Canada, apparently, has become an attractive destination for international students in the last decade or so. The numbers are pretty staggering. According to a recent report from RBC Economics, the number of international students enrolled in post-secondary education in Canada surged from 180,000 in 2007 to 415,000 in 2016 — that’s a 130 percent increase in nine years.
Where are these international students coming from?
Take a look at the chart above. It answers the first part of my question — young Chinese and Indian citizens are increasingly choosing to study in Canada, and they in fact dominate the international student population in many Canadian universities.
The 132,000 Chinese students studying in Canada make up one-third of all foreign students in Canada — a three-fold increase from a decade ago. The number of students from India grew ten times over the last decade, reaching 80,000 in 2016.
China has a population of 1.37 billion. The combination of robust economic growth and the one-child policy has created a burgeoning middle class who have the ability to spend tens of thousands of dollars ensuring their kids are getting the best possible education in safe surroundings. Canada fits the bill perfectly.
In fact, according to a study by consulting group McKinsey & Company, 76 percent of China’s urban population will be considered middle class by 2022. That’s an astounding figure — even if 0.01 percent of Chinese youth choose to study in Canada because they have the financial means to, our economic will see the positive effects of it.
“A foreign post-secondary student spends an average of $31.7K on tuition, books, accommodation, meals, transportation and discretionary spending each year,” writes Laura Cooper, Economist at RBC Economics and author of the report.
The RBC report also alludes to Canada’s high quality of post-secondary education at an attractive price as one of the reasons why our international student base has been on the rise since 2007. According to the OECD’s “Programme for International Student Assessment”, Canada ranked 7th globally for education performance, above Australia, the U.S. and the U.K.
Moreover, international student tuition fees in Canada are substantially lower than that of our southern neighbour — it costs an average of $22,000/year to study in Canada, as opposed to $33,000/year to study in America.
Will Trump push more foreign students to Canada?
There has been some sign of what some are calling the Trump Bump — an exodus of American residents and citizens out of the U.S. to Canada to avoid living under a Trumpocracy, says RBC.
“Some Canadian universities have moved to capitalize on the shifting sentiment in the U.S., for instance waiving application fees for potential students coming from countries that were subject to the immigration ban imposed in the U.S. earlier this year.”
Another piece of evidence of a Trumpxit comes from Inside Higher Ed, a website that curates information relating to higher education — turns out some Canadian universities are actually seeing a surge in applications from Americans, anecdotally related to the Trump effect.
Keeping talent in Canada
The key however, is to be smart about retaining all this talent. Back in 2011, the Harper government launched a strategy of sorts (called the International Education Strategy) to “maximize the economic opportunities associated with international students.” The goal was to double the size of the international student base to 450,000 by 2022, and to ensure that Canada has a system in place to retain graduates.
Compared to the U.S. and U.K., it’s actually much easier to obtain a post-graduation work permit in Canada. Under the current rules, work permits can be issued to foreign graduates for up to three years, a sufficient amount of time to gain valuable Canadian work experience. Young foreign graduates who study in Canada also have an easier and quicker time obtaining permanent residency — there are a number of relatively painless methods to do so.
“Tapping into the talent produced by our institutions will be an important part of securing Canada’s current and future prosperity,” says Cooper.
The number of post-secondary students studying internationally is poised to grow to roughly 6.4 million by 2025.