Explore MSM Network

Ways Canada Can Stay on Top Amid Stiff Competition in International Education

So much has been written about Canadian international education in recent time, because despite the decline in international enrollment numbers in the majority of academic destination countries in 2020, Canada has continued to emerge as one of the most, if not the most, successful in handling the challenges hurled by the pandemic to the education sector.  


According to a recent survey conducted by the global student network Educations.com, Canada is now the most preferred study destination for students eyeing to pursue education overseas in 2021.


Also based on the same survey report, Canada and the UK have overtaken the US as preferred destinations for study among international students. According to statistics, there has been a steady decline in interest in American universities recorded since 2018. Data have indicated that by October last year, the US had dropped to third place behind Canada and the UK, with the latter two countries experiencing an increase in student visa applications by three percent year-on-year, compared to a ten percent decrease in the US.


The good news as far as the US is concerned is that the new Biden administration has allowed the international education community to regain the optimism it lost during the previous administration, especially after the pandemic hit.


There is also a report by academic officials and international education agents in Australia which revealed that students from India, Nepal, and China are now heading for universities in Canada or the UK because they had given up on waiting for Australia’s borders to reopen.


With the majority of the countries around the world having no choice but to close down borders to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, international students were faced with numerous problems. Canada was quick to heed the call of foreign learners and accommodated them while the world grappled with the global health crisis. This is one of the reasons why in the recent surveys, students regard Canada as the most welcoming study destination amid global travel and immigration restrictions.


Pandemic Strategy

Among the top hosting countries for international education, Canada is one of the first to lay out a defined strategy to help international students return while also managing the coronavirus cases in the country. 

As early as October 2020, Canada opened up to foreign students by setting up some rules for Designated Learning Institutions (DLI) and that was to have an approved COVID-19 readiness plan as a requirement. Through this scheme, international students were allowed to enter the country as long as they have a valid study permit and a letter proving their university or college of choice is on the list of DLIs with an approved COVID-19 readiness plan. This move was positively received by foreign learners as many of them desire to go back to the country and resume their studies safely.

The PGWP Program

Apart from Canada’s image as being immigrant-friendly, the government also provides other benefits to students such as the opportunity to gain work experience after graduation. Among the sought-after benefits is the Post-Graduate Work Permit (PGWP) which allows foreign students of DLIs to work in Canada after finishing their studies.


And during the pandemic, the Federal government made adjustments to the PGWP policies to ease the worries of foreign graduates. As international students are considered essential to the country’s economy, the government released a new policy that eases application restrictions for an additional open work permit. 


With the new policy, international students eligible for a PGWP can extend their permit up to 18 months. This will allow international student graduates to gain additional time in Canada while seeking employment and fulfilling their permanent residency requirements.

Deciding Factors

According to a survey conducted by Quacquarelli Symonds in 2020, the primary factors that international students are considering when choosing which country to study are:

  1.  Friendly Immigration Policies
  2. Reputable Universities that Offer High-Quality Education
  3. Affordable Cost of Living
  4. Post-Study Work Opportunities
  5. Safety / Law and Order
Considering the above considerations, it seems that Canada has all the boxes ticked. Indeed, the country has all the desired criteria by the students. But, so are other top international education hosting countries. 
Institutions around the world recognize the important role that the international student population plays not only in generating revenues but also in diversifying campus communities.  With this, governments are at least doing something to encourage foreign students to come and pursue their studies in their countries. The contribution they bring to the economy is huge and they support thousands of jobs. 
According to the government of Canada, foreign students give back $21 billion to Canada’s economy annually. Aside from the economic gains from tuition revenues, foreign graduates integrating into the labor market address the gap in available workers as the aging population issue persists.  
To reap more benefits, Canada needs to maintain its status as the most preferred international study destination by:

1. Strengthening COVID-19 Mitigation Initiatives


Since the world is still struggling to control coronavirus infection rates, it is critical for host countries to be able to pursue strong pandemic-mitigation measures before they can hope to remain as attractive study destinations for foreign learners.


International education relies heavily on face-to-face interaction, and an effective and workable pandemic strategy is essential to ensuring its success.


So to stay ahead of other countries, Canada would do well to sustain its pandemic strategies, such as its initiative of requiring DLIs to have a COVID-19 readiness plan in place before they can accept international students.


More than this, however, Canadian higher education institutions should even strengthen existing readiness plans to include the awareness and proper mitigation of infection from newer coronavirus variants, which is currently the bane of global pandemic measures. 


2. Maintaining High-Quality Education

Canada hosts some of the world’s top universities. Around 30 Canadian institutions are among the best in the world, according to Times Higher Education’s World University Rankings 2021, with the country’s top five in the world’s top 100 universities list. 


However, it cannot be denied that rival countries like the US have numerous schools that are extremely popular worldwide. So, to maintain its standing as the most preferred study destination, the country needs to sustain its institutions’ creditable performance in world rankings or even step up to make more of its institutions get into the world ranking. The latter may be difficult to do, however, during a global health crisis.


But make no mistake about it. Students who are trying to decide on which schools to go to actually view these rankings before they decide. As such, Canada needs to have its colleges and universities retain their rankings or climb up on the world list so that these schools will continue to be the top-of-mind choice for prospective foreign learners.


3. Creating More Immigration Pathways for Students


After international students graduate from a Canadian university, they can apply for a Post-Graduate Work Permit or PGWP. This open-work permit allows recent graduates to live and work in Canada for up to three years. 


Having a Canadian education and work experience are two major requirements of the Federal  Express Entry system for those who want to become permanent residents of Canada. Strengthening the PGWP program or introducing other methods that allow international students to easily gain work experience while pursuing studies in the country will definitely make Canada more attractive to international students.


The PGWP program has contributed immensely to Canada’s international student recruitment success and for the country to remain competitive in international education in the months and years to come, the government should find ways to enhance the program and be one step ahead of other host countries. 

4. Making the Application Process Easier for Foreign Students


Ease in obtaining a student visa and the lower cost of tuition and living (compared to other popular study destinations) are just some factors contributing to Canada’s yearly increase in international students.


In 2018, there were over half a million foreign students in Canada and early 54,000 students became Canadian permanent residents in that same year. If the processes from enrolling to applying for a study visa are much easier to fulfill in Canada than in other countries, prospective students will naturally gravitate towards pursuing studies in Canadian institutions.

5. Delivering Positive Experiences to Retain Students


Higher education institutions must put in place strategies that will help them recognize and comprehend international student segments and how students’ outlooks vary. By acquiring a deeper understanding of how students diverge in profile and behavior, HEIs can apply an understanding of the diversity in expectations among international students.  


This will help the HEIs design and develop programs and services,  allocate resources, and address their retention challenges.

In a Nutshell

The fact is that Canada is attractive to international students and, looking at the relevant government policies, it is expected that growth in the number of international students will continue and potentially increase in the coming years. Nevertheless, sustainable growth is reliant on bringing on the promise of overall positive student experiences–from applying to graduating. 

For one thing, policymakers and higher education institutions need to form pathways to simplify international students’ entry to Canada. The prevailing policies dedicated to the simplification of permanent residency requirements are steps in the right direction.

One of the strategic priorities for higher education institutions must be to understand the diverse international student population, measure their expectations and experiences, and invest in high-quality education. 

Enticing international students to come and study is just one part of the equation. The other part is the challenge of retaining them. This will require a deeper understanding of the psychology of international students so that institutions can deliver hands-on support, boost engagement, and capitalize on forming positive experiences. (SUNEETHA QURESHI)

#PartnerForLife #InternationalEducation #InternationalStudents #MSM

Suneetha has more than 10 years of experience in the international education sector. As the Vice President of MSM Global, she leads MSM’s extensive back-of-the-house operations, including MSM’s human resources, financial management, information technology, and marketing, communications, and social media activities. 


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. 

Share on facebook
Share on Facebook
Share on twitter
Share on Twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on LinkedIn


Best universities in Canada 2021. (2020, September 2). Retrieved February 15, 2021, from https://www.timeshighereducation.com/student/best-universities/best-universities-canada#survey-answer

Hoult, J. (2019, February 15). Another record year for Canadian international education. Retrieved February 19, 2021, from https://cbie.ca/another-record-year-for-canadian-international-education/

How to Create Online Content that Drives Students to Your Institution. (2020, December 08). Retrieved February 15, 2021, from https://www.qs.com/portfolio-items/how-to-create-online-content-that-drives-students-to-your-institution/

Sapsted, D. (n.d.). Canada, UK rated top by international students. Retrieved Feb 19, 2021, from https://www.relocatemagazine.com/news/canada-uk-rated-top-by-international-students-education-dsapsted-0221

The ultimate Post-graduate Work Permit (PGWP) Guide 2021. (2020, Dec 01). Retrieved Feb 19, 2021, from https://www.canadim.com/work/open-work-permit/post-graduate-work-permit/


Get in Touch

Get In Touch

Get In Touch

This website uses cookies to assist to personalize content, analyze our traffic, and to assist with our promotional and marketing campaigns. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising, and analytics team who may combine it with other information that you’ve provided to them or that they’ve collected from your use of their services. For more information about your cookies and how to change your settings, refer to our Privacy Policy.​



We will be happy to send the MSM reporter to your inbox every Thursday. Please enter below details to confirm your subscription.

Yes, I would like to receive the Top 12 trending news from the international education industry.