ApplyInsights: The Most Popular Schools in Canada for Chinese and Korean Students

In this edition of ApplyInsights, I’m sharing my observations on the top Canadian universities and colleges for Chinese and South Korean students, two critical markets for international education in Canada. China is Canada’s second-largest supplier of students. Almost 30,000 Chinese students came to the country to study in 2019, accounting for 11.7% of all new study permits issued. South Korea sent just under 10,000 students, the fourth-highest total, good for a 3.9% market share.1

Here’s what this blog post will cover:

  • Brief snapshots of the colleges and universities in Canada that issued the most study permits to Chinese and South Korean nationals in 20192
  • The list of the top 30 schools for Chinese and South Korean enrollment in 2019
  • How enrollment numbers for these schools have shifted over time

Many of the schools below are ApplyBoard partner schools. It’s an honour to get to work with these schools in recruiting students from China and South Korea!

Top Universities in Canada for Chinese Students

A university education has long been the top draw for Chinese students coming to Canada. 45.1% of all Chinese students issued a study permit in 2019 were university students, more than three times the number for college. In fact, the top nine schools for Chinese students in Canada last year were universities. 

As we’ll see in the lists below, Chinese students are attracted to prestigious schools and large, cosmopolitan cities. That’s made Toronto and Vancouver the top destinations in Canada for Chinese students for many years, and 2019 was no different. 

Here are the top five universities in Canada for Chinese students:

  1. University of Toronto: The University of Toronto (U of T) was the number one choice for Chinese students in 2019 among all post-secondary institutions, with 6,918 study permits issued. U of T’s sterling international reputation3 and location in the heart of vibrant downtown Toronto make it a highly attractive destination for students from all over the world. The university issued 624 more study permits to Chinese students in 2019 than 2018, good for 9.9% growth. 
  2. York University: York University was next, with 3,737 study permits issued to Chinese students in 2019. Like U of T, York is a highly regarded institution situated in Toronto. York saw similar growth to its neighbour, up 10.2% in 2019.
  3. University of British Columbia: 3,429 Chinese students received study permits for Vancouver’s University of British Columbia (UBC) in 2019. This was up just 1.8% over 2018. Like the Toronto universities above it, UBC has a stellar reputation. It placed second overall in Maclean’s list of Best Universities by Reputation 2021 behind U of T.
  4. University of Waterloo: Located in Waterloo, Ontario, just an hour west of Toronto, the University of Waterloo (UW) saw the fourth-most study permits issued to Chinese students in 2019, at 2,452. This represented an 11.4% drop from 2018. UW is held in high esteem worldwide for its engineering and computer science programs, and placed third in Maclean’s reputational list. 
  5. Western University: London, Ontario’s Western University saw 2,451 study permits issued to Chinese nationals in 2019. Western’s Chinese complement grew just 3.7% from 2018 to 2019, but that came on the heels of 34.0% growth the previous year. Like Waterloo, the city of London is just west of Toronto—around a two-hour drive from Ontario’s capital. 

Top Colleges in Canada for Chinese Students

Despite the strong preference among Chinese students for university programs, a number of Canadian colleges boast large populations of students from China. Nine colleges placed among the top 30 schools for Chinese students in Canada overall: six Ontario public colleges and three private British Columbia colleges. 

Let’s take a look at the top five:

  1. Fraser International College: Fraser International College (FIC) is a private college on the campus of Simon Fraser University (SFU) that offers international students a direct pathway to degree programs at the university. With 1,362 study permits issued at FIC and another 1,637 at the university itself, the SFU campus, located in Greater Vancouver, was one of the top destinations for Chinese students in Canada last year. 
  2. Seneca College: Seneca College, one of four Greater Toronto Area (GTA) colleges in the top 30 schools for Chinese nationals, saw 1,109 study permits issued in 2019. This was the highest mark for any Canadian public college. However, it represented a 6.6% drop from 2018. 
  3. Centennial College: Toronto’s Centennial College was next, with 923 study permits issued last year. This represented a 1.1% increase in Chinese enrollment. Ontario’s oldest public college, Centennial is a popular choice for students from around the world: the college made the top five in our rankings for Indian, Filipino, and Vietnamese students, as well. 
  4. George Brown College: Another Toronto-based institution, George Brown College saw 725 Chinese nationals issued study permits in 2019. George Brown was the number two college for Chinese students as recently as 2017, but its Chinese population declined 22.2% in 2018 and another 17.8% in 2019, the largest drop among the top 30 for both years. 
  5. Fanshawe College: London’s Fanshawe College rounded out the top five for 2019. 667 Chinese students received study permits to study at Fanshawe last year, down 8.4% year-over-year. With Fanshawe and Western University both listed among the top schools, London, Ontario was one of Canada’s top destinations for Chinese students outside of Toronto and Vancouver.

Top 30 Schools in Canada for Chinese Students

Here’s the list of the top 30 schools in Canada for Chinese students in 2019:

Top 30 Canadian Post-Secondary Institutions for Chinese Students, 2019
Rank Institution # of Study Permits Change 2018–2019 % Change 2018–2019
1 University of Toronto 6,918 +624 +9.9%
2 York University 3,737 +346 +10.2%
3 University of British Columbia 3,429 +62 +1.8%
4 University of Waterloo 2,452 -314 -11.4%
5 Western University 2,451 +88 +3.7%
6 University of Alberta 2,133 -300 -12.3%
7 McMaster University 2,071 +415 +25.1%
8 University of Ottawa 2,001 +490 +32.4%
9 Simon Fraser University 1,637 -40 -2.4%
10 Fraser International College 1,362 +85 +6.7%
11 McGill University 1,294 +48 +3.9%
12 Dalhousie University 1,271 -25 -1.9%
13 University of Manitoba 1,243 -169 -12.0%
14 Queen’s University 1,143 +135 +13.4%
15 Seneca College 1,109 -78 -6.6%
16 Carleton University 940 +15 +1.6%
17 Centennial College 923 +10 +1.1%
18 Brock University 918 -63 -6.4%
19 University of Victoria 903 -1 -0.1%
20 Concordia University 895 -54 -5.7%
21 George Brown College 725 -157 -17.8%
22 Trinity Western University 679 +141 +26.2%
23 University of Windsor 668 -100 -13.0%
24 Fanshawe College 667 -61 -8.4%
25 Ryerson University 644 +48 +8.1%
26 Coquitlam College 638 -37 -5.5%
27 Algonquin College 625 +18 +3.0%
28 University of Calgary 567 -34 -5.7%
29 Sheridan College 555 -34 -5.8%
30 Alexander College 535 +10 +1.9%

Top Universities in Canada for Korean Students

In contrast with its neighbour to the west, South Korea is primarily a college market. Around twice as many students come from South Korea to study at Canadian colleges as universities. Nevertheless, seven universities cracked the top 30 schools in Canada for South Korean nationals in 2019. 

Let’s take a look at the top five:

  1. University of Toronto: Not just a top target for Chinese students, U of T was also the number one university in Canada for Korean students in 2019. The Canadian government issued 434 study permits for South Korean nationals to study at U of T last year, up 21.6% from 2018. 
  2. University of British Columbia: UBC was next, with 316 study permits issued. Unfortunately, the Vancouver university went the opposite way of U of T last year, dropping 4.0% from 2018. 
  3. Simon Fraser University: Though it was less than half the number issued to the schools above, SFU’s 147 study permits issued to South Korean nationals was good enough for third among Canadian universities. This represented a 5.8% decline year-over-year for the school. 
  4. University of Victoria: Located in Victoria, BC, the province’s picturesque capital, the University of Victoria saw 137 study permits issued to Korean students in 2019. That number was down 3.5% over the previous year.
  5. York University: York University was just behind the University of Victoria, with 133 study permits issued in 2019. York’s study permit numbers for Korean students remained almost unchanged over the past two years.

Top Colleges in Canada for Korean Students

Many of the top colleges for Chinese students are popular among South Korean students as well. In fact, four of the top five colleges in the Chinese list also made the top five in the Korean list. All four are based in Ontario, with three located in the GTA. 

The top five colleges were as follows:

  1. Seneca College: Toronto’s Seneca College was the top college in Canada for South Korean students in 2019, with 537 study permits issued. Seneca has seen some fluctuations in its Korean enrollment over the past two years. Total study permits fell 16% in 2019 after rising 13.3% in 2018. 
  2. George Brown College: George Brown was a close second to its fellow Toronto college, with 530 study permits issued to Korean students in 2019. That marked a 2.2% decline from the previous year. 
  3. Centennial College: Centennial made it a trifecta of Toronto colleges at the top of the list for Korean students. 452 South Korean nationals received study permits to study at Centennial last year, up 10.8% over 2018. 
  4. Fanshawe College: London’s Fanshawe College ranked in the top 5 for Korean students as well, with 320 study permits issued in 2019. That represented a 11.1% increase in 2019 on the heels of a 12.7% decline the previous year. 
  5. Gastown Business College: Gastown Business College (GBC), a private institution in the historic downtown Vancouver neighbourhood of Gastown, offers a variety of professional programs in international business. 245 study permits were issued to Korean students to study at GBC in 2019. That marked a 14.5% increase year-over-year. GBC saw even larger growth in 2018, when it more than doubled its Korean contingent from 103 to 214 students.

Top 30 Schools in Canada for Korean Students

The list below contains the top 30 schools in Canada for Korean students in 2019. Six private language training schools made the list, evidence of the popularity of language training programs among Korean students. 22.5% of study permits issued to Korean students in 2019 were for language training programs, and Korean students make up the second-largest market for these programs. 

Top 30 Canadian Post-Secondary Institutions for South Korean Students, 2019
Rank Institution # of Study Permits Change 2018–2019 % Change 2018–2019
1 Seneca College 537 -102 -16.0%
2 George Brown College 530 -12 -2.2%
3 International Language Academy of Canada (ILAC) 515 -25 -4.6%
4 ILSC Language Schools 504 -124 -19.7%
5 Centennial College 452 +44 +10.8%
6 University of Toronto 434 +77 +21.6%
7 Fanshawe College 320 +32 +11.1%
8 University of British Columbia 316 -13 -4.0%
9 Cégep de la Gaspésie et des Îsles 280 +26 +10.2%
10 Gastown Business College 245 +31 +14.5%
11 Conestoga College 237 +50 +26.7%
12 Greystone College 210 +47 +28.8%
13 British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) 203 -33 -14.0%
14 EC English Language Centres 202 -65 -24.3%
15 Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) 200 +1 +0.5%
16 Douglas College 189 +9 +5.0%
17 Kaplan International English 172 -29 -14.4%
18 Niagara College 162 -9 -5.3%
19 Humber College 154 +26 +20.3%
20 Sprott Shaw College 153 -22 -12.6%
21 Simon Fraser University 147 -9 -5.8%
22 English School of Canada 138 -7 -4.8%
23 University of Victoria 137 -5 -3.5%
24 York University 133 0 0.0%
25 McGill University 131 -24 -15.5%
26 Alexander College 127 +4 +3.3%
27 University of Waterloo 125 -1 -0.8%
28 St. George International College 118 -48 -28.9%
29 Vancouver Community College 113 +4 +3.7%
30t Georgian College 110 +4 +3.8%
30t SELC Career College Vancouver 110 +50 +83.3%
t Denotes a tie

Looking Forward

Since these numbers came out, the international education landscape has changed dramatically with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic. China and South Korea have had among the most success of any country in controlling the virus, positioning students in those countries well to once again go abroad for study. The bigger x-factor may be Canada’s efforts to mitigate virus spread. 

Back in the summer, our survey of global recruitment agents found that their students thought that Canada had done the best job among the four big players in international education—the US, the UK, Canada, and Australia—to mitigate the virus’s damage. Translating that reputational advantage into a recruiting advantage will require Canada to continue to hold down cases as numbers creep up around the world. 

The recent election of Joe Biden as the next President of the United States raises the possibility of the US regaining some of the international student market share, particularly the Chinese market, that it lost during the past few years. Look for my further thoughts on that topic in an upcoming ApplyInsights.

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Meti BasiriMeti Basiri
Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer (CMO)
Meti is driven by the belief that education is a right, not a privilege. In his role as Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) at ApplyBoard, he leads the International Recruitment, Partner Relations, Sales Enablement, Sales Operations, and Marketing teams along a shared mission to educate the world. Meti has been instrumental in building partnerships with 1,200+ educational institutions across North America, the United Kingdom, and Australia. Working with over 4,000 international recruitment partners, ApplyBoard has assisted more than 120,000 students in their study abroad journey.

Meti was honoured in 2019 by Forbes, being named to three Top 30 Under 30 lists, including Education, Immigrants, and Big Money. Follow Meti on LinkedIn for more access to ApplyInsights and key industry trends.


1. All data courtesy of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).
2. All schools ranked by number of new study permits plus study permit extensions issued in the 2019 calendar year. Totals include enrollment at satellite campuses and federated colleges.
3. The University of Toronto ranked number one among Canadian schools in the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings 2021 and ShanghaiRanking’s 2020 Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU).