. The recent Canada and OECD figures for employed “not in education” individuals in this age group were 70.3% and 64.2%, respectively (Table C.2.1; Chart C.2.1.3).

Neither employed nor in education (NEET)

In addition to those who are employed, the total “not in education” portion of the 15- to 29-year-old population also includes those who are neither employed nor in education (or training). Such individuals are sometimes referred to as the “NEET” population. This captures a somewhat diverse group of young people in a number of possible situations. Some may be part of this group by choice, perhaps taking time off work and/or school to travel or to start families and care for their young children. Some might prefer to be working, but have abandoned the job search temporarily. These people would be seen as “not in the labour force”Note 10 as opposed to those who are seeking work but are unemployed. The group of people who are not in education and are either “unemployed” or “not in the labour force” is a population that could potentially be at risk for economic and social difficulties. While NEETs are seen in all three age groups that make up the overall 15-to-29 population (Chart C.2.1.1, Chart C.2.1.2 and Chart C.2.1.3), the presence of NEETs in the youngest age group (Chart C.2.1.1) is of most concern, given that one would expect that most 15- to 19-year-old youth would be in school, working towards high school graduation.

Not in education and not in employment, by age

In 2011, 13.3% of Canada’s population aged 15 to 29 was neither employed nor in education (Table C.2.1 and Table C.2.4; see 2011 data for the “not employed”, which is a summation of “unemployed” and “not in the labour force”). This compares with an OECD average of 15.8%. Overall, the situation in Canada is slightly better than that in the OECD as a whole, but there are important differences across provinces. In Canada and in the OECD overall, the highest proportion of individuals who were not in education and not in employment was in the 25-to-29 age group: 17.1% in Canada, reflecting a slightly better situation compared with the OECD’s 20.0% (Table C.2.4; Chart C.2.2). In three of the provinces (Alberta, Manitoba and Quebec), the proportion of 25- to 29-year-old NEETs ranged from 14.4% to 16.3%, below the national average for the age group. The proportion in Ontario (17.6%) was slightly higher than the Canada average. In the remaining provinces, the proportion of NEETs aged 25 to 29 was above the average for Canada, ranging from 17.3% in Saskatchewan through to 24.0% in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The highest proportion of individuals aged 20 to 24 who were not in education and not employed is also seen in Newfoundland and Labrador (24.1%), while figures for this age group in the other provinces ranged between 13.8% in Ontario and 18.1% in New Brunswick. The average proportion of 20- to 24-year-olds in Canada fell somewhat in the middle of those figures in 2011, at 14.6%. The comparable OECD figure is 18.4%.

In 2011, the proportion of Canadian youth aged 15 to 19 who were not in education and not in employment was very similar to the OECD average, 7.7% versus the OECD’s 8.3% (Chart C.2.2). In several provinces, the proportion of these young NEETs was around 7% or 8%. Within the country, the proportion of young not-in-education, not-in-employment individuals ranged from 7.2% to 8.9%. Overall, the level of NEET in OECD countries has risen slightly since 2010 for this age category, whereas in Canada it has decreased, which indicates that the effect of the 2008 economic downturn is diminishing.

Not in education, not in employment, by sex

Among the Canadian 15- to 29-year-olds who were “in education” in 2011 (43.7%), the proportion of females (45.9%) was higher than that for males (41.5%) (Table C.2.2). Of course, this means that the opposite occurs among adults these ages who were in the “not in education” category, where the proportion for males was higher (58.5% versus 54.1% for females). Across the country, the proportion of females aged 15 to 29 who were in the “not in the labour force” category of “not in education” was far higher than that for males, which is not surprising as some women in this age group would be having or raising children.

Some other male–female differences are evident among the “not in education” sub-groups that comprise the NEET population in Canada. For example, in 2011, the variability in the proportion of 15- to 29-year-old individuals who were neither employed nor in education across the provinces was larger for males, ranging from 10.0% in Alberta to 21.2% in Newfoundland and Labrador. From 12.2% in Quebec to 16.7% in Newfoundland and Labrador, the variability for female NEETs was less pronounced (Chart C.2.3). The NEET level is mainly driven by the unemployment portion for men, in all provinces (Table C.2.2). This is reflected in Saskatchewan, Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario, where the 2011 proportions of NEETs were higher for females, as males experienced the lowest levels of unemployment.

Not in education, not in employment, by educational attainment

The OECD’s examination of 15- to 29-year-old NEETs (not in employment, not in education or training) by three educational attainment groupings reveals that the youth with “upper secondary and postsecondary non-tertiary” as their highest level of educational attainment are most likely to be in the NEET group (Table C.2.3; Chart C.2.4). The same pattern is evident in Canada for 2011, where the figure for this group was 14.9%.

The picture of individuals who are not in employment and not in education that emerges by examining educational attainment is obviously not independent of age; the higher the age, the more likely that an individual will have achieved a higher level of education. At the same time, the lower the age, the higher the risk that an individual will have a lower level of education in combination with less labour market experience.

Trends for not in education, not in employment population affected by economic downturn

The proportion of Canadian young people aged 15 to 29 who were “in education” remained relatively stable over the 2001-to-2011 period, around 43.3% to 43.7% (Table C.2.4). The proportion of young adults who remained in education was largest among youth aged 15 to 19, which also remained fairly stable over the decade, at around 8 in 10 individuals. In the OECD countries overall, the proportion of 15- to 19-year-olds who were in education rose from 80.4% in 2001 to 85.6% in 2011.

When the focus is shifted to the “not in education” sub-group of the 15-to-29 population that is neither employed nor in education (or training) (the NEETs), variation is seen over a recent five-year period. The OECD’s examination of the proportion of NEETs indicates a decline from one year to the next from 2005 to 2008, followed by a subsequent rise in this population in 2009, 2010 and 2011. A similar pattern is seen for Canada’s NEET population for the first period: 12.4% in 2005, down to 11.7% in 2008 (Table C.2.4; Chart C.2.5). However, in 2009, it increases to 13.3% and remains stable for the next two years, staying at that level until 2011. This similarity reveals how this group of young adults who were not in education were affected by the economic downturn that began in late 2008.

Employment rates

Recent employment rates for young Canadians who were not in education continue to show that the country fares reasonably well when placed among other OECD member countries. Considering the percentage of employed 15- to 29-year-olds in Canada (43.0%) as a proportion of the total for these ages who were no longer in education (56.3%) reveals an employment rate of 76.4% in 2011 (calculated using figures from Table C.2.1). The latest comparable OECD employment rate for this age group is lower, at 70.1%.

The Canada–OECD difference in employment rates is largest and most evident among the youth aged 15 to 19: the employment rate for Canada (58.6%) was 15.5 percentage points higher in 2011 than the OECD’s 43.1% average (Chart C.2.6). The provincial and territorial data indicate that some provinces seem to be more successful than others in meeting the challenge of integrating young adults with relatively low educational attainment into the labour force. In Saskatchewan, Manitoba, British Columbia and Alberta, the association of relatively high employment rates and relatively high proportions of young people not in education suggests that young people can find employment in areas with labour market shortages, despite generally having less education and work experience. The situation in the other provinces appears more typical of the difficulties young people may expect when leaving the education system early, while the patterns in the three territories are somewhat different and not unexpected for these regions.

Definitions, sources and methodology

The indicator is calculated using cross-tabulations for the following variables: school attendance, labour force status, sex, age (15 to 29 overall; 15 to 19; 20 to 24; and 25 to 29) and educational attainment (highest level of education attained). Individuals are categorized by their education status (in education or not in education) and their labour force status (employed, unemployed, or not in the labour force). Some historical data are also presented.

The “in education” group captures both full- and part-time students, while “not in education” portrays those who are no longer pursuing a formal education. Employment status is based on International Labour Organization (ILO) guidelines. The employed are defined as those who during the survey reference week: (i)work for pay (employees) or profit (self-employed and unpaid family workers) for at least one hour; or (ii) have a job but are temporarily not at work (through injury, illness, holiday, strike or lock-out, educational or training leave, maternity or parental leave, etc.). The unemployed are defined as individuals who are, during the survey reference week, without work, actively seeking employment and currently available to start work. And not in the labour force captures individuals who are not working and who are not unemployed; i.e., individuals who are not looking for a job.

The data were obtained from Statistics Canada’s Labour Force Survey (LFS), and they cover the first quarter or the average of the first three months of the calendar year, which excludes summer employment. The LFS does not collect data on official work-study programmes in which students might participate; in Canada, these would be considered education in the form of a co-op or student intern programme.

Note: The corresponding OECD indicator is C5, Transition from school to work: Where are the 15-29 year-olds?.


  1. Please see the “ISCED classification and descriptions” section in this report’s Notes to readers for brief descriptions of the ISCED categories.
  2. In Canada, universities are located in the 10 provinces; there are no universities in the territories.
  3. The international data presented in this report reflect figures published in the OECD’s Education at a Glance 2013: OECD Indicators, available on the OECD Web site:
  4. The OECD presents a longer time series for foreign students, but it has collected data on international students only since 2005. “International students” is the preferred statistics from the Canadian perspective. For the differences between the two concepts, see the “Definitions, sources and methodology” section in this indicator.
  5. These proportions were calculated based on students for whom the country of origin was known (the “other” category [undeclared origin] was not taken into account).
  6. See Education at a Glance 2013: OECD Indicators, Table C4.3, Distribution of international and foreign students in tertiary education, by country of origin (2011).
  7. “Non-permanent residents” are people from another country in Canada on Work or Study Permits or as refugee claimants and any non-Canadian-born family living with them.
  8. A “landed immigrant/permanent resident” is a person who has been granted the right to live in Canada permanently by immigration authorities.
  9. The international data presented in this report reflect figures published in the OECD’s Education at a Glance 2013: OECD Indicators, available on the OECD Web site:
  10. “Not in the labour force” means that they were not looking for a job, so were neither employed nor unemployed.
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