Everything You Need to Know About Canadian Higher Education

6 min read

G. John Cole

The ICEF Workshop, one of the world’s “leading international education focused networking forums,” returns to Berlin this 4-6 November to bring education professionals up to date with industry developments, fresh ideas, and evolving networks.

With Canada exceeding its 2022 international student intake target early this year, it is a great moment to take a closer look at an international education success story in the making.

How many students choose Canada and where are they coming from?

International student numbers have been rising in Canada for some time. The total almost doubled from 66,000 between 2004-2005 and 2013-2014, bumping up the proportion of international students in Canada by 7 percent in the same period. The international student growth rate outperformed the increase in Canadian students four times over.

The Government of Canada’s International Education Strategy had a plan to beat 450,000 by 2022. But by the end of 2017, the total figure had risen to 494,525 (including international students pursuing all levels of Canadian education). The same set of data revealed that international students at post-secondary level had increased to over 370,000, from under 200,000 just two years previously.


Where do International Studnets Come From
Image Credit: A World of Learning: Canada’s Performance and Potential in International Education 2016 cbie-bcei.ca


Increased interest from Indian and Chinese international student accounts for much of this number, with the respective countries each supplying around a quarter of Canada’s inbound students. And France is, of course, a special case. According to the most recent CBIE survey of international students in Canada, Quebec accounted for more than 30 percent of international students. French students alone account for around 4 percent of international scholars in Canada (representing about half of all European students studying in Canada), with many arriving in Québec to study in their home language.

Why do students choose Canada?

This surge has lifted Canada into fourth position in terms of international student numbers, behind the U.S., U.K., and China. That target-busting half-million population contributes CAN$15 billion to the economy each year, creating 170,000 Canadian jobs. But what’s in it for the students?

“Canada is to niceness as Saudi Arabia is to oil,” as BBC correspondent Eric Weiner put it a couple of years back. The country has a great reputation for being welcoming and open – traits that count more and more as society becomes more exclusionary elsewhere. American visa policies and the current socio-political climate in relation to immigration are among those reasons given by students who may previously have applied to study in the States but are instead heading north of the border.

A survey by the Canadian Bureau for International Education revealed Canada’s warm reputation as the second main motivating factor for inbound scholars. Students are encouraged to work as they study, which not only offsets expenses and provides valuable experience but also helps them to integrate with their famously friendly hosts.

And that is just the start of a process that makes it relatively easy to stay on to live and work after graduation. Work permits enable international students and graduates to feed their high-quality Canadian education back into Canadian society. An integrated study experience also provides students with the language and cultural knowledge to step into the workplace; employers recognize the potential of foreign graduates.

That high-quality education, however, is the number one reason for a non-Canadian student to choose Canada.

Combined with competitive international student fees and a favorable exchange rate that makes it even more affordable, it’s a great deal on paper even before the warm welcome. Canada wants international students – as those targets, and the enthusiasm with which they were reached, demonstrates – to supplement and enrich its own dwindling youth population.

In short, Canada is a friendly and safe destination for many foreign students, who see opportunities not just to learn and work but to live and express themselves in ways that may not be possible back home. Safety is the third top reason for applicants who choose Canada.

What degrees attract students to Canada?

Canada’s international student figures are astonishing, and three-quarters of that total are accounted for by post-secondary students. Primary, secondary, and cégep (QC) level students make up another 14 percent.

But what programs are those post-secondary students taking?

Business is ‘big business' for institutions hoping to raise international student numbers since around 60% of potential business students are thinking about studying abroad. Internationally, around a third of these also hope to stay on to work in the country where they study – but of those considering Canada, over half plan to stay to work after graduation. It’s not just that Canada seems a good place to work in business, but that the government makes the process of staying to work relatively straightforward.

A 2018 survey suggested that engineering and business were the top choices for inbound students in Canada, with social, natural and computer science programs also high in appeal

Fields of Sudy

Image Credit: CBIE Research in Brief Number 10: International Students in Canada, August 2018 https://cbie.ca

As of 2013-14, over 25 percent of international students in Canada were at doctoral level, with around one in ten studying at bachelor's level.

What are the benefits of Canadian degrees?

Students can apply for a Canadian post-graduate work permit that allows them to take up employment for the same duration as their course (up to a maximum of three years). For example, a student who studies for a year can get a one-year permit, and a student on a four-year program can stay a further three years to work.

It's a straightforward way to segue into work straight after study, and the permit also paves the way towards applying for permanent residency – which graduates can apply for without needing to first leave the country. Some residency schemes don’t even require a graduate to have a job offer.

But if an international graduate of a Canadian institution does decide it’s time to move on, they’ll find their qualifications are recognized and respected around the world. Canadian degrees, diplomas, and certificates are equivalent to those from US or Commonwealth schools. Toronto, British Columbia, McGill, and Waterloo universities are among the top 50 engineering institutes worldwide.

How easy is it to study in Canada?

Potential international students will not find discouraging hurdles to jump, should they decide that Canada is their destination of choice.

Students should research which universities provide programs that interest them, and for which they have the appropriate qualifications. Different schools have different language test requirements such as TOEFL, GRE, GMAT, IELTS, etc.

Students whose program is longer than six months also need a study permit, which costs CAN$150. The study permit allows a student to stay in Canada for their period of study, plus 90 days afterward, although some students will need an additional visa to enter the country. The 90 days grace period makes it easier to apply to stay on longer once a student has completed their course, and it is possible to renew the study permit without leaving the country. Students from China, India, the Philippines, and Vietnam can use Canada’s Student Direct Stream to get their permit faster.

As the world's leading education actors arrive in Berlin for November's ICEF Workshop, it's well worth reflecting on a study culture that gets the basics so right that they're four years ahead of schedule!


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