International student populations from all over are diversifying Canada’s university programs

Julia Hornstein
Published: February 4, 2024

A new article by Apply Board, an online platform for international student recruitment, recently released an article about the shifting landscape at Canadian universities.

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Canada’s international student population is diversifying. Nigerians were Canada’s fastest growing international student population from January to June 2023, with 44% more study permits issued in these months than during all of 2022. Almost 18,000 Canadian study permits were issued to Nigerian students in the first six months of 2023, more than for any other but India.

Although Indian students hold the most study permits in Canada, this number is falling. Between July and October of 2022, the Canadian government processed almost 146,000 new study permit applications for Indian students. Across the same period in 2023, the government processed fewer than 87,000, meaning the number of study permit applications processed for Indian students is down more than 40% in 2023.

Business programs make up huge proportion of student visas issued

Both Indian and non-Indian students have been pursuing postgraduate business courses at higher rates. This field accounted for half of all study permits issued to postgraduate Indian students through September 2023, an increase of 23 percentage points compared to 2019.

Business programs continue to capture a larger proportion of international students at Canadian universities in 2023. From January to September 2023, business and management courses accounted for a larger proportion of study permits issued than they did for all of 2022.

Since 2016, business and management has accounted for a larger proportion of student visas issued for Canadian universities each year. By September 2023, the proportion of student visas for business programs reached 36%, a 15% increase from 2016.

In particular, business and management programs accounted for 48% of all study permits issued to Indian students in September 2023, which was 25% higher than in 2016.

At the postgraduate level, business and management was the fastest-growing field, up 180%. It accounted for 38% of all study permits issued, an increase of 15 percentage points.

Growing diversity in health and general science programs

Health and general sciences grew 51% through September 2023 compared to 2019 at the undergraduate level.

Nigeria has been the biggest driver of diversity in these programs. More than 1,300 Nigerian students were issued a study permit for this field through September 2023, a growth of 430% over full year 2019.

Ghana represents an emerging student population in Canada. The number of Ghanaian students issued a study permit at the undergraduate level for health and general science programs already doubled through September 2023 over full-year 2022 and was 660% higher than full-year 2019.

At the postgraduate level, health and general science programs grew 25% through September 2023 compared to 2019. Students from India (+20%), Iran (+41%), and Nigeria (+230%) have driven the field’s growth since full-year 2019.

Computing and IT programs grew more than any other field

The number of international students pursuing computing and IT programs grew 110% through September 2023 over full-year 2019 at the undergraduate level, higher than any other field of study.

The greatest majority of students studying in computing and IT field are from India, making up 30.5% of student visas issued. However, Nigeria, Algeria, Guinea and Nepal are countries that are driving the increased popularity of these programs. The proportion of student visas issued to Nigerian, Algerian, Guinean and Nepali nationals at the undergraduate level rose three percentage points each in 2023 compared to 2019.

At the post-graduate level, computing and IT grew 70% through September 2023 from 2019. Chinese students have largely driven this growth. Through September 2023, the number of study permits issued to Chinese students for these programs was up 74% compared to 2022 and 170% compared to 2019.

Engineering programs are also seeing significant growth

Engineering grew 32% through September 2023 over full-year 2019 at the undergraduate level.

Students from African countries are fueling expansion and the diversity in undergraduate engineering programs. As of September 2023, five out of the top 10, and twelve out of the top 20 consisted of African populations in undergraduate engineering students. Additionally, no country beyond Africa achieved growth exceeding 10% compared to the full year 2022.

ApplyBoard hypotheses that Algeria could be a growing and ultimately key source of engineering students for Canadian universities. Engineering studies accounted for 22% of all study permits issued to Algerian undergraduate students through September 2023.

At the postgraduate level, engineering grew 41% through September 2023 compared to 2019. Algeria, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Ghana have contributed to the shift in student diversity. Each of these emerging student populations more than doubled over this time period.

What are the key takeaways from these statistics?

Apply Board’s article demonstrates that Canada continues to be a top study destination for international students. Further, more diverse student populations are interested in more a growing number of programs and fields of study, emphasizing Canada’s ability to provide a broad and inclusive educational environment that caters to the evolving interests and needs of a global student community.

Increased diversity in universities across Canada is beneficial for the universities but also for the students. With a more diverse population, students are exposed to new perspectives and viewpoints, which ultimately leads to a higher-quality educational experience.

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