Canada attracts more students from EU post-Brexit: report

Number of EU students in Canada rises
While Asia remains the number one supplier of international students in Canada, a recent report by ApplyBoard suggests increasing enrolment numbers in Canadian K-12 schools and universities from European students. Source: Nicholas Kamm/AFP

If there’s one thing that Justin Trudeau’s government has done right throughout the pandemic, it’s the decision to enact friendly policies for international students in Canada. The result speaks for itself: a recent report by IDP Education titled “Emerging Futures” saw the country cementing its number one position as the most preferred global study destination. More students are flocking to Canadian universities over major competitors in the US, UK, and Australia. 

While Asian students still account for a large cohort of overseas students in Canada, a report by Canadian-based recruitment platform ApplyBoard published on March 24 revealed a surprising turn in the country’s international education recruitment. The study showed that seven out of the top 10 rapidly-growing foreign student populations in Canada last year are European citizens. 

The probable cause behind the spike? Brexit. 

“While it’s well-documented that COVID-19 created pent-up demand for international education with students in all countries, this concentrated spike in interest across Europe looks to be a product of Brexit,” the report read. 

“European students who previously would’ve opted to take advantage of reduced tuition fees at UK institutions are now casting their search wider, pursuing education opportunities in Canada. While several UK schools continue to offer these rates to EU students, they may be sceptical of future tuition hikes or soured by Brexit politics.” 

Increase in EU students in Canada

The increase in EU students in Canada corresponds with the drop in enrolment from EU students in British universities post-Brexit, as more students from Europe look for alternative study destinations outside of the UK. Source: François Walschaerts/AFP

Interestingly, the three countries that topped the European student cohort in Canadian schools — Germany, Italy, and Spain — show more enrolment at the K12 level as opposed to tertiary institutions, and at a greater number compared to the global averages.

According to the study, the appeal of high school study abroad programmes are a major pull drawing international students to K12 Canadian schools. Meanwhile, 2021 marked an uptick in Danish and Belgian students pursuing university-level education in Canada at 300 and 1,315 students respectively. 

The trend corresponds with dwindling numbers of EU students in UK universities post-Brexit since they are no longer considered domestic students. Last year, British universities reported a 50% drop in EU student enrolment, while UCAS, the UK’s centralised university application service, marked a 43% decline in application from EU students compared to 2020.

Record-breaking number of int’l students in Canada to spur immigration

While foreign student numbers in Canada have yet to recover to pre-pandemic levels, the country issued a record number of nearly 450,000 study permits last year, surpassing the record set in 2019 of just over 400,000 permits. From the study by ApplyBoard, Asian countries account for the top six suppliers of overseas students in Canada, with India topping the table at 217,410 students — a 21% increase from 2020.

Based on recent data by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), Canada currently hosts a total of 622,000 international students as of Dec. 31, 2022 the closest it has been to pre-pandemic numbers, which stood at nearly 640,000 students in 2019. After India, students from China (105,265) and France (26,630) are the largest study permit holders in Canada. 

The new wave of international students in Canada is in line with the government’s initiative to bolster immigration in the coming years. In mid-February, the Canadian government unveiled the Immigration Levels Plan 2022-24 with the aim of boosting permanent residency numbers by 2024.

Following the announcement, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser remarked last month that the country is looking into new pathways for international students in Canada to attain PR status. “We’re doing some of the policy work now. It’ll take us a little bit of time,” Fraser told ApplyBoard in an online interview. “It’ll allow people to better plan their succession to come here to study and then after they’re done to transition to permanent residency.”

Meanwhile, a separate report from The PIE News indicated a surge in interest among South African students looking to Canadian universities for their degrees. Nicholas Avramis, a Cape Town-based consultant, said in an interview that Canada’s post-graduation work permits (PGWPs) are a huge incentive for South African students, as are the breadth of tech-based programmes such as coding and software engineering offered in Canadian universities.