The financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic has sent reeling international education programs in all three sectors in Canada - post-secondary, K-12 and English-language learning.
English-language programs are particularly vulnerable since they count on international student tuition fees for most or all of their revenues. One private-sector English school has already announced plans to close.
Inlingua Vancouver and its sister school, INVO College, will be closing permanently on May 29 due to the coronavirus pandemic. "With a decreasing number of students, our continued operation was not sustainable in the long run," Director Juan Palacio said in a statement.
ILAC Vancouver and ILAC International College have stepped up to take students who wish to transfer.
A number of ESL schools, including ILAC, have shifted to online instruction during the pandemic. However, this is clearly a very short-term solution since English-language students come to Canada to travel, socialize and have fun. The normally lucrative summer season will likely be a bust due to restrictions on travel and social distancing.
Recognizing the financial challenges, the industry organization Languages Canada has appealed to the federal government for help.
"While governments continue to roll out and fine-tune emergency support measures (which we encourage members to utilize if they can), we continue to seek targeted relief measures for our sector in the form of working capital grants to sustain members' fixed operational costs for the duration of the crisis," says Linda Auzins, spokeswoman for Languages Canada.
So far, says Auzins, the government is listening but no funding has been provided.
Colleges depend on international student tuition
Across Canada, colleges and universities have become highly reliant on the higher tuition fees that international students pay. For example, at St. Clair College in Ontario international student tuition is the largest revenue segment - by far. International students pay $72 million in tuition each year, compared with just $24 million for domestic students. Ontario government operating grants are $41 million.
The pandemic has already caused the first post-secondary closure. NorQuest College in Edmonton has announced that it is shuttering two of its satellite campuses and shifting students to online learning. The move will save money but the college did not specify how much.
While most post-secondary programs have moved to online instruction, that will not be a lasting solution. Online universities have been around for years, but students want the interaction, social connections and fun that go with campus life. At this point, it's unknown whether students will be back in class come September.
Recruiting new students is challenging. Students may not be able to get a study permit in time and international travel may still be limited.
All of this adds up to financial uncertainty for Canadian schools. Current students may not be able to return to Canada in September or may decline to do so if classes are online. New students may postpone plans to come to Canada for another year. It could mean tens of millions of dollars in lost revenue for colleges and universities.
In the K-12 sector, school districts are working hard to engage students in online learning for this year, says Bonnie McKie, Executive Director of the Canadian Association of Public Schools - International. "
Programs aren't yet making preparations for September - they're waiting for directives from their respective Ministries of Education and Health," she says.
International students contributed more than $16 billion to the Canadian economy in the past year. The big question is: What will happen in the 2020-21 academic year?