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Student perceptions of Canada are more positive than for other destinations, but Canada does have weaknesses as well

The fourth installment of IDP Connect’s International Student Crossroads survey conducted in March and April 2021 among 6,000+ international students reveals that Canada is leading other top destinations in positive perceptions, and that there are important opportunities for Canadian institutions to pick up market share in 2021.

About the survey sample

The more than 6,000 surveyed students were either interested in or were already studying with 527 institutions across Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK, and the US. The largest proportions had intentions to study in Australia and Canada, followed by the UK, the US, and New Zealand. Thirty-eight percent were Indian, followed by significant proportions in Philippines, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Nepal, Indonesia, Kenya, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and China.

Half had either received at least one offer or had a pending offer, 18% had already begun their studies, and 20% had not yet applied. Twelve percent had put their studies on hold.

Exploring the 12% who have put their studies on hold

Most who have put aside their dreams to study abroad have done so because of wanting to wait out the global pandemic or because of travel bans. Affordability is also a major barrier for many students.

Globally, money issues present a bigger obstacle for students than difficulty in getting a visa – but not when it comes to Canada. The global average citing difficulty getting a visa was 13% – for Canada, it was 20% – higher than for any other destination country and virtually on par with problems with affordability and travel restrictions.

Top reasons for putting studies on hold

More than four in ten will start online if they can move to face-to-face later

Globally, many students (43%) are willing to start online if they know they can transfer to face-to-face as soon as campuses open to in-person learning, and a significant proportion plan to defer (31%). But these proportions change ­– in a positive way – for Canada.

Students are particularly willing to begin a Canadian program online (51%), and they are the least likely to say that they will defer (24%) their studies in Canada. This may suggest stronger loyalty underpinned by trust that studies will indeed move to face-to-face.

The finding is also likely tied to Canada’s COVID-related PGWP flexibility: international students who complete 100% of their Canadian programs online are still eligible to work in Canada after graduation. Students with a keen interest in working in Canada are naturally motivated to want to get on with their studies without delay, and this may tie into their greater willingness to begin their studies online with a Canadian institution.

Positive perceptions abound for Canada

Asked to rate the destinations on a number of factors, students gave high marks to Canada on every count, particularly regarding “welfare of international students,” “policies for international students,” and “post-study work policies for international students.” Canada’s lead intensified in the key market of India.

These strong differentiators for Canada are incredibly important to leverage right now, particularly as recent agent-focused research is showing increasingly strong interest in the US and the UK.

Willingness to switch destinations for face-to-face increases further

Globally, an increasing number of international students are willing to switch destinations for the chance of face-to-face learning. Three-in-ten (30%) would even switch destinations for this reason if it meant they had to give up a scholarship, and 25% of students would be willing to switch even if it was more expensive. In other words, the desire to learn face-to-face trumps affordability for a significant proportion of students.

More needs to be done for Canada’s international students

Among students whose studies are already underway, the biggest proportions saying they “have not received any non-academic assistance or support” were found in Canada followed closely by Australia. These proportions are significantly higher than those found in the UK, the US, and New Zealand.

This finding is major not only from a compassionate perspective but also in terms of word of mouth. Student satisfaction – which is informed by whether students feel supported – is a recruitment lever that should not be underestimated.

Key takeaways

  • Students’ difficulties getting a visa for studies in Canada poses a major challenge

  • Improving non-academic student services such as mental health supports and quarantine assistance should be a priority

  • Canada’s image remains the strongest overseas of any destination

For institutions interested in more granular data at the source country level, please feel free to contact canada.info@idp-connect.com for more information.

CP - Author Image - Meghan Krohn
Meghan Krohn10 May 2021