StatsCan releases report on post-secondary international student numbers prior to COVID-19

Jun 22, 2020    Source: Chelsea Dibble


A newly released study by Statistics Canada found that international students at Canadian post-secondary institutions made up a large share of new enrolments in recent years particularly in the areas of mathematics, computer, and information sciences. The study was based on the 2017/2018 Postsecondary Student Information System (PSIS), which contains enrolment data from almost all publically-funded postsecondary institutions in Canada. 

The authors noted Canadian universities and colleges have become “increasingly cosmopolitan over the past decade” with international students accounting for 14.7 percent of total university enrollment in 2017-18, up from 8.2 percent in 2008-09.

At the college level, international student enrolment rose from 5.2 percent to 13.2 percent over the same period. Furthermore, almost one-quarter (23.8 percent) of new university enrolments and 16.3 percent of new college enrolments were international students during the 2017-18 academic year.

The main source countries behind international enrolments varied according to institution type. China was the top source country of international students for 11 of the 12 broad university program areas, often by a wide margin. At the college level, India was the primary source in 9 of the 12 areas, with China often a close second.

In the wake of COVID-19, the authors noted prospective international students may be more likely to stay home as they have yet to invest in a Canadian postsecondary education.

More information

  • Read the full Economic Insights study.
  • While this is the first Canadian study reporting on the share of postsecondary enrolments from international sources by both field of study and source country, a small number of earlier studies examined international student enrolment by field of study (McMullen and Elias 2011; Statistics Canada 2016; Gardner Pinfold 2018) or by source country (The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada 2011; Statistics Canada 2016; Gardner Pinfold 2018).