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Canada - Higher Education

Education Encyclopedia - StateUniversity.comGlobal Education ReferenceCanada - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education


With few exceptions, Canadian postsecondary schools break down into universities and colleges. In the twenty-first century, the term "colleges" usually refers to community colleges.

Because of bickering and cultural differences among the nation's disparate groups, it took hundreds of years before the people of Canada concentrated on their common beliefs and values to form a quality system of higher education. Canada's early schools of higher education were then called colleges. All these colleges possessed denominational affiliations, often instituted by ministers, dioceses, or colonists with strong religious ties. Consequently, their early offerings stressed religious studies or theology and a classical education such as was pursued in Europe at the University of Paris or Oxford or at Harvard College in the American colonies.

Canada's first "college," the Collège des Jésuites, established in 1635 by the Jesuit Order in Quebec, actually was a primary school (petite école) for children and young Indians. To give some idea of this accomplishment, Harvard College would not be established in Massachusetts until 1636. In short time, Latin was taught and eventually the school offered seminary studies. By the 1660s, a full college course and the opportunity for a classical education were also offered. The British closed this school in 1768 after the French defeat.

Until late in the eighteenth century, British authorities frowned upon French Catholic educational institutions, but eventually came to tolerate and even support them. However, the Petit Séminaire de Montréal (formerly the Collège St. Raphaël) was begun by Catholic religious in 1773, offering a partial classical course. Université Laval was founded in 1663 as the Séminaire de Québec; the school still exists today.

The aforementioned 1790 Means for Promoting Education, the special legislative council committee headed by Chief Justice Smith, recommended the formation of a college similar to the great universities of Europe, but theology-free, an attempt to suppress Catholic teachings. This was blocked.

Higher education was not absent from Canada through 1860, but colleges were in very short supply. Potential students had the choice of attending two major institutions at Quebec or Montreal that were similar to the classical universities of Europe or attending five smaller institutions, specifically Nicolet (1803), St. Hyacinthe (1811), Ste. Théresé-de-Blaineville (1825), Ste. Anne-de-la-Pocatière (1827), and L'Assomption (1832) (Harris 1976). A number of short-lived institutions failed to outlast the nineteenth century. All these were propelled by the enthusiasm and entrepreneurial abilities of various parish priests and their bishops who, perhaps less nobly, were attempting to keep Catholic students from choosing to enter British, non-sectarian institutions such as McGill University.

Not surprisingly, one of the important reasons for the establishment of institutions of higher learning in English-occupied Canada was the training of missionaries and ministers. Until 1763, the British lagged behind the French in higher education, having established no colleges up to that time. Other institutions, particularly those large non-denominational schools such as McGill (first operating in 1821 with a medical faculty and then eventually expanding to include numerous professional and academic disciplines) and Dalhousie (1818) Universities, were founded to preserve British culture, traditions, and way of life. The King's Colleges at Frederickton, Windsor, and Toronto consciously and warily attempted to preserve Canadian traditions, lest Canadian schools become "Americanized" culturally. The founders of the Windsor, Ontario, and Frederickton, New Brunswick institutions were United Empire Loyalists. Many of today's universities originally had different names at the time of their founding. The University of Toronto was King's College in Toronto when chartered in 1827. The Frederick institution begun in 1829 is now the University of New Brunswick.

Canada's colleges tended to have denominational roots. Four colleges were independent as of 1867, while the remaining 13 had denominational ties, according to the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada. Rather than continue to work against one another, Canada's nondenominational and religious universities formed cooperative, if sometimes uneasy, alliances. For example, the nonsectarian University of Toronto collaborated with three religious colleges that were Anglican, Catholic, and Methodist by the early 1900s (McInnes 1969).

As of 2000, Canada possessed 92 universities ranging from small liberal arts institutions mainly or exclusively for undergraduates to extensive, heavily enrolled research communities of knowledge. A few offer specialties such as art and design; others contain every imaginable specialty study. (Some of the specialty schools are comparable to community colleges in the U.S.)

Some of the more noteworthy universities in Canada and the dates of their founding include the following: Carleton University (1957, formerly Carleton College with a 1942 founding), Lakehead University (1965, formerly Lakehead Technical Institute), Memorial University of Newfoundland (1949), University of Alberta (1906), University of Guelph (1965), University of Lethbridge (1967), and University of Sasketchewan (1907). Like U.S. state universities, many universities in Canada have a similar relationship to province governments.

In spite of attempts by the government and universities to minimize U.S. influences on higher education, sociologists and educators frequently note the tendency of institutions to form boards of governors similar to trustee boards in the United States. Like those of the U.S., these boards tend to be heavily populated with members outside the immediate university community. Other American influences can be seen in the methods of operation Canadian universities employ in their graduate and professional schools, according to sociologists Wilfrid B.W. Martin and Allan J. Macdonell. Finally, the four western provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan established universities that borrowed from the model of U.S. land grant colleges, according to the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada.

In the twentieth century, Canada's government and people placed growing importance on higher education, requiring trained and educated employees and management for the knowledge-based industries. Approximately 8 percent of Canada's gross domestic product (GDP) goes toward education expenditures. A little over one quarter of Canadian citizens possess a university or college degree.

Not surprisingly, Canada's biggest boom in university enrollments came during the Baby Boom era. Enrollment in full-time studies more than tripled from 1960 to 1970, with more than 350,000 students enrolled during the 1970-1971 academic year. All told, student enrollment (including part time students) exploded to 493,000 students during the 1973-1974 academic year. By the 1998-1999 school year, attendance of full and part time students had increased to 580,376 full time students and 245,985 part time students. Of these totals, Ontario is the leader by province in student numbers with 229,985 full time students and 72,958 part time students. Quebec is second with 134,162 full time students and 98,116 part time students. Not all provinces have prospered equally in recent years. From 1994-1995 to 1998-1999, the provinces of Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland, New Brunswick, and Manitoba recorded slight drops in full time student enrollment.

Community Colleges & Technical Colleges: In Canada, in addition to the universities offering degreed programs, there are also in operation a wide number of community colleges, technical schools, agricultural colleges, schools of agriculture, two-year colleges of art, and schools of nursing.

Canada has built a significant number of these schools in a relatively short time. As late as the 1960s and 1970s, community colleges were struggling to find a niche in the country's educational system. Many of the educational offerings and vocational courses are designed to be completed in two years. Often students transfer to four year institutions after attending community colleges.

In 1996-1997, Canada awarded 85,908 degrees in career programs. These were broken down into business and commerce (23,327), engineering and applied sciences (18,279), social sciences and social services (16,779), health sciences (11,618), the arts (7,191), the natural sciences (4,819), humanities (1,235), arts and sciences (2,531), and miscellaneous unreported categories (129).

Vocational Training: The first trade school in Canada offered not only vocational courses but also training in the arts such as painting and sculpture. The school was founded in Quebec at St. Joachim around 1670. In the early 1700s, a similar institution opened in Montreal. The Jesuits ran both schools. These schools served mariners, artisans, and students aspiring to become farmers.

In modern times, when the presence of a skilled work force increasingly demands that workers bring skills to a job instead of getting them on the job, trade and vocational training has become nearly mandatory for Canadians lacking a community college or college education. The types of vocational programs and the number of programs vary from province to province. Both community colleges and vocational centers advertise classes in advance. The applicant pays for most programs, although some are government-funded such as language skills for newcomers or courses for aboriginal peoples. Many trades require skills that increase as one advances. For example, an electrician may move from an apprentice to a journeyman.

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