Quality assurance practices for postsecondary institutions in Alberta

Ministerial approval of new programs has been in existence since the formation of the Department of Advanced Education and was a key feature of the March 1974 policy document Program Coordination: Policy, Guidelines and Procedures.

In the early 1970s, the post-secondary education system in Alberta was growing rapidly, so the department focused on the orderly development of new programs. Institutions were encouraged to submit Letters of Intent for departmental review, and the department would signal which initiatives ought to be developed as proposals for Ministerial approval. Ministerial approval was key to program funding, enrolment reporting, and student eligibility for student assistance.

Though the policy made no provision for approval of changes to existing programs, the need became very apparent in the mid-1980s when government funding support for implementation of new programs dwindled and then was suspended. An innovation that became a strategy the department encouraged was the inclusion of planned suspensions, terminations, and restructuring of existing programs in proposals as a source of funding for new programs. Ministerial approval of proposals for new programs included the approval of proposed changes to existing programs.

In April, 1989, following extensive consultation with the post-secondary institutions, the department issued an update of the program approval policy in the form of Guidelines for System Development. This document broadened the scope of Ministerial approval of program initiatives to include proposals for significant changes to existing programs, such as changes in name, in program length, in program capacity and in program availability (suspensions and terminations). This program approval policy exists to this day and has been expressed in legislation, most recently in Bill 43 – Post-Secondary Learning Act 2003 and the Programs of Study Regulation wherein the procedures for Ministerial approval of academic programs have been set out.

Quality assurance mechanisms in Alberta's postsecondary education system vary by type of institution and program. They include one or more of the following:

The Post-Secondary Learning Act sets out the government authority for public postsecondary education in Alberta. The Act establishes public universities, approving their mandates and restricting the use of the term "university." The Act also provides universities with the power to grant degrees for programs approved by the Minister. The authority of each university to govern itself through the operations of a board of governors appointed by the Minister responsible for advanced education, a senate, and a general faculties council is outlined in the Act. A university's general faculties council and its associated individual faculty councils are, subject to the authority of the board of governors, responsible for the academic affairs of the institution including the determination of all courses of study, the establishment of admission standards and policies, affiliations with other institutions, and academic planning. Four of Alberta's universities are in the Comprehensive Academic Research Universities (CARU) sector three are in the Undergraduate Universities (UU) Sector.

The Post-Secondary Learning Act establishes comprehensive community colleges and polytechnic institutions, giving each institution the authority to govern itself through the operations of a board of governors in accordance with a ministerial-approved institutional mandate. With the exception of The Banff Centre, the governing boards are appointed by the Minister responsible for Advanced Education. The Act also requires that each comprehensive community college and polytechnic institution have an academic council. These councils make reports and recommendations to their boards on a variety of issues including academic policy on standards, programs, courses, and selection, admission and graduation of students. Comprehensive community colleges and polytechnic institutions that meet certain regulation and policy criteria may establish an alternative academic council similar to a general faculties council at a university. Alternative academic councils allow for greater engagement from faculty in academic matters. Comprehensive community colleges and polytechnic institutions include institutions from two sectors of the Roles and Mandates Policy Framework: Comprehensive Community Colleges (CCC), and Polytechnic Institutions (PI).

Alberta has five publicly funded private institutions in the Independent Academic Institutions (IAI) sector. They are authorized by the government to offer select degree programs and are not-for-profit, private universities. Some of the IAIs have religious denominational affiliations, students of all faiths are welcome.

The delivery of vocational training programs by private providers in Alberta is governed by the Private Vocational Training Act and Regulation. An occupation, calling, trade or pursuit is defined as a vocation if it requires the application of specialized skills and knowledge and is capable of providing the practitioner with a livelihood. Supporting the six-sector publicly funded postsecondary system, the approximately 150 private trainers offer over 800 licensed programs. Examples of licensed programs include emergency medical services, computer programming, massage, multi-media, hairstyling, acupuncture and early childhood services. The Act and Regulation, along with a link to the list of the private trainers and licensed programs, may be viewed on the Private Career Colleges Branch website.

The Apprenticeship and Industry Training Act, Regulations and Board Orders provide the legislative authority for the apprenticeship and industry training system. The government, through the ministry responsible for advanced education, administers the system and arranges with training establishments to provide the in-school technical training component of an apprenticeship program.

The Act established the Alberta Apprenticeship and Industry Training Board. The board's primary responsibility is to establish the standards and requirements for training and certification in programs under the Act. The board makes orders, and with the approval of the Minister, makes regulations on a number of topics respecting designated trades and occupations under the Act. Also, the board makes recommendations to the Minister responsible for advanced education about the needs of the Alberta labour market for skilled and trained persons and the designation of trades and occupations.

The Programs of Study Regulation under the Post-secondary Learning Act stipulates that all publicly funded post-secondary institutions in Alberta must receive approval from the Minister responsible for Advanced Education to establish, extend, expand, reduce, suspend terminate or transfer a certificate, diploma or degree program.

In addition, a resident private institution or non-resident institution seeking to establish, extend, expand, reduce, suspend, terminate, or transfer a degree program offered or to be offered in Alberta must also seek approval from the Minister of Advanced Education.

The purpose of the ministry's program approval process is to:

  • ensure learner access to education and training to meet economic and social needs across the province;
  • demonstrate provincial commitment to high-quality programs and jurisdictional excellence; and
  • encourage collaboration of educational providers and guides the development and coordination of the adult learning system.

Advanced Education's program approval process for all programs is outlined on the ministry website: https://www.alberta.ca/ministry-advanced-education.aspx. – Postsecondary Program Standards and Oversight.

Program proposals are initially reviewed by the ministry's Post-Secondary Programs (PSP) Branch in light of a number of key considerations. These considerations include:

  • fit with the institution's comprehensive institutional plan;
  • student and labour market demand;
  • program distinctiveness and value components
  • benefits and affordability for learners
  • evidence of community, industry and provincial regulatory body support (as applicable);
  • relationship of the proposed program to existing programs within the institution and across the province;
  • alignment with provincial strategic priorities; and
  • the institution's financial resource capacity to successfully implement and sustain program delivery.
PSP makes recommendations on certificate, diploma and degree program proposals to senior ministry officials for review and approval. Proposals for new degree programs or specializations that meet all the considerations outlined above are referred by Advanced Education's Deputy Minister to the Campus Alberta Quality Council (CAQC) for a quality review.

A quality review through the CAQC requires institutions to demonstrate they can offer education of sufficient breadth and depth to meet standards and processes consistent with the Ministerial Statement on Quality Assurance of Degree Education in Canada. These standards are related to:
  • faculty and staff;
  • academic policies;
  • resource capacity;
  • program content, structure and learning outcomes;
  • program evaluation;
  • regulation and accreditation; and
  • research and graduate supervision plans (graduate programs only)
CAQC is an arms-length quality assurance agency that:
  • determines quality review criteria and procedures
  • engages peer experts to review institutions and degree programs
  • determines whether the degree proposal has met Council's standards of quality and makes recommendations to the Minister of Advanced Education for approval
  • monitors approved degree programs to ensure they continue to meet standards
  • works closely with other provinces in pan-Canadian quality initiatives

All degree programs (except for degrees in divinity), including those from all institutions in the six sectors, resident for-profit institutions and non-resident institutions wishing to offer degrees in Alberta, are subject to the two-stage approval process noted above: system coordination review by PSP and, if positive, quality review by CAQC. The Minister approves degree programs at private institutions in Alberta once the institution has been designated to offer degrees by the lieutenant governor in council on recommendation of the Minister. Approved degree programs are subject to monitoring by CAQC. Degrees in divinity are not subject to approval by the Minister, nor are they reviewed or monitored by CAQC.

For private vocational training, the ministry's licensing requirements include demonstration that there is labour market demand for graduates, the curriculum is considered by industry to be relevant, the admission requirements for students are appropriate, and instructor qualifications are viewed by industry as being suitable. Each licensee is required to post and maintain security to protect the tuition paid on behalf of students or by students enrolled in licensed vocational training programs. Licensees are also required to submit annual reports providing graduation and job placement information with respect to each student enrolled in licensed training.

The Apprenticeship and Industry Training Act provides for the designation of trades and occupations in Alberta. The Apprenticeship and Industry Training Administration Regulation sets out the criteria for the designations and provides for the administration of the apprenticeship and industry training system. Trades are designated by the Lieutenant Governor in Council and occupations are designated by the Minister. For each designated trade, the Act requires the Lieutenant Governor in Council to provide for an apprenticeship program. An apprenticeship program is a program of training in a designated trade that is approved by the Alberta Apprenticeship and Industry Training Board under which an apprentice receives formal instruction (technical training) and on-the-job training and that is governed by a contract of apprenticeship registered under the Act. The Apprenticeship Program Regulation, and the respective trade regulations and board orders stipulate standards and requirements of an apprenticeship program and the training and certification of apprentices. 

Alberta's apprenticeship and industry training system relies on a network of industry committees. These include local and provincial apprenticeship committees in the designated trades and occupational committees in the designated occupations.

  • Each trade has a provincial apprenticeship committee (PAC), which provides recommendations to the Alberta Apprenticeship and Industry Training Board on training requirements, certification requirements, and standards for the trade. The PACs are also responsible for recognizing training as equivalent to training provided in an apprenticeship program in their trade.
  • Local apprenticeship committees (LACs) are established by the board where there is enough activity in an area of the province to warrant a committee. LAC responsibilities include making recommendations about apprenticeship and certification to the PAC for their trade.
  • Each occupation has an occupational committee which makes recommendations to the board on any matter concerning training and certification in their occupation.

Appointed under the Act, the Executive Director is required to arrange for the provision of technical training in apprenticeship programs. Staff in the ministry responsible for advanced education provide support to the PACs and the board in the development and maintenance of apprenticeship programs, including the development of the required apprenticeship examinations. Training establishments, mostly Polytechnic Institutions and Comprehensive Community Colleges, deliver apprenticeship technical training. Polytechnic Institutions are key participants in Alberta's apprenticeship and industry training system, as they are required, under the Post-secondary Learning Act, to provide technical training with respect to designated trades. They work with the ministry, the board and industry committees to enhance access and responsiveness to industry needs through the delivery of technical training. The ministry also administers apprenticeship examinations and maintains records of the apprentice's contract of apprenticeship and training progress. The Act authorizes the Minister to grant a trade certificate to a person who has successfully completed an apprenticeship program or successfully met any other requirements established, approved or otherwise recognized by the board.

All institutions have internal new program proposal review procedures as well as processes to periodically review approved programs based on institutional policies and procedures, often using external reviewers. The Campus Alberta Quality Council (CAQC) also has a role in monitoring new approved degree programs.

Compliance reviews of licensed private vocational training programs are conducted by the Private Career Colleges branch of the ministry when non-compliance issues are identified. In addition, each institution is required to undergo an external review conducted by an accounting firm selected by the ministry.

The apprenticeship and industry training system in Alberta operates on a three-year business cycle that includes program evaluation of the in-school portion of apprenticeship training through performance indicators such as apprenticeship and graduate satisfaction surveys and graduate employment rates. Training institutions are required to teach to the training objectives defined by the provincial apprenticeship committee (PAC) in each respective trade.

Many of Canada's regulated professions have associations that conduct accreditation reviews of programs pertaining to their professions. In these instances, accreditation teams from the professions review reports provided by the institutions offering the programs and may conduct on-site visits in accordance with the policies and procedures established by the professions.

Many degree-granting institutions in Alberta are members of the Universities Canada. Although the association does not perform formal quality assurance functions, as a member of Universities Canada, the institutions have confirmed their commitment to the Universities Canada principles of institutional quality assurance in Canadian higher education.

The Association of Accrediting Agencies of Canada (AAAC) is a national organization composed of professional associations involved in promoting good practices by its members in accreditation of educational programs.

Many of Alberta's publicly funded institutions are members of the Colleges and Institutes Canada. The Colleges and Institutes Canada does not perform formal quality assurance functions with respect to its members, but it does promote quality programming and the use of high academic standards by conducting research and facilitating broad discussion on quality assurance issues.

Most provincial legislation may be accessed through the Internet.

Comprehensive review of this information: January 2019