Higher education in Canada

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 that “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. The federal government’s responsibilities in education are limited to the Royal Military College of Canada and funding the education of aboriginal peoples.

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


Higher education in Alberta 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 Admissions 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 provincial government administers a higher education system that includes twenty-five publicly funded institutions, fourteen private institutions, and numerous private career training  nstitutions or career colleges. Public institutions include eleven universities, eleven colleges, and three institutes.


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,  ecommended 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.

New Brunswick

The higher education system in New Brunswick 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 Brunswick, and the first university in the British Empire to have awarded a baccalaureate to a woman (Grace Annie Lockhart, B.Sc, 1875), Mount Allison University. English speaking New Brunswickers in Canada’s only bilingual province are falling behind according to Statistics Canada.

Newfoundland and Labrador

Newfoundland and Labrador 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.

Northwest Territories

The only post-secondary institution in the NWT is Aurora College. The former Arctic College was split into Aurora College and Nunavut Arctic College when Nunavut Territory was created in 1999. Aurora College has campuses in Inuvik, Fort Smith and Yellowknife. It has learning centres in many other communities in the NWT. The territorial Department of Education, Culture and  mployment is the government agency responsible for post-secondary education in the Northwest Territories. 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.

Nova Scotia

The governing body for higher education in Nova Scotia 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 College that offers programs at 13 campuses, and 6 Community Learning Centres.


Created in 1999, the Territory of Nunavut 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 College delivers customized learning programs via  Community Learning Centres in twenty-four of the twenty-six communities in Nunavut.[20] Programsvare developed to address the needs of individual communities, withvrespect 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 residents in accessing highly skilled training, Nunavut Arctic College has partnered with McGill University, the University of Victoria and Dalhousie University to offer bachelor’s 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 Alberta and Auror College in Northwest Territories.


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 Canadaand 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.

Prince Edward Island

Higher education in Prince Edward Island 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 College, 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 Quebec is unique when compared to the other Canadian provinces and territories. Students complete their secondary studies in the eleventh grade. Post secondary studies start within a mandatory pre-university college system (Although commonly referred as the public institutions named (French) Collège d’enseignement général et professionnel or CEGEP, which translates as General and Vocational College, Both private Colleges and Public CEGEPs exist). Students keen on academic and highly skilled professions would take the university preparation programs, while students interested in a skilled trade would take specialized programs at this level to prepare them for the workforce. Because College 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.[30] Students from outside the province are required make up the first year either through a College, CEGEP, or at their chosen university. Although French is the official language at the provincial level, all students can access post-secondary education in both French and English.


The post-secondary sector includes 2 public universities, Aboriginal-controlled institutions that are affiliated to either one of the public universities, 1 polytechnic, 4 federated colleges, career colleges, 8 regional colleges, and Campus Saskatchewan govern by the Ministry of Advanced Education, part of the provincial government of Saskatchewan. Campus Saskatchewan, established in 2002 as a partnership with various post-secondary institutions to work together to use technology-enhanced learning to increase opportunities for the people in Saskatchewan to access high quality education and training at times and in places that best meet their needs. According to the 2014-15 budget report, The Ministry of Advanced Education received $817.8 million, an increase of $24 million or 3.7 per cent over last year to support operational increases and several key investments at post-secondary institutions. Employment and Labour oversees a number of to assist

current and potential students such as the Graduate Retention Program (GRP). In addition, the ministry also offers non-payable funding through scholarships, grants and bursaries to eligible students. The Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Sciences and Technology (SIAST) received authorization to its first degree, a Bachelor of Psychiatric Nursing, the first of its kind in the province on July 2013. The following year on November, SIAST was renamed Saskatchewan Polytechnic (SaskPolyTech).


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 College, 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.