Canada’s English and French language education sector welcomed 56% fewer international students and lost nearly 60% of its workforce in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 2020 Annual Report on Language Education in Canada, released today by Languages Canada, captures the reality of the impact of the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic on Canadian language programs. While the first quarter of 2020 was strong, following a year of record-high student numbers in which Languages Canada member programs welcomed 150,112 students, only 65,536 studied at LC member programs in 2020. This included 61,088 English and 4448 French learners.
Before the pandemic, short-term students, travelling as visitors, made up the largest contingent of international language students in Canada. In 2020, however, visitors accounted for only 26% of the student body, with nearly half of all students coming to Canada on a study permit. The share of students studying for less than 4 weeks decreased from 25% to 17%. Brazil, Mexico, and Japan – all top source markets for short-term, eTA-eligible students, experienced a drop in student numbers exceeding 65%.
Border and classroom closures greatly limited the ability of programs to deliver face-to-face classes and brought about an unprecedented shift to virtual course delivery. 59% of all student weeks in 2020 were delivered online while only 33% of student weeks were delivered in-person (many of these during the first quarter of 2020, prior to the pandemic.) 86% of LC member programs reported that they moved all classes online. This demonstrates the massive feat of necessity-driven innovation that language course delivery underwent in 2020, as well as the responsiveness and care on the part of Canadian language programs to ensure continuity in learning for their students, both in Canada and abroad.
In addition to the drastic reduction in student numbers and navigating the shift to virtual course delivery, the challenges faced by LC member programs in 2020 included: visa processing, namely lengthy delays resulted from extended closure of Visa Application Centres abroad; inability to recruit students due to cancelled recruitment events; the high cost of compliance with federal and provincial “Institutional Readiness Requirements”; and navigating red tape in applying for government support programs.
As for the “bottom line”, over 80% of LC members reported a loss in their gross revenue in 2020, with one-third of programs reporting a drop of between 61% and 80% in their gross revenue over 2019.
Despite the massive hit to international student numbers, Canada’s language education sector experienced few school closures. As of February 2021, 11 schools had closed as a result of the pandemic. Federal support programs were a key factor in preventing closures; half of all programs relied on the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) to retain staff and one third received rent support through the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy (CERS). 25% of programs received loans through the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA). Languages Canada continues to advocate for the extension of these programs to sustain the sector until normal business operations can resume.
English and French language programs continued to make an important economic contribution to Canada in 2020, generating $544 million in direct export revenue (a drop of 64% over 2019.)
The Report quantifies 2020 as a year characterized by adversity for Canada’s English and French language education sector, but also by the sector’s innovation, determination, and passion. “What is also not obvious in the data presented here is the underlying resilience, caring, and courage of our members, partners, and students as they navigated the most challenging event our sector has ever faced," says LC Executive Director Gonzalo Peralta. "Our members availed themselves of every program made available by government to sustain operations—including taking on debt—and once again reinvented themselves to care for students and deliver the best quality programs possible under the circumstances."