With the Covid-19 pushing into its second year, Canada, one of the world’s top study destinations, experienced a drop of 20-30% in international student enrolment in the 2019-20 academic year due to the pandemic.
The country registered a drop of 65,000 international students which is already affecting the country’s economies along with university budgets and research in the fields of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).
University and college administrators as well as non-governmental organisations are suggesting that travel restrictions introduced in February 2021 will lead to a further decline in the number of international students enrolling at Canadian universities, both for the Spring and September intakes.
The government, in February, announced that international flights can only land in Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal and Calgary and travellers will have to quarantine at designated hotels.
President and CEO of Colleges and Institutes Canada, Denise Amyot, said that the new regulations have affected the colleges and universities in smaller cities and remote areas to a great extent as international students are required to quarantine only at government-approved hotels.
She noted that Atlantic Canada does not have a designated airport and international students enrolled at universities in this region will first have to quarantine at one of the hubs at a cost of CAD 2,000, which is very expensive for an international student.
In addition, students will also have to quarantine after they arrive in Nova Scotia, Halifax or Quebec City. While the final tallies are not out yet, this has led to many deferrals for all of the upcoming intakes.
To ease the financial burden, many universities may take certain steps. These include the introduction of a Zoom-based buddy system at the University of Calgary to deal with the mental health of international students. The University of Toronto has set up a CAD 9.1 million fund to help international students throughout their quarantine period.
Professor Robert Falconer of the University of Calgary School of Public Policy, Amyot and other experts pointed out how the decline in international student enrolment is a huge concern especially for Canada’s STEM programmes.
Of the 2,000 international students enrolled in graduate programs at the University of Calgary, around 400 have applied for deferrals and stayed in their home countries.
Falconer, Amyot and Marco Mendicino, minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship, emphasised on how Canada, unlike similar countries such as Australia, has kept its doors open for international students because of their long-term significance to the country.
Amyot added that Canada has a low fertility rate, which requires more people to settle there.
Mendicino explained how the country introduced four improvements to support international students amid the pandemic. These include letting them start their courses online in their home country, allowing them to change their work permits to give them the right to work in fields besides their course of study, keeping the corridor open and lastly providing additional work permit flexibility to postgraduate students.