Continued Concerns: Post-Secondary Students One Year into COVID-19

Executive Summary 

This paper is a summary of public opinion research that surveyed post-secondary students across Canada in late March and early April 2021. The results are meant to capture a snapshot of the student experience one year into the COVID-19 pandemic. It also serves as a follow-up to the Canadian Alliance of Student's Association's (CASA’s) May 2020 report, Students are Still Worried: COVID-19 and Post Secondary Education. Accordingly, this paper reflects how the challenges, gaps, and barriers presented in 2020 have evolved over the past year, as well as identify new or persistent concerns and priorities. 

This public opinion research was commissioned by the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations and conducted by Abacus Data.  

Key Findings


Compared to the general population, students are more likely to report a worsening of their physical health

Nearly two-thirds of students reported having an unhealthy work-social balance, and 74% spent more time than usual on school work

Only 11% of students reported seeing no change in their financial situation as a result of COVID-19

56% of students reporting that their ability to learn material was negatively impacted by COVID-19

Three in four students said the quality of content delivered in their classes was not as good as typical in-class offerings 


Over the past year, the percentage of students who reported feeling stressed hasn’t shifted (77%)

There has also been a worrying and noticeable increase in the number of students who reported more serious forms of mental health struggles, including feeling despair (+16%), overwhelmed (+10%), and sadness (+6%) 

Across the board, students reported feeling stressed about their own health (69%), their families and loved ones (78%), their ability to find employment post-graduation (72%), and their fiances (69%)

Not only has the pandemic worsened pre-existing mental health challenges in 78% of students, but it has created new challenges for 64%

While some optimism remains, the percentage of students who reported feeling optimistic dropped by 5% in the past year, down to just 41%


Nearly two-thirds of students reported that the pandemic had made affording post-secondary education more difficult 

Overall, 88% of students reported having to change the way they funded their education due to COVID-19

Fewer students experienced difficulties finding summer employment than expected (56% actual versus 68% expected)

Despite government supports and increased job opportunities, finances continue to worry students, with 61% worried about their ability to pay Fall 2021 tuition and 65% worried about living expenses in Fall 2021


As expected, being able to access online learning was difficult from a technological standpoint, with 54% reporting problems related to Internet access 

Accessing professors, instructors, and teaching assistants was also a challenge, with 76% reporting that they were not as accessible as they would have been in an in-person classroom

International students were more likely to report challenges accessing technological and mental health supports compared to their domestic colleagues

Nearly half of students reported having difficulty finding somewhere to live where they felt safe and able to follow public health guidelines


64% of students reported using government support programs, with the Canada Emergency Student Benefit and the Canada Emergency Response Benefit being the most popular

Overall, students were satisfied with government support, with only 18% stating that they were insufficient. That said, 48% also stated that while helpful, more support will be needed

Of all programs, students viewed lowering interest rates on student loans, expanding Canada Student Grants, and funding for employment opportunities as the most important

The most likely students to access government funding included those between 17 and 29 (45%), those in their first year (44%), and those without personal income (47%)



The Canadian Alliance of Student Associations advocates for better post-secondary education and aims to improve the lives of students. L'Alliance canadienne des associations étudiantes défend les intérêts des étudiant(e)s.

Source: Canadian Alliance of Students Association