Thank you very much, Madam Chair. Thank you for the invitation, for conducting the study and for the extraordinary work that all parliamentarians are doing during this challenging time.
I'd especially like to welcome the newer members to this committee. Of course, immigration is one of Canada's great competitive strengths, and the work of this committee is important in ensuring that this asset remains.
With me today is Wendy Therrien, who leads our public policy and public affairs efforts. She'll be particularly available for questions the committee may have.
As you may know, Universities Canada represents all 96 universities across the country. Taken together, Canada's universities are a $38-billion enterprise that is a significant driver of economic prosperity. Universities provide employment for over 310,000 people. In many cases, universities are the largest employer in their community. As well, we are the talent engines for Canada.
It's great to be here with my colleague, Denise Amyot. I very much support her comments earlier today. We work together, particularly on matters of immigration and success for international students.
Canada's universities are an integral part of the team Canada approach to the COVID-19 pandemic, from mitigating the risk to the search for a vaccine and cure and accelerating Canada's economy into recovery. We appreciate the challenge now facing the government and all of us: that of restarting the Canadian economy while continuing the health measures necessary to keep COVID-19 at bay.
We've greatly appreciated the steps the government has taken to support our sector, including ensuring international students can continue their studies, whether online or in person. As these measures take effect, I want to highlight the role that universities, and international students specifically, can have in our recovery from COVID-19.
Canada's need to attract skilled talent predates the pandemic. As our population ages and the labour force shrinks, our future prosperity depends on our ability to welcome immigrants from around the world. Universities are an integral part of Canada's immigration system, welcoming well over 200,000 international students per year. Once in Canada, these students are able to take advantage of government pathways to immigration.
Our institutions can be key partners in attracting, training and retaining skilled talent. At all levels of study, international students bring new perspectives, ideas and valuable human connections abroad. As students, they contribute over $22 billion to the Canadian economy annually.
As graduates, many become highly skilled individuals, contributing to local Canadian communities, or they return home with an appreciation for what Canada has to offer as a society and as a business partner.
While they are here, international students play a crucial part in our research and innovation ecosystem. Our ability to conduct research and to make new discoveries that strengthen our economy is dependent on a steady flow of international talent. International graduate students in particular are the arms and legs of our research enterprise.
However, as Denise was mentioning, international student recruitment has been hampered by COVID-19. Federal measures to accommodate online learning for international students and to provide a pathway for their safe return to Canada have been very helpful, but after five years of an average of 10% growth annually, international student enrolment at universities this year was down 2%. While these aggregate numbers might not seem so bad, given the circumstances, it's important to note that 51 universities saw a decline in international students compared to last year. Of these universities, 26 saw a decline of over 10% and 14 saw a decline of over 20%. This is having an impact not just for the universities, but also for grocery stores, car dealerships and families renting a room to international students. It is a loss that will be felt for at least the next four years.
The good news is that, given events in other countries, Canada's brand remains strong. We've seen federal investment in regaining traditional markets as well as in building our relationship with emerging markets, such as Vietnam and the Philippines. With these strategic investments, Canada can actually leapfrog competitor countries and build back stronger relationships with key sources for international students. As the speech from the throne outlined, these investments will ensure that Canada remains a destination of choice for top talent. These international students, many of them graduate students, will help grow our economy and stabilize the recovery of the post-secondary education sector.
We appreciate the work that all the members of the committee have done to help Canada recover from COVID-19 and we look forward to partnering to build a stronger Canada.
Thank you again for the opportunity to appear.