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Study and research in Canada

Study and research in Canada

In recent months, we have been working on research on the education system in Canada. Universities and colleges in Canada have reached a very high standard. They offer enormous opportunities to the world of research without neglecting the skills required by companies.

Soon we will be ready again to travel to Canada for research and study for a language course or a summer school. For this reason, we are pleased to present the first part of our paper about the world of Canadian universities, where students are considered a resource to be nourished and to conquer.  

In the uncertainty of the scenarios for the autumn courses, the certainty is that Coronavirus will not stop innovation and the growth of talent, international exchanges in the world of research and relations between Italy and Canada. Enjoy the reading!


Nadia Deisori

In this paper:

  • Study and Research in Canada
    • Universities and Colleges: how post secundary education works in Canada
    • Universities in Canada
    • Colleges: what are they?
    • Do research and development activities in Canada


Study and research in Canada

More than 2 million people are currently attending universities, colleges or other post-secondary education pathways in Canada. They are Canadians and students from all over the world. If we wanted to make a comparison, the student population engaged in studies in Canada after graduation, could be represented with the population of the entire Province of Turin.





It's not just a question of quantity. There is no shortage of high quality indicators of the entire system and they contribute to the attractiveness that Canada has towards international talents who move for work reasons (we have already seen it in the focus on migration dynamics) but also for study reasons.


Among the reasons for going to study in Canada we find:

  1. The very high quality of life and a work-life balance among the most envied in the world;
  2. Lower housing costs generally lower and public health care, points in favor of the neighboring United States (in addition to university tuition fees more accessible than in the USA);
  3. High quality educational standards that place many Canadian universities among the top institutions in the world;
  4. High post-graduate employment rates in line with the chosen studies and a training offer oriented to research and innovation but also to the professions most sought after by the business world, with effective study-work alternation programs for a fast job placement;
  5. The French-English bilingualism of the study paths and, in general, an extremely multicultural university environment.


1 Educational attainment refers to a person's highest certificate, diploma or degree.
2 The term 'Bachelor's degree or higher' corresponds to the category 'University certificate, diploma or degree at bachelor level or above' in the 'Highest certificate, diploma or degree' classification.
3 This category includes those with a Certificate of Apprenticeship, a Certificate of Qualification or a journeyperson's designation, as well as those with a non-apprenticeship trades certificate.




How do you become good at attracting talent from the world? It is the general level of education in Canada that is high in itself and shines internationally. The OECD indicators collected in the "Education at a Glance" report in the chapter on Canada outline a first photograph.


Education in Canada at a Glance


  1. More than one in two Canadians (57%) among adults have tertiary education: Canada ranks first in the proportion of university graduates or graduates among the OECD countries whose average in 2016 was 36.7%;
  2. The percentage of women with tertiary education is higher than that of men (even if their employment rate and their relative annual earnings are lower);
  3. 62% of people aged between 25 and 34 achieved a tertiary qualification in 2018 compared to 44% on average across OECD countries;
  4. about 25% of 25-34 year-olds completed a short-cycle tertiary program and about the same proportion reached their bachelor's degree, while about 10% completed a master's or doctorate degree;
  5. in 2015, 48% of full-time bachelor’s students in Canada completed the program within the theoretical duration of four years, compared with 39% on average across OECD countries.

Universities and Colleges: how post secundary education works in Canada

We will go into a subsequent article in further analysis on international students in Canada and the funding received from universities.


Let's now see how "university" education is organized in Canada, since it presents some substantial differences compared to the Italian system, so much so that the use of the term "university" can be improper or at least limiting.


After obtaining a high school diploma (secondary education), the choices for students are in fact wider than the Italian student and provide for entry into various types of institutions, among which we will consider the main ones, namely:

  1.  the Universities
  2.  the Colleges

There are around 100 universities and around 130 colleges in Canada. They are public institutions of higher quality than private individuals. However, public doesn't mean free. Enrollment fees in Canada are much higher than in Italian public universities, although much lower than in the United States, and we will see later on how the composition of public / private direct funding to universities has changed over time.


Universities in Canada


Canadian universities have a training offer very similar to the Italian system and consists of:

  • "Undergraduate" (or Bachelor) courses lasting 3-4 years, which correspond to the 1st level Italian degree;
  • "Graduate" (or Master) courses, lasting 2 years, the equivalent of the Italian specialist degree;
  • PhD Courses (PhD) which are equivalent to research doctorates and have a duration of 3 to 5 years.

Most professional programs, such as medicine, dentistry, law, are technically undergraduate programs, but are usually considered to be second-level university programs, which must therefore only be started after the first degree program has ended.

The level of Canadian universities is considered among the highest internationally. Canada hosts 10 of the 250 best universities in the world according to the QS World University Rankings:


#28 University of Toronto

#33 McGill University

#47 University of British Columbia

#109 University of Alberta

#146 McMaster University

#149 Université de Montréal

#163 University of Waterloo

#214 Western University

#229 University of Calgary

#239 Queen’s University of Kingston


Statistics Canada. Enrolments in Canadian universities and colleges, by field of study, 2016/2017


Colleges: what are they?


The real difference with the Italian system is the presence of a post-secondary level of education that is more practical and closer to the world of work. We talk about the heterogeneous educational offer of the Colleges (also called Institutes of Technology, Community colleges, Polytechnics, University colleges, Colleges of applied arts and technology, etc.), where students acquire more profession-oriented skills, therefore immediately usable in working contexts


Like universities, colleges offer different level courses, which can also be combined with university courses (pathways, for example 2 + 2, or 2 years of university followed by 2 years of college):


  • Professionalizing Undergraduate" degrees lasting 3-4 years;
  • Diplomas of 2 or 3 years, and pathways with universities;
  • Post-Graduate Degrees courses usually lasting 1 year, aimed at graduates who need to acquire professional skills to better compete in the world of work.


Depending on the program chosen, the College will issue a certificate, diploma or post-graduate diploma.


If you opt for a college, the training range in Canada exceeds the 10,000 different programs available in 127 colleges, institutes and polytechnics, with technical and professional study options. Among the main ones:

  • Agriculture and agri-food
  • Broadcasting and journalism
  • Commercial activity
  • Dental hygiene
  • Design
  • Technology engineering
  • Environment
  • Health
  • Management of the reception
  • Information and communications technology
  • Languages and arts
  • Science
  • Social services

Canadian colleges have more than 400 specialized campuses, labs and learning centers that offer students access to sophisticated technologies, equipment, mentoring and experience.


Map of colleges and universities in Canada



Education in the Province of Québec

In Québec, the offer is completed with CÉGEP courses, the institution that prepares students for both entry to university and the world of work. An acronym for the French term Collège denseensement general et professionnel, it is a public school which provides the first level of post-secondary education. In fact, in the province of Québec, unlike in the other provinces, post-secondary education is organized in 4 levels. This level, therefore, is a sort of bridge between primary and secondary schools and the university level.


The education offered by CÉGEP and Colleges in Quèbec is divided into:

  • 2-year pre-university programs that prepare students for university and lead to a Diploma of College Studies (DEC)
  • 3-year technical training programs which are more oriented towards entering the labor market. These paths also lead to a DEC
  • 3-year technical training programs for adults that provide specialized training in a particular field and lead to an Attestation of College Studies (ACS)


Do research and development activities in Canada


The spearhead of the Canadian education system is the research sector. Canada represents only 0.5% of the world's population, however Canadian researchers publish over 3% of the world's scientific papers.

Universities run 41% of Canada's R&D projects and are a key partner in industrial research and development


In 2019, 183 of the world's most cited researchers came from Canada and helped put the country in 6th place among the most cited researchers. (Source: Highly Cited Researchers 2019 | Web of Science Group)

Revenue from sponsored research in Canadian university coffers hit $ 5.8 billion in 2017/2018, 19.3% of total revenue.


Higher education institutions, in competition / exchange / collaboration with the business world, are the integral part of the Canadian research system.


Universities and businesses jointly represent

over 92% of the entire R&D sector.



Universities and businesses are also the largest direct R&D funders in their respective performance sectors. The commercial business sector has funded $ 14.1 billion of its $ 18.7 billion in research and development projects, while the education sector has a share of $ 7.1 billion in direct financing of its $ 14.3. billions of research and development projects.

(Source: Statistics Canada. Spending on research and development, 2017 (final), 2018 (preliminary) and 2019 (intentions))


The operational funds available for post-secondary education are provincial in nature, but the federal government contributes through transfers to the provinces, support for scientific research and various forms of financial assistance to students.

Regarding federal research funding, the Government of Canada funds research from post-secondary institutions through research granting councils:  

  1. The Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR);
  2. The Natural Science and Engineering Research Council (NSERC);
  3. The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).

They are also known as "Tri-Council" agencies to which the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) has joined since 2018.

Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships and Banting Postdoctoral Scholarships are among the most prestigious funding programs for researchers.


Obviously, public funding follows the rule of competitiveness. The best researchers therefore tend to gather in the best universities which consequently continue to receive even more funding.


The country's top three institutions (Toronto, UBC and McGill) receive around 30% of all funding of the "Tri-Council" agencies.


Top 15 Institutional Recipients of Federal Research Grants, by Council 2018-19

Source: The State of Postsecondary Education in CANADA 2019


The four institutions disburse approximately $ 2.3 billion annually in funding to Canadian post-secondary institutions, and nearly 99% of this funding goes to universities. This level of spending surged in the first half of the 2000s, and then remained constant since 2005. Since then, the share of investments by the university institutions and the involvement of individuals and businesses has grown since then.


Among other federal funding sources for universities and colleges, the Canada Research Chairs program, Il invests up to $ 295 million a year to fuel research in engineering and natural sciences, health sciences, humanities and social sciences.

Specific funds have been dedicated to practically every sector, such as the il Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) which invests about 1 billion dollars every year to support health research, not to mention the infrastructure investments that inject millions of dollars in the sector. with one-off but decisive interventions for the renewal and expansion of universities.


In the next stage of our journey into the Canadian post-secondary education system, we will talk about the thousands of international students who choose Canada for their studies every year and we will try to understand more in depth what type of financial model is at the basis of system.


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