Economic impact of international education in Canada – 2017 update

Appendix 4 - Reconciliation of the study estimates with valuation by Statistics Canada

In the report, we compared our estimates of the value of international student spending in a given year with Statistics Canada’s valuation. Statistics Canada reported that Canada’s receipt of foreign exchange dollars from international student was valued at $5.827 billion in 2015. Similar data from Statistics Canada for 2016 is not yet available.[37] In our study, we estimated that total annual spending by international students and their visiting families and friends was valued at almost $12.8 billion in the same year. In this appendix, we reconcile our estimates with Statistics Canada's valuation.

In Statistics Canada’s valuation, “international transactions in services are a major component of the Current account of the Balance of payments. Services are grouped under four major categories: travel, transportation, commercial services and government services.” Spending by international students includes education-related travel, which is defined as follows:[38]

In theory, education-related travel should include all expenditures in another country by students. But for practical reasons, Canadian statistics include only outlays of post-secondary students; that is, only outlays on full-time university and college programs, which generally extend over more than one year, are included. Recorded outlays include all expenditures by post-secondary students studying abroad – that is, expenditures for tuition fees and course materials, together with accommodation and general living expenses. Except as incidentally covered in other personal travel, spending for primary and secondary schooling remains to be estimated in Canadian statistics. Certain further expenditures on institutional education (such as for personal interest courses) also remain in other personal travel because of data limitations.

Therefore, it is important to note that the Statistics Canada’s valuation we compared with is limited to the cost of education and living expenses for full-time post-secondary international students. In our report, our valuation included the expenditures of students who were in K-12 schools and in other programs, including students in programs shorter than six months. Our valuation also included expenditures incurred by visiting family and friends.

We were advised that Statistics Canada’s valuation of international student spending in 2015 was based on the number of international students in post-secondary systems, 214,782,[39] and their expenditures on tuition, food, accommodations and transportation for an academic year of eight months.[40]

In RKA’s calculation, to estimate the number of post-secondary students in Canada in 2015 who were in trades/college programs and in universities, we relied on values from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada’s estimate of study permit holders as of December 31 of that year. Of the total 351,330 study permit holders, 245,725 were students pursuing post‑secondary training in Canada. We derived per-student expenditures (net of Canadian scholarships and bursaries) as follows:

  • Those in college and trades programs: $34,564 per year in 2015, assuming 8 months of study and 12 months of living expenses.
  • Those in university programs: $37,276 per year in 2015, assuming 8 months of study (12 months for 10% of the students) and 12 months of living expenses.

Therefore, total expenditures for post-secondary students in 2015 was valued at $8.97 billion.

In addition to post-secondary students in trades/college programs and universities, we included students in other post-secondary programs, in the K-12 system (with expenditures on tuition and homestay for 10 months), and other students whose level of study was not clear but who were included in IRCC’s data. Total expenditures for these long-term students (meaning IRCC requires them to hold a valid study permit while they stay in Canada to study longer than six months in a calendar year) was $11.7 billion.

The last segment of international student population is short-term students, who do not require a study permit to pursue training generally shorter than six months long. These students include those who are pursuing language training or other short-term vocational training. For practical reasons, we have obtained data only from Languages Canada and therefore have valued expenditures from this source. For these 112,036 students, who studied for up to 26 weeks in 2015, the total number of student weeks was estimated to be 1,117,080 and total expenditures to be $958.4 million.

In addition to student expenditures related to tuition, fees and living expenses, we estimated spending by visiting family members and friends. The value of spending attributed to visiting family members and friends was estimated to be $178.1 million.

Combining the spending of long-term and short-term students, as well as their visiting family members and friends, yields a total expenditure value of $12.8 billion in our estimate.


[37] Statistics Canada CANSIM table 376-0031. Data for 2016 not available at the time this report is prepared.

[38] Statistics Canada: Canada's International Trade in Services Data quality, concepts and methodology. Catalogue no. 67-203.

[39] International students in Canada from Statistics Canada CANSIM table 477-0019.

[40] Statistics Canada is reviewing its methodology for estimating the student spending and expects the changes to be implemented by 2019. Statistics Canada also expects the revision to the early 2000’s.