Strategies successfully driving student growth in Canada

Now ranked as the third most popular destination for international students globally, Canada has seen a huge increase in popularity in recent years.

While many countries struggle to compete with Canada's low crime rate and ethnically and linguistically diverse citizenship, there are many other aspects that combine to create the nation's international desirability when it comes to higher education study that could be replicated more easily by other countries.

We believe that it's worth taking a closer look at the strategies, from top-down government initiatives (including fair student visa policies during the pandemic) to significant investment in digital marketing.

Framing the story of a high-quality education - course search is key

Research from the Canadian Bureau for International Education (CBIE) shows that the country's strong quality of education is one of the key reasons students opt to attend its universities.

Most study programs delivered by Canadian universities focus on research, with a significant part of the work leading to the creation of new theories and distinguished discoveries that gain global recognition and help drive notability.

This clever use of course programs and attention to driving fame has helped Canadian institutions compete on a global scale, despite often coming lower in the World University Rankings than many of their less internationally popular counterparts.

World Uni Rankings on a desktop screen

For Universities in other countries, remember that course search and comparison features are vital in helping students find the right course or degree. They will have high expectations, so make it a great experience.

A career-focused approach - highlight the student visa journey

In 2018, international students in Canada contributed an estimated $21.6 billion to Canada's GDP and supported almost 170,000 jobs for Canada's middle class - something Canada very much encourages, with world-leading immigration opportunities and programs set up especially for international students.

After completing their Canadian education, international students are eligible for a Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) that enables them to stay in Canada and pursue full-time employment opportunities for up to three years. International students who want to settle in Canada are awarded extra points through the federal Express Entry system and also have numerous provincial immigration pathways available to them. The PGWP plays an important part of many University's student recruitment message.

Canada's unique Student Direct Stream, a streamlined and expedited application process for eligible international students, is another plus for foreign students, offering faster processing of study permit applications to those from eligible countries.

In addition to the systems in place to make life easier for foreign students pre, during, and post-study, the career-focused programs offered by many Canadian universities mean students have high employability opportunities - something that will likely become an even more important factor as the world recovers from the impact of the pandemic.

VIU Work Permit Screenshot

For Universities in other countries, the key learning is to integrate government initiatives and visa policies into your enrollment marketing and communications message. They aren't standalone.

Highlight your diverse student population

In 2018 more than half of Canada's international students came from two countries, India and China. Whilst the high numbers of Indian and Chinese students have been a boon for Canadian universities, having such a high reliance on just two nationalities is limiting when it comes to international student growth and can leave universities exposed if cultural trends shift.

This is something Canada is well aware of and has set goals for attracting students from a wider diversity of countries, as well as to a greater variety of regions and schools within the country. Your diverse student population should be center stage of your international student story telling message.

Plans laid out within Canada's International Education Strategy in 2019 look to foster sustainable growth of its international education sector and distribute the benefits more equitably across the country.

International education strategy on a desktop

As part of its International Education Strategy Canada is rolling out new digital marketing activity targeted toward the growing numbers of students from new source countries, as well as those seeking a wider choice of programs.

Whilst Canada is doing a lot on a national level to support international student growth rates, many of the initiatives being implemented can be considered by universities from other countries on a local level. Easier international application processes, courses focused on career development, and clever story-telling when it comes to student results are all easily implemented and don't have to cost millions.

Is international student growth on your agenda for 2021? We'd love to hear your ideas for attracting a diverse student mix.