Backpackers Tokyo

Students attend Freshman International Welcome Day at Centennial College Progress Campus in Scarborough in September 2019. Canada saw its international student enrolment drop off significantly last year.

Nicholas Keung

By Nicholas Keung Immigration Reporter

Thu., July 29, 2021 timer 3 min. read

The prospect of in-person classes and access to vaccines — as well as clear vaccination and quarantine policies — are key to keeping Canada a top destination for foreign students despite the global pandemic, a new international survey suggests.

Uncertainty caused by border closures and travel restrictions has greatly disrupted the lucrative international education sector since the onset of the health crisis, but interest in studying in Canada has remained strong, says the study by U.K.-based IDP Connect.

The online survey examined the attitudes and intentions of more than 4,000 international student applicants, individuals with admission offers and current students from 20 countries in July.

Other destinations rated included Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States. Out of those, Canada was ranked second to New Zealand for its response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

That’s good news for Canada, which saw its international enrollment decline by about 17 per cent last year to 531,000 students from 639,000 in 2019, according to Statistics Canada. Prior to the pandemic, the international education industry contributed $22 billion to the Canadian economy and supported 170,000 jobs.

“Canada continues to lead the world in terms of being seen as a welcoming destination for international students,” says Jonah Duffin of IDP Connect, part of IDP Education, which matches students with study opportunities in all major destinations, including Canada.

“Not only do students from around the world want to come here, but when they get here, they are satisfied with their decision.”

Almost 80 per cent of Canada-bound students who participated in the survey said they expect to start their studies as planned this fall, and 49 per cent said they are “unlikely” to switch destinations to gain face-to-face instruction, compared to 39 per cent among those committed to studying in the other four countries.


Duffin said students’ attitudes vary, depending on their understanding of when and if they will be able to transition to in-person teaching.

Students going to Australia and New Zealand, for example, indicated they have felt as though they’ve been left in the dark about when campuses there will be opened and are wanting to defer in higher numbers, as opposed to those headed to Canada, which was seen having clear policies in place dealing with international students.

“Countries that are open to receiving students are all competing to attract students that would normally have gone to Australia, a country whose borders remain closed to international students,” Duffin explained.

“Anything they can do to help students to arrive safely is important, but the survey suggests that offering vaccines would be a key draw for those yet to receive one.”

Since the early stage of the pandemic, Ottawa has introduced a number of policies to allow international students to study online from abroad and to be eligible for coveted postgraduate work permits. Expired and expiring work permits have also been extended.

Currently, international students attending a “designated learning institution” can enter Canada if they have a valid study permit and their school has a COVID-19 readiness plan approved by its province or territory.

While 74 per cent of Canada-bound students credited the availability of vaccines to international students on arrival for making studying here more attractive, 71 per cent said that Canada’s clear vaccination and quarantine policies have made them more likely to come here.

“Canada policymakers and educators should be commended for how they have shown care for students, visitors and citizens,” said Duffin. “This research demonstrates students are showing increased loyalty towards Canada as their destination. This is something the Canada sector can be very proud of.”

According to the survey, 60 per cent of international students interested in studying in Canada are fully vaccinated and an additional 33 per cent will get their vaccines as soon as they can. An overwhelming 83 per cent are also willing to quarantine upon arrival to ensure safety on campus.

Among those hoping to study in Canada, the survey also found:

  • 39 per cent are willing to pay the full cost of quarantine and 39 per cent a portion of the cost; and
  • 38 per cent said they would prefer to quarantine in a government hotel, while 35 per cent prefer university-run accommodation, and the rest expressed no preference.

Of the 4,000 respondents to the survey, 1,451 were destined for Canada; 1,428 for Australia; 823 for the U.K.; 228 for the U.S.; and 99 for New Zealand.

Nicholas Keung

Nicholas Keung is a Toronto-based reporter covering immigration for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @nkeung