Postsecondary education in British Columbia

Post-secondary education systems, programs and credentials differ from province to province. In British Columbia, the post-secondary education system is integrated, which means that:

  • British Columbia has a well-established transfer and articulation system among post-secondary institutions
  • Different types of institutions offer a range of education and training options

Different Types of Post-secondary Institutions in British Columbia:

  • Public post-secondary institutions are authorized under provincial legislation to deliver post-secondary education and training in British Columbia.
  • Private and out-of-province public degree-granting institutions are authorized to deliver degree programs in British Columbia under the Degree Authorization Act.
  • Private training institutions are regulated under the Private Training Act – the Private Training Institutions Branch (PTIB) administers how standards for these schools are met*.
  • Theological institutions in British Columbia have statutory authority under a Private Act to offer theology programs only.
  • Aboriginal-controlled post-secondary institutes offer courses and programs to adult Aboriginal learners.

*Language training institutions may voluntarily apply to be regulated as a private training institution if they wish to host international students on study permits.

A detailed description of these institutions can be found on the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Training web site.

The Industry Training Authority (ITA) is responsible for leading and coordinating the skilled trades training and credentialing system for the province. ITA provides strategic leadership, policy support and customer services to help apprentices, employers and industry. ITA sets program standards, maintains credential records and issues the highly regarded Interprovincial Red Seal and British Columbia Certificate of Qualifications (C of Q) credentials.

The Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Training develops educational, professional and economic opportunities for British Columbia's learners by supporting a wide range of postsecondary programs and encouraging relationships between educational institutions, business, and industry. The ministry provides provincial and national leadership and support for excellent and accessible postsecondary education that cultivates life-long learners throughout the province.

British Columbia's postsecondary education system has expanded significantly since its beginnings early in the 20th century. The University of British Columbia (UBC), officially incorporated in 1908, operated as the province's only public university until 1963. That year, the Province passed legislation to establish Simon Fraser University (SFU), which opened in 1965. The University of Victoria (UVic) was founded in 1903 as Victoria College, an affiliate of McGill University in Montreal. The University received degree-granting status and moved to its Gordon Head campus in 1963.

During the past 40 years, the system has seen further developments to increase access to postsecondary education. The British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) was founded in 1964. Later, community colleges were established throughout the province. In 1978, the Open Learning Institute, the Justice Institute, and the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design (ECIAD) were established. To increase access to postsecondary education, the province established the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC), which opened in 1994, and Royal Roads University (RRU), which opened its doors in 1996. In 1995, an Aboriginal education institute - the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology - was designated as a public postsecondary institution.

In 1995, the government enabled university colleges, BCIT and ECIAD, to grant undergraduate degrees. In 2003, public colleges were allowed to offer baccalaureate degrees with an applied focus, and university colleges (now known as teaching intensive universities) and provincial institutes to offer master's degrees with an applied focus.

In 2002, BCcampus was established with a mandate to provide British Columbia learners with a web-based access point to online learning programs and student support services. It has created a suite of tools and services to enhance the online learning offerings of British Columbia's 25 public post-secondary institutions. BCcampus also supports collaborative approaches to distance education, making education available to all students, particularly for those in rural and remote communities and those in urban communities whose schedules demand more flexible learning opportunities. In addition, it is responsible for developing open textbooks in the 40 most highly enrolled first and second year courses.

In March 2004, government announced that it would dissolve Okanagan University College to establish a new institution in the region - Okanagan College (OC) - as well as a new university campus - University of British Columbian Okanagan (UBCO) - with the first students entering UBCO and OC in September 2005.

In March 2005, government created a new university in Kamloops - Thompson Rivers University (TRU) - to succeed the University College of the Cariboo. TRU assumed responsibility for the provincial open and distance learning mandate of the British Columbia Open University and the Open College, formerly part of the Open Learning Agency.

The three remaining university colleges, Capilano College and Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design were established as teaching-intensive universities in 2008.

BC now has the following public post-secondary structure:

  • Research-intensive universities — Simon Fraser University, University of British Columbia, University of Northern British Columbia, and University of Victoria
  • Teaching-intensive universities — Capilano University, Emily Carr University of Art and Design, Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Royal Roads University, Thompson Rivers University, University of the Fraser Valley and Vancouver Island University
  • Colleges — Camosun College, College of New Caledonia, College of the Rockies, Douglas College, Langara College, Okanagan College, North Island College, Northern Lights College, Coast Mountain College, Selkirk College, and Vancouver Community College
  • Institutes — British Columbia Institute of Technology, Justice Institute of British Columbia, and Nicola Valley Institute of Technology

Degree Programs

The University Act governs most of the public universities. The research-intensive universities have the mandate to provide undergraduate and graduate instruction in a wide range of disciplines and to establish facilities for the pursuit of original research. The research and scholarly activities undertaken by these universities are global in scope.

Most teaching-intensive universities offer a comprehensive range of programming, including associate, bachelors and masters programs. Thompson Rivers University offers distance and open learning formats through Thompson Rivers University Act, Open Learning. Royal Roads University has a mandate with specific emphasis on applied and professional programs and research activities related to labour market needs. RRU offers bachelor, masters and doctoral programs primarily for mid-career professionals.

British Columbia's public colleges may offer two-year associate degrees and four-year bachelor degrees with an applied focus. Public institutes may offer a wide variety of four-year bachelor's degrees and master's degrees with an applied focus.

Under the Degree Authorization Act (DAA), private and out-of-province postsecondary institutions may apply for ministerial consent to offer and advertise degree programs, grant degrees, and use the word "university" in the province. Under the DAA, private postsecondary institutions and public postsecondary institutions from other jurisdictions are required to undergo a quality assessment process in order to obtain ministerial consent. As a matter of policy, British Columbia public institutions seeking approval to offer new degree programs must undergo the same quality assessment process. Information on institutions authorized under the DAA, is available on the Ministry website.

Most theological institutions offer theological degrees only.

Non-degree programs

Most of British Columbia's teaching-intensive universities, colleges, and institutes provide, adult basic education, developmental education, apprenticeship training, career, technical and vocational training, and university transfer programs that lead to certificates and diplomas.

Private training institutions offer a variety of diploma and certificate programs. Private training institutions in B.C. must be certified under the Private Training Act if they provide at least one career-related program that has 40 hours or more of instructional time and tuition of at least $4,000.

Each of the province's postsecondary institutions sets its own admission requirements. Applicants are generally offered admission based on their academic qualifications, although other criteria may be used to select students for some programs. Generally, successful graduation from high school, with the required academic prerequisites, is needed for admission to programs offered by universities, colleges, and institutes. Special consideration may be given to mature applicants.

Information about admissions and prerequisites is available from the registrar's office of each institution.

EducationPlannerBC assists learners seeking admission to the province's public post-secondary institutions through a centralized online application service. This service allows a prospective learner to complete and submit an application to most of BC's public post-secondary institutions, simplifying access to BC's post-secondary institutions and allowing learners to use a single profile when applying to multiple programs or post-secondary institutions.

Information on all of British Columbia's institutions and programs is available on the EducationPlannerBC Web site.

Tuition fees

Postsecondary institutions set their own tuition fees for courses and programs. Information about tuition fees is provided by each institution.

Public postsecondary institutions and some private institutions differentiate between Canadian and international students when charging tuition fees. Tuition fee increases for Canadian students at public postsecondary institutions are limited to increases of two percent per year. Further information about tuition or other funding options is available on the Ministry web site.

Financial assistance

StudentAid BC is a comprehensive program of financial aid available to Canadian citizens, protected persons, and permanent residents who are studying at the postsecondary level. Financial aid is awarded based on calculated financial need. In addition, a variety of other programs complement the main program by providing alternate sources of funding that must be applied for individually and that have their own separate criteria for eligibility.

The main components in StudentAid BC include the Canada Student Loans Program (CSLP), B.C. Student Loans (BCSL), Canada Student Grants, and the B.C. Loan Reduction Program. This comprehensive package of financial assistance ensures all British Columbians have the opportunity to access postsecondary education. Providing students with equitable and consistent access to funding reduces financial barriers to postsecondary education.

The province's postsecondary institutions administer a wide variety of scholarships and bursaries, many of which are provided through corporations, private organizations, and individual donors. Information about these awards is available from the dean of student services at each institution.

Comprehensive review of this information: January 2021