Executive director Gonzalo Peralta broke the bad news as the language industry continues to struggle through the pandemic, with student numbers down 56% in 2020 compared with the previous year.
“It has been a very, very bad year,” said Cath D’Amico, president of the organisation and representative of Trent University’s English-language program. “Members are struggling to stay afloat and facing challenges to survive.”
While language programs associated with public colleges and universities have been hit hard, private schools have been devastated. Private program student numbers are down 61%, compared to 39% for the public sector. Two schools, inlingua Vancouver and GV Vancouver, closed permanently last year.
Patrik Pavlacic, of the market research firm Bonard, shared some sobering data from its recent survey of 205 overseas agents and 97 Canadian language programs. He told the attendees that the poll indicated that next year student numbers would only reach 55% of the 2019 peak. He predicted a full recovery in 2023.
Pavlacic said that enrolments in the UK were even worse, with a 79% fall in language student numbers.
The good news for Canadian programs: Bonard’s survey of agents found that Canada will be the top choice for international students post-pandemic. About 31% of agents said Canada will be the preferred option, with 20% choosing the UK and 14% the USA. Australia and New Zealand, which have both acted aggressively to block students and other travelers from coming during covid, were in the single digits.
“This positions Canada in a very attractive spot post-pandemic”
“This positions Canada in a very attractive spot post-pandemic,” Pavlacic told the attendees.
In the survey of agents, Bonard found that entry conditions will be very important to students. To improve access, Canada should remove hotel quarantine requirements, shorten visa processing times and communicate covid restrictions better, Pavlacic said.
Of course, easier entry depends on Canada’s ability to defeat Covid-19. The virus continues to rage, with 6,720 new cases on Wednesday alone. Only 19% of the population has received one vaccine dose, compared with more than half of Americans. Prime minister Justin Trudeau has promised that all adults will be vaccinated by the end of September.
Many Canadian provinces have already indicated that they are willing to vaccinate international students as they become eligible based on their age. Peralta heralded this as a positive step to welcome new students to the country.
Economist Roslyn Kunin told the conference that language students have a big impact on the Canadian economy, spending $1.8 billion in 2019. She predicted a strong recovery in 2023, but cautioned that worldwide competition for international students will be fierce.
Despite the contribution that language programs make to the Canadian economy, Peralta said that Languages Canada has struggled to convince the federal government to provide sector-specific financial support. Canadian programs have been able to take advantage of Covid relief assistance available to organisations in all sectors.
The Bonard survey of Languages Canada programs found that 54% would close within six months without existing federal financial subsidies.
The Languages Canada two-hour virtual conference was a considerably scaled down version of the usually extravagant three-day conference, which features live music and receptions with plenty of hors d’oeuvres. In the Zoom chat box this week, members jokingly asked: “Where are the free drink tickets?” and “When does the band start?”