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  • International Study

Canada: An international education success story

April 24, 2019

In the race to attract international students, the maple leaf continues to rise in popularity. While the reasons for Canada’s success are varied, it’s worth looking at some key strategies that have worked best for this powerhouse.

On a recent trip to South America, I was fortunate enough to meet with education agents, university staff and students from many countries, including Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Peru. As part of our expansion in the region, the trip allowed us to discover more about the Americas, and gave us an insight into the huge success that Canada’s international education sector is experiencing in the continent.

Geopolitical uncertainty in the region has been a boon for the Canadian higher education system. In particular, the government has simplified post-study work permits and migration pathways, when compared with other mature jurisdictions.

Between 2016 and 2017, a 17% increase in international student numbers was recorded in Canada, and the lofty ambition of hosting more than 450,000 international students by 2022 was achieved with ease five years ahead of schedule. Canada is now the fourth most popular destination for international higher education students globally. This growth has only been bolstered in recent months, with a total of 51,020 study permits becoming effective in the first quarter of this year; up from 39,000 compared with this time last year.

Here are my thoughts on why I think Canada has become so popular with students from around the world.

Cooperation across providers

Like other high performing countries in the international education space, Canada places a strong focus on presenting a unified approach within its ecosystem. Organisations like Universities Canada and the Canadian Bureau for International Education help advocate for Canadian universities on the national and international stage, while fostering collaborations. Universities Canada has 96 member institutions across the country, and having providers – both big and small – working together with a common mission and focus can only help its reputation on the global stage.

Visa accessibility and cost

Canada charges CA$150 for a study permit, with students wanting to study for less than six months not being required to obtain a permit. There’s also a handy tool on the Canadian visa website where you can check how long a student visa application will take after lodgement. The level of transparency helps put potential students and their parents’ minds at ease.


With all Canadian sectors growing over the past year, the popularity of Canada as a market is undeniable. Canada is home to a diverse set of international students, with China, India, South Korea, France and Vietnam making up the top five source countries. When you add to this the fact that Canada is in close proximity to the expanding South American market – and that the Canadian government is busy creating plans to diversify its market even further – it’s clear that there’s nothing but ongoing opportunity for the country to continue growing.

Student Direct Stream

Canada simply refuses to rest on its laurels and the government continues to fine-tune processes to reduce red tape in an effort to increase international student numbers. One example of how it’s doing this is through the introduction of the SDS (Student Direct Stream) program last year; a great initiative that we’ve received fantastic feedback about from students and agents alike. Under the SDS, students from the Philippines, China, India, and Vietnam who meet the mandatory language skills and financial requirements benefit from faster processing times. Not only has it made it faster for these students to obtain study permits, but it’s a win-win for the entire Canadian education ecosystem by raising the profile of Canada globally as a place where applications are addressed in a swift and accurate manner.

Express Entry

Another advantage of Canada’s “never be complacent” attitude is how it continues to reform its permanent residency requirements, especially the Express Entry program, to make it easier for qualified students to stay on as residents. Although the system was working well, authorities keep pushing the envelope and are already looking at the future of work. “How is the changing nature of work changing the type of skills we should be going after and our approach to selection?” asked Patrick McEvenue, Director of Express Entry and Digital Policy with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

The international education industry is growing rapidly, and with roughly five million students studying outside their home country in 2017, the future looks bright not only for Canada, but for many countries around the world – especially those that are able to take a leaf out of Canada’s book.

Mark Fletcher is CEO and co-founder of Cohort Go, a leading edtech company headquartered in Australia that enables international education, from anywhere. Cohort Go is the only comprehensive international education offering worldwide, reducing costs and increasing choice and value for the community. Trusted by more than 80,000 students and over 2,000 agents and educators, Cohort Go services students, agents and educators in over 180 countries.

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Mark Fletcher
Mark is a qualified Lawyer, with over 15 years of banking and finance experience. He has worked for international investment and Australian regional banks, managing foreign exchange trading activities and financial risks. CEO of Cohort since 2011, Mark is responsible for global partnerships and driving the strategic direction of the company.
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Mark Fletcher