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A map of Canada, separated into its ten provinces and three territories.

Higher education in Canada describes the constellation of provincial higher education systems in Canada and their relationships with the federal government. A federation now comprising ten provinces and three territories, Canada is a parliamentary democracy and a constitutional monarchy, with Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state. It is a bilingual and multicultural country, with both English and French as official languages at the federal level. Technologically advanced and industrialized, Canada maintains a diversified economy that is heavily reliant upon its abundant natural resources and upon trade—particularly with the United States, with which Canada has a long and complex relationship.

Higher education systems in Canada

Provincial and territorial higher education systems

In Canada, the constitutional responsibility for higher education rests with the provinces of Canada. The decision to assign responsibility for universities to the local legislatures, cemented in the British North America Act, 1867, which was renamed the Constitution Act in 1982, was contentious from its inception. The Act states "in and for each Province, the Legislature may exclusively make laws in relation to Education". As a result of this constitutional arrangement, a distinctive system of education, including higher education, has evolved in each province. However, as the constitutional responsibility for Aboriginal Peoples with Treaty Status rests with the federal government of Canada under the Constitution Act of 1982, it is the federal government that is largely responsible for funding higher education opportunities for Aboriginal learners, whether in traditional post-secondary institutions or in settings that promote opportunities to pursue indigenous education.


The higher education systems in Canada's ten provinces include their historical development, organization (e.g., structure, governance, and funding), and goals (e.g., participation, access, and mobility).

Newfoundland and Labrador

Newfoundland and Labradormarker has had the same growing pains as other provinces in developing its own form of education and now boasts a very strong, although relatively small, system. The direction of Newfoundland and Labrador’s policy has evolved rapidly since the late 1990s, with increased funding, participation rates, accessibility and transferability. Many of the directives the government has been acting upon in the past 3 years have been a result of recommendations that stemmed from a 2005 white paper: Foundation for Success: White Paper on Public Post-Secondary Education

Nova Scotia

The governing body for higher education in Nova Scotiamarker is the Department of Education with Karen Casey as Minister of Education. Nova Scotia has a population of less than 1 million people who are served by 11 public universities and one private chartered university authorized to grant degrees, the Nova Scotia Community Collegemarker that offers programs at 13 campuses, and 6 Community Learning Centres.

New Brunswick

The higher education system in New Brunswickmarker includes the governing Ministry of Postsecondary Education Training and Labour, related agencies, boards, or commissions, public or private chartered universities, universities recognized under the degree granting act, public colleges, and other institutions such as private career colleges. Higher education has a rich history in New Brunswick, including the first English-speaking University in Canada, University of New Brunswickmarker, and the first university in the British Empire to have awarded a baccalaureate to a woman (Grace Annie Lockhart, B.Sc, 1875), Mount Allison Universitymarker.

Prince Edward Island

Higher education in Prince Edward Islandmarker falls under the jurisdiction of the Higher Education and Corporate Services Branch within the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. The province has one university, the University of Prince Edward Island authorized to grant degrees and one community college, Holland Collegemarker, that operates centres across the province including: the Culinary Institute of Canada, the Justice Institute of Canada, the Marine Centre, the Aerospace Centre, the Atlantic Tourism and Hospitality Institute and the Prince Edward Island Institute of Adult and Community Education.


The higher education system in Quebecmarker is unique when compared to the other Canadian provinces and territories. Students complete their secondary studies in the eleventh grade. Post secondary studies start with the College d’enseignement generale et professionel CEGEP. Students keen on academic and highly skilled occupations would take the university preparation programs, while students interested in technical, vocational and building tradesmarker would take specialized programs at this level to prepare them for the workforce. Because CEGEP includes two years of academic study they essentially eliminate the freshman year of university. Programs in Quebec universities are more specialized, but students are required to complete only ninety credits for a Bachelors degree. Students from outside the province are required make up the first year either through the CEGEP or at their chosen university. Although French is the official language at the provincial level, students can access education in both French and English.


The higher education system in Ontario includes the governing Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities, advisory bodies, public universities, private degree granting institutions, public colleges, private career colleges, and associations. In Ontario there are twenty-two public universities, twenty-four colleges, and seventeen privately funded institutions with degree granting authority. Governance within Ontario universities generally follows a bicameral approach with separation of authority between a board and senate. There are eight associations that provide representation for faculty, staff, institutions, and students by interacting within the Ontario higher education system. The public funding of higher education in Ontario primarily relies on cooperation between the government of Canada and the government of Ontario. Public funding of higher education involves direct public funding of institutions for instruction, investment, and research combined with funding of students.


A major public review of higher education in Manitoba, submitted in 1973 under the title of the Task Force on Postsecondary Education, more commonly known as the Oliver Commission, recommended closer articulation between Manitoba’s universities and community colleges. The system remains a binary one, however, with few university transfer programs or college courses which can be applied towards a university degree. The Roblin Commission of 1993 and subsequent declining allocations of the public purse have made it clear that post-secondary institutions will have to find their own private sources of funding to make up shortfalls in general operating budgets.


The post-secondary sector in Saskatchewan includes public institutions, Aboriginal-controlled institutions and programming, private vocational schools, apprenticeship programs, and Campus Saskatchewan. According to the 2008-09 Budget, the Saskatchewan Ministry of Advanced Education, Employment, and Labour has a total budget of $761 million. The Saskatchewan Ministry of Advanced Education, Employment and Labour oversees a number of programs to assist current and potential students.


Higher education in Albertamarker trains students in various academic and vocational specializations. Generally, youth attend school from kindergarten until grade twelve, at which time they have the option to continue into post secondary study. Students are required to meet the individual entrance requirements for programs offered at the institution of their choice. Once accepted, students are allowed greater educational opportunities through the province extensively developed articulation system. The Alberta Council on Articulation and Transfer (ACAT) enables students transfer between programs at any of the twenty public post secondary institutions, eight private colleges, and other Alberta based not for profit institutions. To ensure a continued high standard for credentials awarded by post secondary facilities, the Alberta Ministry of Advanced Education established the Campus Alberta Quality Council with membership in the International Network for Quality Assurance Agencies in Higher Education.

British Columbia

The British Columbia Ministry of Advanced Education administers a higher education system that includes twenty-five publicly funded institutions, fourteen private institutions, and numerous private career training institutions or career colleges. Public institutions include eleven universities, eleven colleges, and three institutes. Private institutions include three private universities, five private colleges, and six theological colleges.


Each of the three territories in Canada (i.e., Nunavutmarker, Northwest Territoriesmarker, and Yukonmarker) have separate higher education systems that reflect territorial history, organization, and goals in the context of geographical challenges.


Created in 1999, the Territory of Nunavutmarker is located in the Canadian Arctic. Nunavut has developed some creative solutions to the delivery of post secondary education. Some of the challenges include a huge geographic region, a sparse and isolated populace, and four official languages. To address these challenges, Nunavut Arctic Collegemarker delivers customized learning programs via Community Learning Centres in twenty-four of the twenty-six communities in Nunavut. Programs are developed to address the needs of individual communities, with respect to literacy, adult education, certificates, and professional development for major regional community stake-holds, such as government, employers and non-profit organizations. To assist Northern residence in accessing highly skilled training, Nunavut Arctic College has partnered with McGill Universitymarker, the University of Victoriamarker and Dalhousie Universitymarker to offer Bachelors degrees in Education, Nursing and Law, respectively. Nunavut Arctic College is an active member of the Alberta Council on Admissions and Transfer, and has developed formal transfer arrangements with many institution in the Province of Albertamarker and Aurora Collegemarker in Northwest Territoriesmarker.

Northwest Territories

The only post-secondary institution in the NWT is Aurora Collegemarker. The former Arctic College was split into Aurora College and Nunavut Arctic Collegemarker when Nunavut Territorymarker was created in 1999. Aurora College has campuses in Inuvikmarker, Fort Smithmarker and Yellowknifemarker. It has learning centres in many other communities in the NWT. The territorial Department of Education, Culture and Employment is the government agency responsible for post-secondary education in the Northwest Territoriesmarker. There are two career colleges located in the NWT: the Academy of Learning in Yellowknife, which provides business information technology courses, and Great Slave Helicopters Flight Training Centre, which supplies Global Positioning System training for helicopter pilot education.


Yukon's system of higher education is shaped by the territory's small population (30,375 people as of May 2006) in a relatively large geographic area. The history of higher education in fact went hand in hand with the establishment of a representative territorial government in 1979. The only post-secondary institute in Yukon, Yukon Collegemarker, issues certificate, diploma, and partial and some full degree programs to all high school leavers and older adults. The college is a community college and as a result it provides Adult Basic Education/literacy programs as well.

Federal presence in higher education

Canadian federal parliament building in Ottawa, Ontario

The federal Parliament is responsible for the national interest and "it has the power to legislate regarding matters which are in the interest of more than one of the provinces or of the nation as a whole". However, there is no federal ministry or minister of higher education. Historically, areas identified as “appropriate” for federal government involvement included the following: economic and social growth and development, equality of opportunity, employment, preparing young people for the labour force, inter-provincial labour market mobility, adult training and retraining, vocational training, bilingualism, technological development, international affairs, and research In 2008, federal responsibility for higher education is under the umbrella of Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC), Learning Branch. The Learning Branch of HRSDC oversees the following: Canada Student Loans and Grants; Saving for Education; Post-Secondary Education; and Student Exchanges and Academic Mobility.

As mentioned above, the federal government is also responsible for funding higher educational opportunities for Aboriginal Peoples with Treaty Status, consistent with the government's constitutional obligation under section 91 of the British North America Act. This is true for Aboriginal learners who wish to pursue both traditional postsecondary education, as well as indigenous educational opportunities.

History of federal government involvement

1874 First direct involvement of the federal government in higher education.

Parliamentary statute to establish "the Military Collegemarker"

1876 The college opened in Kingston, Ontario

1885 Land endowment granted for the establishment of the University of Manitobamarker

1910 Royal Commission on Industrial Training and Vocational Education – “led to the provision of grants to the provinces for the purposes of developing agricultural techniques and training and upgrading vocational, technical and industrial education” (p. 2)

1916 Creation of the National Research Council (NRC) to enlarge Canada’s research facilities during World War I

1939 Establishment of the Dominion-Provincial Student Aid Program (DPSAP)

End of World War II

1946 Influx of returning World War II veterans into the universities. In 1947-48 full-time university enrolment peaked at 83,882

federal government provided universities with annual grant of $150 for each veteran student

1951 Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters, and Sciences (Massey Commission)

1957 Creation of the Canada Council for the Encouragement of the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences

1957-67 Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) provided loans to universities for building of student residences

1960 Separation of the Medical Research Council (MRC) from the National Research Council (NRC)

1964 Establishment of the Canada Student Loans Program (CSLP)

1965 AUCC sponsored Commission on Financing of Higher Education (Bladen Commission)

1963 Establishment of the Economic Council of Canada

1966 Direct involvement of the Department of the Secretary of State

1966 Establishment of the Education Support Branch of the Department of the Secretary of State formed to coordinate assistance given to universities

1966 Establishment of the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC)

1966-67 Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act 1967

1967 Adult Occupation Training Act, which led to the Canada Manpower Training Program

1971 Formation of the Ministry for Science and Technology

1977 Federal-Provincial Arrangements Established Programs Financing Act (1977)

1978 Government Organizations Act (1976) which led to the creation of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRCC) and the National Science and Engineering Research Council(NSERC)

1982 Bill C-97. An Act to Amend the Federal-Provincial Arrangements and Established Programs Financing Act, 1977

1983 Dissolution of the Economic Council of Canada

1984 Bill C-12 Act to amend the Federal-Provincial Arrangements and Established Programs Financing Act

1986 Bill C-96 Act to Amend the Federal-Provincial Arrangements and Federal Post-secondary Education and Health Act Programs Act, 1977

1995 Bill C-76 Act to Implement Certain Provisions of the Budget Tabled in Parliament on February 27, 1995

1995 Amalgamation of Established Programs Financing (EPF) and Canada Assistance Plan (CAP)

1996 Canada Health and Social Transfer Act

1999 Bill C-65: An Act to Amend the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act

2004 Canada Learning Bond introduced as way to encourage low-income families to use a Registered Education Savings Plan for saving money to be used for a child's post-secondary education.

2004 Separation of the Canada Health Transfer (CHT) and Canada Social Transfer (CST)

Higher education associations and organizations

There are numerous groups that are relevant to the structure of higher education in Canada. These include those that support teachers, staff, students, institutions, research, and related groups involved in the delivery of higher education in the Canadian provinces and territories.

Higher education journals and publications

There are a number of journals and publications regarding higher education in Canada. The majority are published by associations of faculty, staff, or students.

See also


  1. Constitution Act
  2. Standing Senate Committee on National Finance. (1987). Federal policy on post-secondary education. Ottawa: Minister of Supply and Services Canada
  3. Newfoundland and Labrador. (2005). Foundation for success: White paper on public post-secondary education. St. John’s, NL: Department of Education Retrieved on May 15, 2008
  4. Nova Scotia Department of Education. (n.d.). Department of Education. Retrieved on July 29, 2008 from
  5. Statistics Canada. (2008, June 25). The Daily: Canada's population estimates. Ottawa, Ontario Retrieved on July 29, 2008 from [1]
  6. Nova Scotia Office of Immigration. (n.d.). Universities, Colleges, and Trade Schools. Retrieved on July 29, 2008 from
  7. Nova Scotia Community College. (n.d.). Campuses Retrieved on July 29, 2008 from
  8. Nova Scotia Community College. (n.d.). Community Learning Centres. Retrieved on July 29, 2008 from
  9. Government of Prince Edward Island. (2008). Prince Edward Island: Education and early childhood development / higher education and corporate services. Charlottetown: Prince Edward Island. Retrieved May 20, 2008.
  10. Government of Prince Edward Island. (2004). 200 years of learning and innovation. Retrieved May 20, 2008, from
  11. Henchey, N. and Burgess, D.(1987) Between Past and Future: Quebec Education in Transition (p. 112) Calgary: Detselig Enterprises Limited
  12. Smith, W. Foster, W. and Donahue, H. (1999) The Contemporary Education Scene in Quebec: A Handbook for Policy Makers, Administrators and Educators (p.7) Montreal: Office of Research on Educational Policy (OREP)
  13. Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities Ontario. Organization chart (PDF 40KB). Retrieved May 30, 2008, from
  14. Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities Ontario. Role of the ministry. Retrieved May 29, 2008, from
  15. Jones, G. & Skolnik, M. (1997). Governing boards in Canadian universities [Electronic version]. The Review of Higher Education, 20, 3, p. 290.
  16. Salmi, J. & Hauptman, A. (2006). Resource allocation mechanisms in tertiary education: A typology and an assessment. In Global University Network for Innovation (GUNI), Higher education in the world 2006: The financing of universities (pp. 60 - 81). Beccles, Suffolk: Palgrave Macmillan.
  17. Gregor, A.D. (1997). Higher education in Manitoba. In Jones, G.A. (Ed.), Higher education in Canada: Different systems, different perspectives (pp.115-136). New York: Garland
  18. Governemnt of Alberta. "Queen's Printer:Post Secondary Learning Act" retrieved July 15, 2008. [2]
  19. Alberta Council on Admissions and Transfer. "Council Principles, Policies and Proceedures" Retrieved July 15, 2008, [3]
  20. Alberta Council on Admissions and Transfer. "About ACAT" retrieved July 15, 2008, [4]
  21. Alberta Government "Campus Alberta Quality Council:About the Council" retrieved July 15, 2008 [5]
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  23. CollegeView. (n.d.). Aurora College, Yellowknife Campus, Yellowknife. Retrieved June 19, 2008, from
  24. Academy of Learning. (n.d.). About Us. Retrieved June 19, 2008, from
  25. (n.d.). Yellowknife Career Colleges and Trade Schools. Retrieved June 19, 2008, from
  26. BC Stats. (2007). "2006 Census Profile:Yukon Territory" Retrieved July 15, 2008
  27. Senkpiel, Aron. (1997). Postsecondary Education in Yukon. In "Higher Education in Canada" (pp. 285 - 300). Ed. Jones, G.A., New York, N.Y.: Garland Publishing
  28. Yukon College. (n.d.). "Our Programs" Retrieved July 15, 2008
  29. Sheffield, E., Campbell, D. D., Holmes, J., Kymlicka, B. B., & Whitelaw, J. H. (1978). Systems of higher education: Canada. New York: International Council for Educational Development, p. 1
  30. Sheffield et al.(1978), p. 13-20
  31. [6],
  32. Standing Senate Committee on National Finance. (1987). Federal policy on post-secondary education. Ottawa: Minister of Supply and Services Canada, p.2
  33. Royal Commission on Industrial Training and Technical Education
  34. Munroe, J. P. (1914). Review of the Royal Commission of Canada on Industrial Training and Technical Education. Report of the Commissioners. The American Economic Review, 4(4), 940-942
  35. Standing Senate Committee (1987), p.2
  36. National Research Council Canada: Science at Work for Canada
  37. Sheffield, E., Campbell, D. D., Holmes, J., Kymlicka, B. B., & Whitelaw, J. H. (1978). Systems of higher education: Canada. New York: International Council for Educational Development, p.8
  38. Stewart, L. (1990). It’s up to you. Women at UBC in the early years. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press
  39. Sheffield et al., (1978), p. 8; Senate Standing Committee (1987), p. 2
  40. Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences
  41. Report of the Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters, and Sciences
  42. CHAPTER XXV, A COUNCIL FOR THE ARTS, LETTERS, HUMANITIES AND SOCIAL SCIENCES - Report of the Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters, and Sciences
  43. Access : : Nature
  44. The Canada Council for the Arts - Canada Council for the Arts - Conseil des Arts du Canada
  45. Canada Mortgage and Housing | Société canadienne d'hypothèques et de logement
  46. Medical Research Council - Home
  47. Canada Student Loans and Grants
  48. Canada Student Loans Program
  49. University of Toronto Libraries - Vincent Wheeler Bladen
  50. Trueman, J.H. (1966). The Canadian university. The Journal of Higher Education, 37(3), 166-168.
  51. Eastman, H.C. (1979). Review of Bladen on Bladen: Memoirs of a political economist by Vincent W. Bladen. The Canadian Journal of Economics / Revue canadienne d'Economique, 12(4), 765-767.
  52. Economic Council of Canada
  53. OAG Chapter 14—Secretary Of State
  54. CMEC
  55. Sheehan, B. (1973). Federal funds and university research. Canadian Journal of Political Science / Revue canadienne de science politique, 6(1), 121-130.
  56. Environment and Planning C abstract
  57. Whose Responsibility?: Conflicting Federal/Provincial Legislation Governing the Training of Adults in Canada
  58. Literacy Across the Curriculumedia Focus - Vol.16 No.1 - Development of ABE in Canada
  59. Maki, D. (1972). The direct effect of the Occupational Training of Adults Program on Canadian unemployment rates. The Canadian Journal of Economics / Revue canadienne d'Economique, 5(1), 125-131.
  60. Dobell, A.R. (1982). Financing Confederation: Politics and process. Canadian Public Policy / Analyse de Politiques, 8(3), 303-307.
  61. Pre-Study of House of Commons Bills by the Senate
  62. Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act
  63. A Brief History of the Canada Health and Social Transfer (Federal Transfers to Provinces and Territories, October 2007)
  64. Report F: Canada Health And Social Transfer
  65. Bill C-65:An Act to amend the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act (LS-333E)

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