Where Are Canada’s Growing Mature Student Populations Coming From?

In Canada’s new international student application cap era, institutions are facing a shifted landscape of priorities. Maximizing study permit approval rates has become more critical than ever to maintain a thriving international student population. However, this new focus also requires balance. Attracting diverse applicants from around the globe now and in the years to come means institutions need to keep on top of the latest student mobility trends.

One evolving trend for Canadian colleges and universities is the rise in mature (aged 25+) student applications.1 Recently, we detailed that mature students accounted for more than 25% of all study permit approvals in 2023, up from just 15% in 2019.2 With approval rates for this cohort also climbing to new heights, older students are becoming key to the growth and stability of Canada’s international student population.

How can this heightened demand from mature students for Canadian post-secondary studies help drive institutions’ diversification efforts? Read on to learn where Canada’s largest mature student populations are coming from, which student populations are poised for continued growth, and what institutions can do to attract older students from around the world.

Key Insights at a Glance

  • In 2023, mature students accounted for over 50% of study permit approvals for four of Canada’s ten largest student populations: Nigeria, the Philippines, Ghana, and Mexico.
  • Students over 25 from Nigeria and the Philippines collectively represented over 30% of all new mature student study permit approvals in 2023.
  • While Indian students received over 50% of all new study permit approvals in 2023, only 13% of those approved study permits went to mature Indian students.
  • Since 2019, nearly half of Canada’s 30 largest student populations saw mature students grow at a faster rate than those under 25.

The Mature Student Populations Driving Diversity at Canadian Post-Secondary Institutions

Canada’s mature student population has boomed over the past five years. In 2019, just over 20,000 mature students were approved for a post-secondary study permit. But in 2023, nearly 100,000 received an approved study permit, an increase of over 225%. By comparison, the number of approvals for students 25 and under increased by 82%.

Significantly, this growing demand among older students isn’t limited to any one region of the globe. As the chart below shows, India has remained the largest mature student population over the past five years, but several others are on the rise:

In 2019, only four mature student populations received more than 1,000 study permit approvals for Canadian post-secondary studies. Yet just five years later, ten different mature populations surged past this 1,000 permit approval threshold, with an additional three coming in just below that mark. Indian mature students alone received more study permit approvals in 2023 than older students from all countries in 2019.

It’s worth noting that a significant driver of this increased growth is rising approval rates for older applicants. Over the past five years, approval rates for students over 25 increased by nearly 17%, compared to nearly 3% gains for younger students. Although older students remain less likely to be approved than their younger counterparts, 26 to 30 year old applicants have seen the largest shift in approval rates since 2019.3

Let’s take a closer look at the portion of approvals received by mature students in 2023:

Mature students accounted for more than half of all post-secondary study permit approvals for seven of these student populations in 2023. This includes two of the fastest growing all-age student populations for Canadian institutions: Ghana and Nigeria.

For both of these countries, mature students have been the driving force behind increased demand in Canadian post-secondary studies over the last five years:

In fact, all of the top five mature student populations experienced an increase in the portion of approvals received by older applicants. Mexican and Indian mature students saw the smallest proportional growth, at around +5% from 2019 to 2023, compared to an astonishing +61% for older Nigerian students.

Major Mature Student Source Market Spotlights

To better illuminate the unique trends for each of these majority mature student populations, let’s take a look at each one in-depth, starting with India.
H3-sized header showing the flag of India and the country name.
After study permit approval rates for Indian students hit historic highs in 2023, it’s little wonder that India remains the top source country for new students heading to Canadian post-secondary institutions. For study levels affected by Canada’s new cap, Indian students received over 50% of all approved study permits in 2023. While mature Indian students only accounted for 28% of all approvals for older applicants, they were still the largest new mature student population:

Mature students received 13% of study permits approved for all Indian applicants in 2023. However, this is still an increase of five percentage points from 2019, when mature students claimed less than 8% of approvals for Indian students.

As India remains a critical market for many Canadian institutions, rising mature student interest presents a new opportunity. Older Indian student approval rates are now only 6% to 7% lower than younger Indian applicants, compared to over 20% lower five years ago. Institutions looking to diversify their recruitment from India should focus on these older applicants, using messaging that promotes career growth and Canada’s thriving Indian communities.
H3 sized heading showing Nigeria flag and country name.
Just five years ago, around 1,700 Nigerians received study permit approvals to start their post-secondary studies in Canada. But in 2023, mature Nigerian student approvals alone hit nearly 14,000. Nigeria has quickly become one of the most important source countries for Canadian institutions, accounting for 6% of all approvals for cap-affected study levels in 2023.

The most incredible part of the 1,200% increase in approvals for Nigerian students over the past five years? The 6,000% growth for mature Nigerian applicants. Growing interest from older Nigerian students is so strong that, in 2023, they accounted for over 15% of all mature student approvals, up from just 1% in 2019.

As we detailed late last year, Nigerian students are critical for institutions looking to diversify their international student enrolment. Nigerian students are more evenly distributed across Canada than students from other source markets, showing that they are open to studying at a wide variety of Canadian institutions. While study permit approval rates remain a concern, there is good news there too. They’ve been trending upward since the pandemic, and we think they can continue to climb even with the new application cap.

In addition to studying all over Canada, Nigerian students have pursued all post-secondary study levels. This makes Nigeria a strong recruitment opportunity for colleges and universities alike.

H3 sized heading showing the flag for The Philippines and the country name
As we detailed last time we did a deep-dive into the booming Philippines market, approvals for Filipino students rose by over 300% from 2019 to 2022. While this growth tapered off somewhat in 2023, mature Filipino students continue to show strong interest in a Canadian education:

Mature students accounted for nearly three-quarters of all approved study permits for Filipinos in 2023. That’s the second-highest rate among all student populations.4 Unlike other top student populations, Filipinos largely pursue studies at Canadian colleges. For all age groups, colleges accounted for 95% of all approvals for students from the Philippines last year.

The Philippines is likely to remain a key source market for Canadian colleges in the new cap era. But understanding that most Filipino applicants are mature students is critical to achieving recruitment success, especially as restrictions on spousal open-work permits could limit student interest. As well, older students require different support systems than younger students, especially toward supporting career growth and offering off-campus support programs.

Colleges also have an opportunity to help prospective Filipino students better understand Canada’s Student Direct Stream (SDS) program, which generally offers expedited processing times and better approval rates.

H3 sized heading showing the flag of Ghana and country name.
Ghanaian students considering studying in Canada have had much to celebrate over the past couple of years. From 2021 to 2022, approval rates for Ghanaian students rose from 18% to 44%. Study permit processing times for students from Ghana also dropped by nearly 12 weeks from June 2022 to June 2023. These improvements coincide with an unprecedented level of Ghanaian interest in a Canadian education:

The number of study permit approvals for Ghanaian students surged in 2023, hitting nearly 6,000. That’s an increase of nearly 1,200% over 2019 approvals. And mature students are leading this surge: While older students received just 27% of all approvals for Ghanaian applicants in 2019, they accounted for nearly 62% in 2023.

Crucially, for institutions hoping to attract Ghanaian students, this group is more evenly divided among college and university applicants. In fact, universities accounted for over 30% of all approvals for mature Ghanaians in 2023. This was the highest rate among the top 20 mature student populations. As institutions look to expand their recruitment diversification efforts, it’s clear that both Nigeria and Ghana offer ample opportunities to recruit interested students of any age.
H3 sized heading with the flag of Mexico and country name.
Mexico remains one of Canada’s top 10 source countries for students, with approvals mostly recovering in 2023 following a slight dip the previous year. But, unlike many of the other top mature student populations, interest in studying in Canada has been equally split among younger and older students for many years:

Since 2017, mature students accounted for about 50% of all approvals for Mexican applicants. This consistency has kept Mexico within the top five mature student populations throughout that time, peaking at #3 in 2021. Also, mature Mexican students see approval rates at nearly identical levels to younger Mexican students, reaching over 90% in 2023. That’s the highest approval rate for mature applicants from any of the top ten mature student populations.

As English language proficiency is often the largest barrier for students from across Latin America, institutions looking to attract more Mexican students should consider developing integrated English-learning resources and programs. While English proficiency has risen in Latin America over the past decade, the region had the largest age-related proficiency gap in 2022 worldwide, with young adults (aged 18 to 20) falling in the “very low” proficiency range.

Fastest Growing Mature Student Populations

As we look forward to the trends and opportunities that may emerge during Canada’s cap era, it’s likely that mature students will remain a vital part of diversification strategies. Interest from this student cohort is on the rise from every region of the world, but older students from Africa are leading the way:

From 2019 to 2023, the number of approvals for mature African students grew by over 1,700%. This far outpaced the overall growth in approved study permits for all African applicants, which still reached an impressive 400% over that time. While Nigeria and Ghana were among the top ten fastest growing mature student populations over the past five years, they weren’t the sole African countries. Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire, and Senegal also surpassed 1,000% growth over this period. With African student study permit approval rates remaining steady in 2023, after hitting a seven-year high in 2022, Canadian institutions should revisit or develop their African diversification efforts to specifically speak to the interests of older African applicants.

Yet Africa isn’t the only region to show strong mature student growth. Older applicants from across Asia, including students from Hong Kong, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines have all shown increased interest in studying in Canada over the past five years. Likewise, mature applicant populations from Latin America, including Ecuador and Peru, have grown significantly over this time.

Key Takeaways

While the impact of Canada’s international student cap won’t be clear until we have access to 2024 data, it’s hard to picture a decline in global demand from mature students. Challenges for international students, including a limited housing supply and increased proof of fund requirements, may be easier for older students to overcome, given that they’ve likely had more time to save for their studies abroad.

Although mature students often experience lower approval rates than younger applicants, ApplyBoard is the perfect partner to help your institution navigate maximizing conversation rates. Our platform helps steer students toward programs that match their professional and academic journey, increasing their chance for permit approval. For the past three years, mature ApplyBoard students were over 50% more likely to receive study permit approval than the average mature applicant.

For data-backed guidance on how you can maximize mature student conversion rates, please reach out to your Partner Relations Manager or contact ApplyBoard’s Partner Relations team at schoolpartnerships@applyboard.com.

As study permit approval rates for older students continue to rise, institutions looking to maintain vibrant and diverse student populations in the new cap era should consider implementing a mature student recruitment strategy. Explaining to older students how specific programs can advance their careers and investing in both on- and off-campus services will be critical to these plans, especially as competition from other destination countries is reaching unprecedented levels.

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About the ApplyInsights Team

Led by ApplyBoard Co-Founder and CEO Meti Basiri, the ApplyInsights Team analyzes the latest government, third-party, and ApplyBoard internal data to provide a complete picture of trends in the international education industry. They also work with industry experts and ApplyBoard team members to gather local insights across key source and destination countries, where ApplyBoard has helped more than 800,000 students around the world.



1. For the previous article referenced here and for this article, we only look at study permits for college and university programs, not including ESL/FSL. We’ve also omitted master’s and PhD students given that these study levels are excluded from Canada’s new provincial attestation letter system.

2. Statistics used in this article are for new study permits only. All data courtesy of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), except where noted.

3. As discussed in our previous piece on older applicant approval rates for Canadian post-secondary studies.

4. Surpassed only by Chile, where 76.7% of all approved Chilean students were over 25. Minimum of 5 mature students approved to study in Canada in 2023.


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