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Identifying with Canada Day
Canada is Failing History
Hockey: Canada's Game
Universities are post-secondary institutions invested with degree-granting power. Canada's earliest universities had strong religious affiliations and were generally modelled on European institutions. The 3 King's Colleges (est at Windsor, NS, 1789; York [Toronto], 1827; and Fredericton, NB, 1828) were efforts to bring the ideals of the older English universities to Canada. They were residential, tutorial and Anglican. The more democratic ideals of the Scottish universities were evident in varying degrees in DALHOUSIE UNIVERSITY (Halifax, 1818), QUEEN'S UNIVERSITY (Kingston, 1841) and MCGILL UNIVERSITY (Montréal, 1821).

Dalhousie University
Dalhousie University
Dalhousie was founded in 1818 based on the standards of Edinburgh University (photo by Sherman Hines/Masterfile).
The Methodist (Victoria College, Cobourg, Ont, 1841; MOUNT ALLISON UNIVERSITY, Sackville, NB, 1839) and Baptist (ACADIA UNIVERSITY, Wolfville, NS, 1838) institutions were designed to prepare men for the ministry and to supply education for lay members. Bishop's College, which later became BISHOP'S UNIVERSITY, was established by the Anglicans in 1843.

NB King's College
King's College, NB
King's College, New Brunswick, like many early universities was set in an idealized rural setting (courtesy Metropolitan Toronto Library).
Roman Catholics maintained their own ethos at the English-language ST FRANCIS XAVIER, established at Antigonish, NS, in 1855. Laval was established in 1852 by the SÉMINAIRE DE QUÉBEC, a college founded by Bishop LAVAL in 1663. Laval established a branch in Montréal in 1876, which became UNIVERSITÉ DE MONTRÉAL in 1920.

At the time of Confederation, 1867, 17 degree-granting institutions existed in the founding provinces. Four had a nondenominational basis (Dalhousie, McGill, New Brunswick, UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO); the remaining 13 were church related and controlled. Thirteen of the 17 had enrolments of about 100 students. One way of strengthening this multiplicity of small and financially insecure institutions was by consolidation.

In 1868 the Ontario government, by withdrawing financial support, pressured its denominational universities to consider co-operation with the public sector. The 3 church universities that federated with U of T (Victoria College and St Michael's College in 1890; Trinity College in 1904) maintained university status and autonomy in instruction and staffing, but agreed to restrict their offerings to the sensitive and less costly liberal arts subjects (eg, classics, philosophy, English literature, history, modern languages, mathematics, science and theology); responsibility for instruction in all other areas and for the granting of degrees (except in theology) rested with the public university. The federative model, adopted by other Canadian universities in the course of their development, represents a Canadian solution to the problem of reconciling religiosity and secularism, diversity and economic pragmatism.

The western provinces adopted a policy of controlled university development from the beginning. In Manitoba this took the form of combining 3 existing church colleges - St-Boniface (Roman Catholic), St John's (Anglican) and Manitoba College (Presbyterian) - under one umbrella. Eleven years after the founding of UNIVERSITY OF MANITOBA (1877) a fourth college, Wesley College (Methodist), was affiliated.

In each of the other 3 western provinces a single, public provincial university was created (UNIVERSITY OF ALBERTA, 1906, UNIVERSITY OF SASKATCHEWAN, 1907 and UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA, 1908). The 3 western provinces adopted as their model the American state university, with its emphasis on extension work and applied research.

The growth of public higher EDUCATION raised the issue of university protection against government interference (see ACADEMIC FREEDOM). The pattern of university-government relationships adopted throughout much of Canada was influenced by the provincial University of Toronto Act of 1906, which established a bicameral system of university government consisting of a senate (faculty), responsible for academic policy, and a board of governors (citizens) exercising exclusive control over financial policy and having formal authority in all other matters.

The role of the president, appointed by the board, was to provide a link between the 2 bodies and to furnish active institutional leadership. Other important developments in the early part of this century were the expansion of professional education beyond the traditional fields of theology, law and medicine and, to a more limited extent, the introduction of graduate training based on the German-inspired American model of specialized course work and the completion of a research thesis.

By 1939 the number of degree-granting universities in Canada had increased to 28, varying in size from U of T, with full-time enrolment of 7000, to those with fewer than 1000 students. There were 40 000 students, representing 5% of the population between ages 18 and 24. Most universities were regional institutions; only McGill and U of T had attained an international reputation for research. There was no systematic policy concerning higher education, and funding was established year by year. Except for the natural sciences, there was no federal or provincial grant agency providing regular support for graduate work and research. A few LEARNED SOCIETIES and academic journals had been established.

WWII marked the slow beginning of a new era in Canadian higher education. The war effort generated a high demand for scientific research and highly trained personnel (many of whom were imported into Canada) and this brought appreciation for the vital importance to the nation of the university sector. In the immediate postwar period the federal government began to provide some financial assistance to the universities to help them deal with the influx of veterans.

As a result of a veterans' rehabilitation program, 53 000 veterans entered university between 1944 and 1951. When the expected return to much lower student enrolments failed to occur, the federal government, following the advice of the Massey Commission, became involved in 1951 in the regular provision of financial support to higher education (see NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT IN THE ARTS, LETTERS AND SCIENCES, ROYAL COMMISSION ON).

By the early 1950s the size of the university student population was twice that of 1940 and by 1963 another doubling had taken place. With much larger increases projected as a result of the BABY BOOM, provincial governments abandoned their initial strategy of trying to meet these increases by expanding existing institutions. The single-university policy in the West was changed as existing colleges of the provincial universities gained autonomy as universities: UNIVERSITY OF VICTORIA (1963), UNIVERSITY OF CALGARY (1966), UNIVERSITY OF WINNIPEG (1967) and UNIVERSITY OF REGINA (1974).

New university charters were granted to CARLETON UNIVERSITY (Ottawa, 1957), YORK UNIVERSITY (Toronto, 1959), UNIVERSITY OF WATERLOO (1959), and TRENT UNIVERSITY (Peterborough, 1963). Full-time undergraduate enrolments tripled, and part-time undergraduate and full-time graduate enrolments experienced close to a sixfold increase. Some 23 261 additional full-time university teachers were recruited. Because Canadian graduate programs had just started to expand, many university instructors recruited during the 1960s and the 1970s had received their graduate training abroad, particularly in the US and Britain. The costs of operating this expanded system increased even more dramatically.

The ambitious policy of university education initiated in the 1960s was not just a response to the pressure of numbers. It was motivated by the belief, borrowed from the US and endorsed by economists, that higher education was a key to economic productivity and would yield higher rates of economic returns both for individuals and for society. Social justice provided the second rationale.

Improving EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITY was seen as a major means of accommodating rising social aspirations and of improving the social prospects of disadvantaged social, cultural and regional groups. Financial aid programs, aimed at removing financial barriers to university education, were introduced at both the federal and provincial levels. In 1991-92, 235 000 full-time and 1000 part-time students received financial assistance under the Canada Student Loan Plan (see STUDENTS, FINANCIAL AID TO).

The Canadian higher-education systems of today are both similar to and different from those of the past. The most important reform in the organizational framework of higher education was undertaken in Québec with the introduction of the COLLÈGE D'ENSEIGNEMENT GÉNÉRAL ET PROFESSIONNEL (CEGEP), but in other provinces as well higher education had to come to terms with the rapid emergence of the COMMUNITY COLLEGE sector of post-secondary education. In some provinces systematic transfer arrangements between the 2 sectors (university and community college) have been established; in other provinces the 2 sectors operate as separate streams.

Today, Canada has 60 autonomous (non-affiliated) universities which grant secular degrees (as distinct from theological institutions offering one degree only.) Canadian higher education has become a public-sector enterprise. Escalating costs have forced denominational universities, eg, Waterloo Lutheran University (which became WILFRID LAURIER UNIVERSITY) and Assumption University (which became UNIVERSITY OF WINDSOR), to sever their religious connections in order to qualify for public support.

A small reversal of this historical trend has taken place in Alberta where, in the late 1980s, the provincial government authorized 3 denominational colleges, previously affiliated with the public sector, to operate as private degree-granting universities (Augustana University College, formerly Camrose Lutheran College; Concordia College; King's University College).

Another important development has been the provincialization of the system of higher education. While both the federal and provincial governments provide financial support, university policy is shaped by the provincial governments, particularly since 1966, when the federal government's program of direct grants to universities, begun in 1951, was replaced by a shared-cost contribution to the provincial governments. Other changes, introduced in 1977, reduced the direct financial role of the federal government even more and increased the discretionary power of the provincial governments in the allocation of federal support money.

The governance structure of most Canadian universities is still based on a 2-tier system, except in the case of Laval, U of T and ATHABASCA UNIVERSITY, where systems incorporating the powers of board and senate have been introduced. At most universities, however, the composition of the 2 governing bodies has changed.

Although faculty still hold the majority of seats on the academic faculty councils and senates, membership now may include students, alumni and representatives of professional bodies. Similarly, faculty and students are often represented on boards of governors. One important power of the board has been taken away: until the 1950s, TENURE at most universities was held at the pleasure of the board, but this faculty right has become more firmly entrenched.

The contemporary Canadian university is a multipurpose organization striving to achieve a number of objectives simultaneously: teaching - the provision of a "liberal education" or general education; training - the transmission of expert knowledge required for high-level jobs; research - the creation of knowledge through basic scientific research and scholarship; public service - the provision of practical knowledge and science to society; and equalization of opportunity - the extension of university education to all persons who could possibly benefit from it and the removal of participation barriers to increase the participation of underrepresented groups.

In pursuing the multiple mission of the university, the Canadian system of higher education has developed little institutional differentiation. There are universities which offer mainly undergraduate education, but Canada does not have the equivalent of the American sector of independent and selective colleges specializing in liberal arts education only. Neither are universities so far apart in prestige and financial support that a stratified system of higher education has emerged consisting of a small set of elite institutions dominating graduate education and research, and a much larger sector of universities with fewer financial resources and less selective entrance requirements providing the bulk of mass undergraduate education. Given the nature of its public funding base, it is not surprising that the university system in Canada is more egalitarian oriented and is made up of institutions of similar standards pursuing a similar comprehensive rather than specialized mission.

Judged by comparative standards, the Canadian system of higher education has done very well in the area of increasing accessibility. The student participation rate in Canada, as a percentage of the 18 to 24 year old age group, is now higher than that of the US and of any other Western society. This does not mean necessarily that the expansion of higher education has brought about a more equal representation of all groups, although progress has been made. Women now comprise half of the student population as compared to about one-third in the 1960s. A few fields (eg, engineering) remain segregated and, although the differences have steadily narrowed, females are still underrepresented at the Master's and Doctoral level.

There has been a more modest reduction in the unequal participation rate of lower class students. Other groups which have been identified as underrepresented at the university level are: Native people, some visible minority groups, the disabled, francophones living outside of Québec and Canadians living in the North.

Geographical accessibility has improved through U du Québec, which has multiple campuses spread throughout the province, and 2 new universities which have been recently created: Nipissing University, 1992, in northern Ontario and the University of Northern British Columbia, 1990. DISTANCE EDUCATION is offered by the U du Québec through its Télé-Université, by Athabasca U and by British Columbia Open University, 1988. An increasing number of Canadian universities also offer distance education courses.

The increase in university attendance has lowered the personal rate of return on investment in higher education. The economic value of a university degree is related to its scarcity status. While the possession of a university degree no longer guarantees access to a good job, it still confers a considerable relative advantage on the job market. Unemployment rates for university graduates are lower than for those who have not received a university education. If anything, the increase in the number of university graduates most adversely affects the job prospects and careers of those without these credentials, since they are forced to compete with more educated peers in a tight job market.

During the 1980s and early 1990s universities have tried to accommodate increases in student enrolment while facing steady reductions in governmental financial support on a per student basis. Recently, the financial support base has deteriorated further; provinces have imposed not only budget freezes, but also clawbacks on money already allocated or promised. These austerity measures are a response to the reduction in transfer payments from the federal government to the provinces and to the decline in the province's own financial fortunes.

Other factors are also at play. During the past decades a substantial reduction has taken place in the proportionate share of the provincial budget allocated to universities. To help make up for lost revenues, provincial governments have allowed universities to increase tuition fees. In the 1970s, tuition fees accounted for 17% of university revenue; they now cover 25%. A shift is under way to transfer a larger share of university costs to students. The Canadian Federation of Students estimated that between 1985 and 1997 the Tuition Fee Annual Index, the yearly average increase in tuition fees, rose 155%. In order to accomodate this shift, the government introduced a tax credit in 1998 allowing students to claim a portion of the interest paid on student loans. In the same year the government also introduced legislation prohibiting students from defaulting on student loans through bankruptcy for a period of 10 years after the end of their studies. Students who experience difficulty in repaying student loans may apply for interest relief for a maximum of 30 months of the lifetime of the loan or they may extend the life of the loan to 15 years to reduce monthly payments.

The relationship between higher education and government is also in flux. As centres of free and creative inquiry, universities claim the right to self-regulation in all academic matters and to non-interference by government. In recognition of this jealously guarded academic freedom, provinces created consultative intermediary agencies to provide advice on university financing and system planning. The effectiveness of such arm's-length relationships between governments and universities is now being questioned.

A recurrent theme in recent years has been the need to make universities more accountable. This is not just a demand that universities act prudently in their use of public resources. It also expresses a desire to ensure that universities orient themselves to certain expectations, if necessary by more direct government intervention. Issues which have been identified as needing to be addressed are: program rationalization (including closing of programmes) and interuniversity cooperation; assurance of teaching quality; flexible program delivery; openness to the needs of non-traditional students; responsiveness to societal needs in terms of program development and research activities; and the establishment of more effective coordination and linkages between the community colleges and the universities.

Based on the achievements of the past decades there is reason to be hopeful about the capacity of the university sector to respond to the challenges it faces. What is uncertain is how these changes will effect the traditional understanding of the nature of the university.


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