canadian universities
Are Canadian universities superior? An IDP Connect research has found that more than one-third of international students reported that Canada was their first study abroad choice. Source: Dave Chan/AFP

Do Canadian universities reign supreme? Student sentiments on Canada as a study abroad destination remain strong. New research by IDP Connect shows that more than one-third of students (39%) reported that Canada was their first choice, followed by the US and UK (both 17%) and Australia at 16%. 

Close to half (46%) of students are still considering Australia, but there are more looking towards the UK (48%) and Canada (69 %). A previous IDP Connect survey found that international student sentiment about Australia as a study abroad destination was on a decline as the country’s borders remain closed.

IDP Connect’s New Horizons research builds on the findings of the Crossroads research series. It reached out to prospective students considering studying for an international qualification. A total of 3,650 respondents from 55 countries responded to the survey, which was conducted between August and September this year.

“With the majority (71%) of respondents intending to commence study in 2022, there is a need for Australia to act quickly and provide a plan to get international students back for on-campus learning as it prepares for a rebound,” said IDP Connect CEO Simon Emmett.

canadian universities

The importance of being able to offer an on-campus experience to international students was reaffirmed by IDP Connect’s research. Students have been able to return to Canadian universities in the past year. Source: William West/AFP

Do Canadian universities have an X-factor? 

Most students will only go abroad if they can be on campus — only 18% of students will consider starting their programme online before progressing to on-campus learning. Only 10% of respondents would consider a complete online-only study option. 

Students are choosing where and what they study based on which countries let them stay to work after graduating and become permanent residents. “The research found that the main motivational driver for students was their future career opportunities, while the factors that drove their decision of where and what to study, were financially driven. Students’ considerations included the ability to work part-time while studying, the affordability of tuition fees, and the cost of living,” it said. 

The study also asked students about their willingness to pursue an international qualification in their home country. In a result that reflects the ongoing effects of border closures and lockdowns, 66% of students who had previously only considered study abroad said the opportunity to study at a highly-ranked institution increased the likelihood that they would consider home-country study. 

Migration incentives and post-study work rights were also found to be strong drivers, with 65% of students selecting access to post-study work rights in the country of their institution would make them more likely to consider studying in their home country, and 63% said the ability to use their qualification as a pathway to migration made the study option more attractive.

Emmett said that countries that were able to offer students clear outcomes for their investment in their education and a pathway to on-campus study would benefit most from the demand for overseas study. He added that students want to be clear about the value and the outcomes they will gain. 

“The countries and institutions that can offer and communicate clear pathways to employment or migration will be most popular as the world continues to re-open from the pandemic,” he said. 

“These pathways to employment are also an important opportunity for Australia, as they can act as a solution to the nation’s critical skills shortage in key sectors, particularly in technology and technical roles. If Australia can prioritise employment pathways that address gaps in particular skills and industries, the international education sector can deliver a win-win-win for students, institutions and the nation.”

Previous reports suggest that some international students who have been locked out of Australia are flocking to Canadian universities, or changing their study abroad destinations to the UK, following the country’s strict border closures.