Canada Country Profile - Education System

  Share by Email   Print this article   More sharing options  

System structure

Canada’s education system is divided into three levels: primary school, secondary school and post-secondary level. Education is administered on a provincial level, resulting in some variations of structure. In most areas schooling is compulsory from the age of 5 or 6 up to the age of 16, but some provinces require young people to remain in education until they turn 18.

Academic year

Because education is a provincial responsibility in Canada, there is no set standard for the school year. Depending on region and school type, institutions may operate a semester or trimester system, usually commencing in September. Universities tend to run two semesters from September to December and January to April, with separate summer schools or study programmes taking place between May and August.

Higher education

Although the terms ‘university’ and ‘college’ are often used interchangeably, the two have different meanings in the Canadian system. Universities offer academic programmes and award degrees after successful completion of the course, whereas colleges tend to be more vocational or practical in nature, awarding diplomas in a particular field. There are over 90 universities in Canada, many of which are members of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC).


The levels of public funding available to higher education institutions in Canada is different in each province, meaning that university is much cheaper for students in some areas than others. Tuition fees are payable depending on location, institution type and course. Due to their relatively affordable fees, Canadian universities tend to attract an increasing number of international students as the cost of higher education rises globally. Depending on residency status, there are various grants, loans and funding schemes to help students pay their way through university. For more information, visit the Study in Canada website, or the Studying in Canada website


Canadian universities teach a full range of courses across various faculties. Degree courses may take different amounts of time to complete depending on the province, degree subject and any opportunities for internships or years in industry, however typical full-time course lengths are:

  • Undergraduate degrees – three or four years
  • Postgraduate degrees – one or two years
  • Doctoral degrees – three years

College diploma courses in Canada can last anywhere from a few months up to four years.


University research is well-funded in Canada, and the federal budget in early 2014 promised a further injection of money into the sector. Major federal funding bodies include the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). Various provincial funds are also accessible.

Primary and secondary education

School education in Canada is provided by a public state schools, private schools and international schools. Canadian state schools are freely accessible to foreign nationals who live in Canada, but non-residents may have to pay a provincially administered tuition fee in the region of $8,000 (≈£4,394.66) to $14,000 (≈£7,690.66) per year. Private school fees start from around $4,000 (≈£2,197.33) for a year, while the most prestigious boarding schools might charge upwards of $40,000 (≈£21,973.32) per year (source:, accessed June 2014). Secondary school students usually complete a diploma-type qualification awarded by their province, although some international qualifications such as the International Baccalaureate (IB) are also available. To find a school in your region, visit the website of your local provincial schools directory.

Preschool and childcare options

Kindergarten or other education for older preschool children is popular in Canada. Most preschool institutions are either government administered or regulated by the state. However, home day care centres, where several children are looked after by a care giver in his or her home, are also common. Parents usually have to pay for preschools. Various funding schemes, subsidies and tax credits are available to help with these costs, so check the rules in your local province for details. To find childcare in your area, visit the Canadian Childcare Directory website.

Share this article:

  Share by Email   Print this article   More sharing options  

What do you think about this article? Email your thoughts and feedback to us

Connect with us