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International Students in Canada Prefer BHASE Programs

The recent spike in student permit applications indicates a continued interest from international students in Canada as a study destination. However, as I have laid out in a previous article on the factors students consider when deciding where to study, the program is the first thing they choose. 

In this article, I will delve into the historical preference of international students for BHASE (business, humanities, health, arts, social science, education, legal studies, trades, services, natural resources and conservation) programs in Canada.

Key Takeaways:

  • Historical data shows that 63% more international students in Canada enroll in BHASE rather than STEM programs on average
  • Average percentage point increase in enrollments from 2015 to 2019 for STEM and BHASE programs is the same
  • 6.2% fewer students enrolled in math and computer sciences tracks in 2018/19 compared to 2016/17

STEM vs BHASE by the numbers

Many believe foreign students are showing an increased interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and computer sciences) programs, especially in the US. It is also worthy to note the shift from the US to Canada for these studies, at least for Indian students.


However, historical data show that many more international students in Canada choose BHASE compared to STEM and other program types.  The figures below are for all levels, upper postsecondary to doctoral.

stem bhase chart
Source: Statistics Canada

For the academic years 2015/16 up to 2018/19 (the latest available data), the increase in enrollment year-on-year for STEM programs averaged 14.7% percentage points. For BHASE programs, it was 14.5 percentage points. This would indicate that there is slightly more increased interest for STEM programs than with BHASE programs.


However, in terms of international student market share per year, BHASE programs outperform STEM programs. When getting the average of the four academic years in the data set, it shows that 63% of students on average enroll in BHASE programs.

four year average chart
Source: Statistics Canada

Number of programs

Some may argue that there are far more programs under the BHASE classification than under STEM. That would account for the disproportion in student numbers. 


Under STEM, there are 10 majors:

  • Astronomy
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Computer science
  • Earth sciences
  • Engineering
  • Health sciences
  • Information technology
  • Mathematics
  • Physics

Under BHASE, there are eight majors: 

  • Business and administration
  • Arts and humanities
  • Social and behavioral sciences
  • Legal professions and studies
  • Health care
  • Education and teaching
  • Trades and services
  • Natural resources and conservation

It would be difficult (and perhaps unnecessary) to enumerate all the individual programs that go under each major. Suffice it to say that both classifications encompass a large number of programs from which international students can choose, and that the number of programs available has little to do with a track choice.

Filling the need

It would perhaps be also useful to get into the details of what majors international students choose.

bhase table

As the table shows, students choose programs evenly across both STEM and BHASE classifications. There is definitely a significant increase in interest in engineering (11.75 average percentage points) and math tracks (23.5 average percentage points) from 2015/16 to 2018/19. However, the business (16.5 average percentage points) and arts and humanities tracks (11 average percentage points) are not far off. 


Additionally, the math track actually lost some momentum in 2018/19, gaining only 19.6 percentage points, compared to 2016/17, which garnered 25.8 percentage points from the previous year. This is a surprising trend that warrants further exploration.


The historical data does indicate more interest in STEM programs than BHASE programs, but hardly what one would expect based on the high demand for STEM graduates globally. It would be interesting to see why there are significantly fewer international students that pursue STEM qualifications compared to those that choose BHASE programs in Canada. (SUNEETHA QURESHI)


#PartnerForLife #InternationalEducation #InternationalStudents #MSM #GlobalEducationForAll

MSM VP Global Suneetha Qureshi

MSM President-Global Marketing Office (GMO)

Suneetha has more than 10 years of experience in the international education sector. As president of MSM GMO, she fortifies its business development outreach globally, particularly in the face of MSM’s foray in edtech-based recruitment via MSM Unify. She preserves the premium, value-adding services provided to each GMO partner institution, including dedicated teams on the ground, agent management, lead generation and inquiry management, application pre-screening, and student and parent support through pioneering pre-departure briefing sessions.


She has an impeccable track record of successfully launching the representative offices in Asia and Africa of many North American and European higher education institutions. Her key strengths include hiring, training, and developing teams as evidenced by the successful results of the dedicated in-country college and university client teams.

Suneetha also has taken the lead in developing several initiatives at MSM, including building robust standard operating procedures, the Rise ‘n Shine team engagement platform, and the organization’s data analytics and audit segments.




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