Geopolitical tensions impact Indian international student interest in Canada: survey

When questioned about how the tension between India and Canada is affecting student referrals to Canada in the current year, 61 percent of Indian agents saw a negative trend.

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The diplomatic tension between Ottawa and New Delhi regarding the assassination of a Sikh leader in Surrey, B.C. appears to be adversely affecting the interest of Indian international students in coming to Canada, as indicated by a recent survey.

A survey of 1,000 international education agents in six countries, conducted in November 2023 by Academica and Worldwide Educonnect, revealed that the diplomatic tensions between Ottawa and New Delhi, combined with an unsealed US criminal indictment alleging an Indian government link to assassinations in North America, have contributed to a perceived weakening of Canada’s brand position in India.

This development is concerning, especially considering the significant reliance of many Canadian institutions on the Indian market for international students.

The survey encompassed education agents in six countries: India, Nigeria, Ghana, Nepal, Bangladesh, and the Philippines, according to the ICEF Monitor, a market intelligence resource for international education.

When questioned about the extent to which the deterioration in relations between India and Canada would impact their referrals to Canada in the current year, 61 percent of the responding Indian agents indicated a “slightly negative impact,” while another 30 percent anticipated a “significant negative impact.”

Nearly 37 percent of respondents stated that they anticipated a moderate or significant impact for the January 2024 intake, while 30 percent expected at least some negative impact for the September 2024 semester.

Significant shift in Indian student preference for Canada

Rod Skinkle, president of Academica, shared the survey results at the Canadian Bureau for International Education conference in Vancouver, noting that more than a third of Indian agents felt there had been a significant shift in students’ preference for Canada due to the diplomatic crisis. Most reported that student demand was shifting in favor of Australia and the United Kingdom.

Nearly 2 million Indians in Canada represent 80 percent of the country’s South Asian population and about 6 percent of the total Canadian population, according to Germany-based International Consultants for Education and Fairs.

In 2022, Indians were the leading source of immigration to Canada, with 118,095 individuals relocating, while Chinese students were the second-largest group at 31,815. Many Indians in Canada are international students, with 320,000 holding active study permits by the end of December 2022, representing a 47 percent increase from the previous year. Indian students comprised nearly 40 percent of all foreign students in Canada by the end of 2022.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused India of being responsible for the assassination of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Canadian citizen and leader in the Khalistan movement. India denied the allegation, leading to diplomatic tensions and reciprocal expulsions of diplomats. The incident has strained relations between Canada and India, and as of now, no charges have been filed in connection with Nijjar’s killing.

Assassination plot on Sikh lawyer

On Nov. 29, the US Justice Department announced charges against Nikhil Gupta, a 52-year-old Indian national, in connection to a plot to assassinate Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a New York City-based lawyer advocating for a Sikh sovereign state in northern India. 

Gupta is accused of collaborating with an Indian agent in the scheme. Pannun is wanted in India for promoting the establishment of Khalistan, an independent Sikh state.
The USindictment identified an unnamed Indian government agency employee as a “Senior Field Officer” with roles in “Security Management” and “Intelligence.” Allegedly, this individual orchestrated the assassination plot from India and was slated to receive $100,000 for the execution.

In a statement WSO President Danish Singh said, “The Government of India is using criminal elements to target Sikhs in Canada and the U.S. and providing them with directions, logistics and money.”

“While Nikhil Gupta has been arrested, the full extent of the network that worked with him, including those in India, remains to be revealed. It is clear that this network has ties to the Nijjar case. We call on Canadian authorities and law enforcement to bring those responsible for Nijjar’s assassination to justice as soon as possible and to clearly identify those involved in the plot in India and elsewhere.”

Economic losses

Canada could face a substantial economic impact amounting to $700 million due to its strained relations with India, according to a study by the New Delhi-based Imagindia Institute.

The study suggests that even a modest five percent decline in the number of Indian students pursuing higher studies in Canada in 2024 would contribute to this financial setback for the Canadian economy.

Nathan Yasis

Nathan Yasis

Nathan studied information technology and secondary education in college. He dabbled in and taught creative writing and research to high school students for three years before settling in as a digital journalist.

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Nathan Yasis

Nathan Yasis

Nathan studied information technology and secondary education in college. He dabbled in and taught creative writing and research to high school students for three years before settling in as a digital journalist.

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