The story of the explosive growth of the Canadian international student market pre-pandemic is a story of India. The number of Indian students in Canada grew from just under 50,000 in 2015 to almost 220,000 in 2019.1 Today, more than a third of all international students in Canada are Indian.
In this edition of ApplyInsights, I’ll be digging into the data to explore student visa2 trends for the Indian market. I’ll also look at what and where Indian students are studying in Canada and how those trends have shifted since the start of the pandemic.
Key Insights at a Glance
- More than 67,000 Indian nationals were approved to study in Canada between January and April 2021, 83% more than in all of 2020.
- Study permit approval rates for Indian nationals rose to 75% in the first four months of 2021, up from 49% in 2020.
- ApplyBoard modelling predicts 2021 study permit approvals for Indian nationals will surpass the record high of more than 111,000 set in 2019 and continue growing in 2022.
- Quebec resisted the pandemic-related decline in Indian student intake much better than Canada’s other provinces, driven by strength in the private college sector.
This is the ninth article in our ApplyInsights series diving into the top international student markets for Canadian institutions. I previously looked at Hong Kong, Algeria, Brazil, China, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Vietnam, and Sri Lanka and Nepal.
Canadian Study Permit Applications and Approval Rate – India
Canada received almost 175,000 study permit applications from Indian citizens in 2019. This was an all-time high, and it represented more than 170% growth in just three years. The COVID-19 pandemic took a big bite out of those numbers, with just over 75,000 applications submitted last year.
But as I discussed back in June, Canada’s international ed sector is on pace for a strong rebound in 2021. The Indian market has driven that recovery. In fact, more than 90,000 Indian students submitted applications to study in Canada in the first four months of 2021—20% more than in all of 2020.3
Study permit approvals for Indian nationals increased even further. More than 67,000 Indians were approved to study in Canada between January and April 2021. That’s up 83% over full-year 2020. It’s also more than 60% of the record total for 2019. Based on this data, I’m predicting 2021 study permit approval totals will surpass 2019 numbers.
The chart below shows study permit approvals over the previous five years and my rough estimate for where the market is headed:I expect the Indian market will continue to grow into 2022 as students who weren’t able to get their study permit applications in on time for Fall 2021, or weren’t able find a seat, shift their focus to next year.
Amid a rush of good news, there’s one other major point I want to highlight: the 26% increase in study permit approval rate for Indian students from January to April 2021 over full-year 2020. Nearly 3 in 4 Indian students have been approved for a study permit so far this year, up from 1 in 2 last year and 2 in 3 from 2016 to 2019.
In every respect, India is outperforming Canada’s other source markets as we emerge from the pandemic. The table below summarizes the relevant study permit trends:
|2019||2020||2021 (Jan–Apr)||Change 20–21|
Canadian Study Permits Issued by Province – India
The map below shows the number of study permits issued to Indian students in 2020 by province of study.4 It also includes the change in study permits issued between 2019 and 2020:Back in January, I looked at data through July 2020 and saw that Quebec had resisted the pandemic-related decline in the Indian market much better than Canada’s other provinces. The full-year 2020 data shows that this trend continued. While the other provincial markets experienced a 73 to 93% decline year-over-year in study permits issued to Indian students, Quebec saw just a 33% drop.
Quebec’s private colleges vastly outperformed the rest of the industry with Indian students in 2020, driven by their unique eligibility for Canada’s Post-Graduation Work Permit Program (PGWPP). The PGWPP is a key piece of the value proposition of studying in Canada for Indian students.
Between PGWPP eligibility and the short letter of acceptance turnaround times most private colleges offer, Quebec private colleges should remain highly competitive post-pandemic.
Ontario remains the number one destination for Indian students in Canada by a wide margin. 53% of new study permits issued to Indian students in 2020 were for Ontario institutions. Nevertheless, 2020 was the fourth straight year in which Ontario lost market share, almost entirely to Quebec:
As other Canadian provinces rebound post-pandemic, I expect to see Quebec’s share of the Indian student market drop. While Quebec has clearly become a significant player in the Indian market, it’s easy to foresee its market share settling in between 15 and 20%.
Ontario will likely recover some market share, but competition for Indian students from schools in other provinces will remain stiff moving forward. Canada’s many excellent smaller, regional schools continue to target the Indian market through aggressive marketing and collaboration with partners like ApplyBoard. The days of nearly 3 in 4 Indian students in Canada attending an Ontario school are clearly over.
Canadian Study Permits Issued by Study Level – India
The charts below show the change in the distribution of study permits issued to Indian students by study level in 2019 and 2020:India has always been a college-focused market, and that trend only intensified during the pandemic. The percentage of Indian students coming to Canada for college studies increased from 66.8% in 2019 to 73.0% in 2020. This matches a larger pattern we’ve seen across source markets in which college students were more likely than university students to go ahead with their study abroad plans despite COVID-19.
Primary and secondary students make up a very small portion of the Indian market, but that slice nearly doubled last year, from 2.7% in 2019 to 4.5% in 2020. I suspect this reflects the greater willingness of mature students, many of whom come to Canada with school-age children, to continue with their study abroad plans during the pandemic.
While these trends are interesting, the early 2021 data suggests they won’t last. The January to April 2021 numbers are largely in line with what we saw in 2019.5 Digging down a little deeper, one thing we’ve seen at ApplyBoard is more Indian parents looking to send their children to Canada for undergraduate studies. This has meant increased interest in bachelor’s degrees and advanced diplomas. I know this will be welcome news among many of our partner schools, who may have hit their international student targets for graduate studies but are still looking to fill undergraduate seats.
More than anything else, this data should dispel any fears that the Indian market might recover slowly post-pandemic. If anything, the opposite is true: we’re seeing a ton of pent-up demand for a Canadian education among Indian students. This is great news for Canadian institutions who were hit hard by the drop in international students coming to Canada over the past year.
However, competition for these students will be fierce. Here are my recommendations for schools looking to rebuild their Indian student populations or begin capturing some of this critical market:
- Emphasize Canada’s Post-Graduation Work Permit Program (PGWPP) to prospective students. The PGWPP remains the single largest pull factor for Indian students to come to Canada, but there’s competition in the UK in the form of the new Graduate Immigration Route.
- Share ApplyBoard data on the popularity of the PGWP and the sky-high approval rates for PGWP applications. More than 70,000 Indian students received PGWPs in 2020, and more than 98% of Indian applicants were approved for their permit.
- Be prepared to accommodate the continued growth in the Indian market. For any schools who haven’t yet tapped into the market, this is an excellent time to do so, as many large, established schools may not have the seats to accommodate the surge in demand.
Published: August 23, 2021
Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer (CMO)
Meti is driven by the belief that education is a right, not a privilege. He leads the International Recruitment, Partner Relations, and Marketing teams at ApplyBoard, working to make education accessible to people around the world. Meti has been instrumental in building partnerships with 1,500+ educational institutions across Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia. Working with over 7,500 international recruitment partners, ApplyBoard has assisted more than 200,000 students in their study abroad journey. Follow Meti on LinkedIn for more access to ApplyInsights and key industry trends.
1. All data courtesy of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), except where noted. Statistics used in this article are for new study permits only.
2. The terms student visa and study permit are generally used interchangeably for Canadian international students. Rather than a student visa, Canada provides an approved international student with a study permit, which allows that student to enroll in classes at Canadian institutions. When a student is accepted for a study permit, they are usually also provided with a visitor visa, which allows that student to enter Canada for their studies.
4. More recent provincial data not yet available. I’ve noted in previous articles that study permits issued and study permits approved aren’t the same. An applicant with an approved study permit may not be issued a study permit for a variety of reasons. I think the numbers for the Indian market are close enough for our purposes here, but note that students studying online from India are not captured in the 2020 data.