For much of the last decade, Canada has been the fastest-growing international study destination. In 2022, it achieved a 30% year-over-year growth and a new peak enrolment of 807,750 international students in December 2022. This is an increase of more than 190,000 international students from the previous year, and far exceeds Canada’s 2014 target under its previous international education strategy to host 450,000 international students by 2022.

Currently, more than 50% of Canada’s international students come from just two countries – India and China – with the most recent figures showing there were just under 320,000 Indian students with a study visa in Canada, representing nearly 40% of Canada’s international student population. Students from China, previously the top sending market for Canada, now comprise around 12.5% of Canada’s international student population, a decrease of 4.3% from the previous year.

Canada’s 2019 updated International Education strategy notes that attracting students from a broader range of countries to a wider variety of Canadian regions and educational institutions is important to ensure that the country’s international education sector is sustainable and benefits are distributed evenly.  However, like many countries, a shortage of student housing threatens to hinder Canada’s efforts to expand and diversify its international student base.

There have been reports of discriminatory practices by landlords who often demand large upfront payments from international students as well as reports of exploitation. Research by York University Professor Tania Das Gupta for example, has found that female international students, in particular, have experienced sexual harassment and assault as well as sexual exploitation.

An episode of CBC’s Fifth Estate, shed light on the plight of Indian students in Canada. The show revealed that in addition to significant challenges such as false claims made by education agents, Indian students frequently experience dreadful living conditions, with up to 15 students crammed into a small house and sharing beds on a shift-basis in some cases. Another report by RCI Radio similarly highlights the story of an Indian student who visited a rental property where the landlord was charging $650 per month to share a room with three other students.

Soaring private rental market prices, a lack of purpose-built student accommodation stock (PBSA), and failure to consider housing availability in recruitment and enrolment practices are all contributing to the problem according to RCI. A recent report by global rented residential sector advisory firm Bonard suggests that with current PBSA occupancy at close to 100%, increasing PBSA stock needs to be a priority to avoid further damage to Canada’s reputation as a leading study-abroad destination. Bonard’s analysis notes that in 2021/22 twenty-two Canadian cities hosted 1.29 million students, however only 155,692 PBSA beds were available to students, covering just 12 percent of students. Of these beds, only 28 percent were offered off-campus by private PBSA providers.