Covid-19 and Canada: from stable student mobility to enduring remote education?

Presenter/Author and Affiliations:
Conrad King, Kwantlen Polytechnic University

When international students make choices about post-secondary education, they weigh multiple factors: educational quality; culture and language; economic costs and opportunities; and political risk. Historically, Canada has been a safe and stable choice for international students because it is an open and multicultural society with good labour market opportunities and high quality post-secondary education at comparatively reasonable cost. Due to the desirability of Canada as a study destination, and the promotional efforts of Canadian governments and higher education institutions (HEIs), Canada has secured increasing flows of international students over the last three decades. Indeed, in 2014, the Canadian federal government established targets for inbound student mobility, which Canadian HEIs surpassed ahead of schedule. This federal strategy emphasized how Canadian higher education was good value for international students, while also promoting the value of international students for local economies and as potential (ideal) future workers and citizens. With falling domestic enrollments and heightened fiscal austerity, Canadian HEIs have embraced international students – some as a matter of economic survival. However, this scenario has been seriously disrupted by the Covid-19 global pandemic. Canadian HEIs quickly pivoted to remote teaching in March 2020, and will likely remain there well into 2021. Whereas 92% of U.S. HEIs intend to reopen campuses in some capacity for fall 2020, it appears that few Canadian HEIs will reopen before mid-2021 (Collie, 2020; Martel, 2020) . The general trend amongst Canadian HEIs points to a prolonged period of ‘remote teaching’ in Canada. How will this affect the study choices of international students already committed to learning at a Canadian institution? What factors do international students consider when they decide to study abroad and make choices about international study destinations? How has Covid-19 altered these plans? This paper will make a preliminary assessment of these issues, vis-à-vis a survey of international students at Kwantlen Polytechnic University (a mid-size university in the greater Vancouver area). KPU has a significant proportion of international students, many of whom will have their academic choices disrupted as a result of government and institutional policies. This study is part of a larger research project that seeks to investigate the interactive effects between international student choices, and the public policies and internationalization strategies deployed within the post-secondary sectors of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

About Author

Conrad King, PhD.

Affiliation/s: Department of Political Science, Kwantlen Polytechnic University

Conrad is faculty with the Department of Political Science at Kwantlen Polytechnic University (Canada) as well as Director of the European Union Study Tour and Internship Program( Conrad has focused on education politics and policy, having written on the politics of PISA-testing in Germany and France, as well as the global effects of the Europeanization of higher education ( As part of a new project entitled ‘Governing complexity: future-proofing higher education internationalization in times of uncertainty’, Conrad has begun to take a comparative look at the internationalization of higher education within the ‘Anglosphere’.

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