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This spring, Academica partnered with Maple Assist to launch the International Prospective Student Study to help Canadian postsecondary institutions better understand their prospective international students’ situations, concerns, and plans for the Fall. While the study covers a broad range of topics, questions around enrolment plans are particularly critical for many institutions.

Here’s what 16,649 prospective international students from 180 countries had to say.

What does the upcoming school year look like for prospective international students?

International students are quite serious about their plans to study in Canada in the future, so much so that the pandemic has not affected many students’ intention and desire to come to Canada for an education.

Impact of COVID-19 on 2020 Planning


What the pandemic has shaken is their certainty around whether this Fall is the right time to start their studies. If in-person classes are not possible, most students plan to remain registered, but are divided between delaying starting their classes until in-person classes are possible (53%) or beginning their classes online (41%).

Preference if In-Person Programming is Not Available


Some of those who wish to delay until in-person classes are available explained that they do not have access to the right amenities to study online from home or feel that online learning would not be offered at the same quality as in-person classes. Those who would prefer to begin classes online are eager to get started according to schedule, although many argue that this should be offered at a discounted tuition price.

“Keep my registration and delay classes but if it turns out in-person classes will not be possible, start online classes.”

”I would prefer to arrive in Canada, keep my registration and start online classes till in person classes are possible.”

”Online classes are not suitable here in Nigeria, a developing country due to erratic power supply and other socioeconomic problems.”

”I would like to keep my registration and begin classes online with reduced tuition fees due to the quality and duration of online class.

”These are hard, unprecedented, and unpredictable times. The best way a college/university can help us is by either delaying the programs or helping the students who are not able to make it in time for the course by deferring it to the next intake.”

While only 41% said their preference would be to begin classes online, we probed a little further to see whether prospective international students are willing to take classes online if in-person classes are not possible. Two-thirds of all prospective international students say they are willing to take online classes (64%), while 19% are not and 18% are unsure. Those intending to go to university are far more likely to say they are willing to take classes online than their college counterparts (68% vs 56%).

It is worth noting that online delivery does not necessarily dissuade students from wanting to move to Canada: 39% of prospective international students who are willing to take classes online say they would prefer move to Canada as soon as international travel is allowed and complete their online classes from Canada, while 36% would prefer to stay in their home country until in-person classes begin. The remaining 24% are already living in Canada.

We noticed an interesting difference in this preference in the applicants’ institution type of choice: Those planning to attend university are more likely to say that they would complete these online classes from their home country, with the intention of moving to Canada when in-person classes start (39% vs 29%). More college intenders, by comparison, are already living in Canada (30% vs 21%).


With international enrolment posing a disconcertingly large question mark to the Canadian higher ed space this year, our hope is that our data can help you to move forward with your decision making processes.

In the meantime, there’s more to the IPSS than what we’ve discussed above, and we plan to continue sharing what we’ve found. Next week, keep an eye out for a deeper dive into an investigation of those prospective international students who say they would not register if classes are only available online to better understand their concerns.

If you need deeper research to make decisions at your institution or are interested in learning more about the IPSS and what we do, we welcome you to reach out to us.


The International Prospective Student Study (IPSS) was designed by Academica Group and Maple Assist. The first wave of the IPSS was conducted between April 3 and 20 with 24 postsecondary institutions across Canada. A total of 16,649 international prospective students completed the survey during this time frame. We will be continuing to survey these international prospective students on a monthly basis throughout the summer of 2020.

We at Academica Group engage in this type of research every day on behalf of Canadian postsecondary institutions, while Maple Assist works to help international students in their journey to Canada. We are proud to be able to partner and support the sector with the IPSS.


 At Academica Group, we’re proud to work with hundreds of committed, passionate higher ed professionals who want to drive improvement at their institutions. By providing enhanced research capacity and expert guidance, we allow these professionals to work beyond resource limitations and seize more opportunities to positively impact the lives of their students, colleagues, and campus communities.

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