Quality assurance practices for postsecondary institutions in Ontario

The postsecondary education system in Ontario is described in CICIC's document, Postsecondary Education Systems in Canada, Provinces and Territories. The system can be divided into the following five categories of postsecondary program delivery:

  • public universities
  • private and out-of-province institutions with authority to grant degrees in Ontario
  • public colleges
  • apprenticeships
  • career colleges
Quality-assurance mechanisms in Ontario's postsecondary-education system vary by type of institution and by program. The mechanisms include
  • legislation (statutes and regulations)
  • key performance indicators (KPI)
  • affiliation
  • external and internal review
  • professional accreditation
  • other organizations related to quality assurance


Many of Ontario's degree-granting institutions have individual statutes. The authority of each institution to govern itself is outlined in these statutes. Each institution operates independently and determines its own academic and admissions policies, programs, and staff appointments. The statutes establishing these institutions do not contain explicit reference to mechanisms for, or accountabilities pertaining to, quality assurance of educational programming.

Key performance indicators

The Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities requires all postsecondary institutions that offer Ontario student loans to provide students with information on three indicators: graduate employment rates, graduations rates, and OSAP (Ontario Student Assistance Program) loan default rates. Registered private career colleges that are eligible to deliver OSAP loans are required to provide information on loan default rates. The purpose of these indicators is to assist students in making educational choices.

The Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities also requires that universities have a portion of their operating grant determined by their performance in three areas: graduate employment rates six months after graduation, graduate employment rates two years after graduation, and graduation rates. The purpose of these indicators is to reward those institutions that do the best job of helping graduates complete their studies and secure employment upon graduation.


Ontario public universities have formal academic agreements with federates and affiliates.

External and internal review

For existing public Ontario universities, program-quality responsibilities are overseen by the Ontario Universities Council on Quality Assurance (OUCQA) through the implementation of Ontario's Quality Assurance Framework. All new undergraduate and graduate program proposals are subject to arm's-length external review prior to submission to the Quality Council for approval. The Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities reviews new programs for duplication.

Existing undergraduate and graduate programs at publicly assisted universities are assessed at least every eight years under the protocols defined in the Quality Assurance Framework which include a requirement for arm's-length external review of the program. Many public universities also undergo accreditation at the program level by various provincial, national and international program-accreditation agencies, such as those approved by the U.S Department of Education.

The OUCQA conducts a Quality Assurance Audit at each publicly assisted university every eight years to ensure compliance with the protocols of the Quality Assurance Framework.

Professional accreditation

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

Other organizations related to quality assurance in public universities

Ontario public universities are members of the Universities Canada. One private university, Redeemer University College, is also a member.

Although the association does not perform formal quality-assurance functions, it does maintain membership criteria that address the primary mission of institutions; the range of program offerings; the breadth and depth of programs; the nature of members' relationship with parent institutions; the size of enrolment; institutional focus on scholarship; academic inquiry and research; and compliance with the principles of academic freedom and responsibility. Institutions applying for membership must host an Universities Canada Visiting Committee, which reports to the Universities Canada Board of Directors on a variety of items and recommends a decision on whether the applying institution provides education of university-level standard.

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.


The Post-secondary Education Choice and Excellence Act, 2000 (PSECE), regulates the granting of degrees in Ontario. It gives the minister authority to grant consent to private and out-of-province public institutions to grant degrees or operate as universities in Ontario, and allows the minister to suspend, revoke, or change conditions of consent. Colleges of applied arts and technology are also able to apply for consent to offer baccalaureate degrees in applied areas of study.

The Act also establishes an advisory quality-review body, the Postsecondary Education Quality Assessment Board (PEQAB). The minister must refer to the board all new submissions from private institutions that propose to offer programs in Ontario leading to a degree. The Act also specifies that the board will provide the minister with advice on the academic rigour and, for private applicants, institutional soundness, of new degree proposals put forward by private universities and out-of-province institutions. The minister may also refer other matters to the board. The Act strengthens enforcement mechanisms and specifies that having a ministerial consent does not entitle the holder to any government funding.

Seventeen privately funded degree-granting institutions have been granted restricted degree-granting authority by the provincial government. Private institutions with the authority to grant degrees under an Act of legislature are not subject to the consent process and requirements specified under the Act and are, therefore, not required to undergo a quality review or to ensure that student protection measures are in place.

External and internal review

The ministry has established ad hoc academic-review panels, composed of experts in the academic field, to assess program quality at privately funded Ontario institutions.


The authority to establish colleges of applied arts and technology is set out in the Ontario Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology Act, 2002. The Act identifies each college as a corporation without share capital and with a board of governors under the authority of the Ontario Corporations Act. The board of governors governs each college on behalf of the public. The Ontario Corporations Act governs the operations of the college, except where limited by the Ontario Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology Act, 2002, its regulations, or the Minister's Binding Policy Directives. The board of governors of a college is to govern effectively and is accountable to the citizens of Ontario for the successful achievement of its mandate, in view of the financial support the college receives from the province.

The Postsecondary Education Choice and Excellence Act, 2000, allows colleges of applied arts and technology to apply for ministerial consent to grant baccalaureate degrees in applied areas of study.

Key performance indicators (KPI)

Based on themes of accountability and excellence, the Key Performance Indicators (KPI) Project is a collaborative venture between Ontario's 24 colleges of applied arts and technology and the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. It provides students a clear picture of the ability of Ontario's postsecondary institutions to successfully prepare graduates for jobs.

Five KPI areas are being studied: graduate employment; graduate satisfaction; employer satisfaction; student satisfaction; and graduation rate. Results from the first three KPI (graduate employment, graduate satisfaction, and employer satisfaction) are used to determine performance-based funding from the province.

External and internal review

The Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities approves programs for ministry funding. These programs must be of high quality and relevant to the needs of both employers and students. All college graduates must have the key vocational skills that will help them find employment in their field of study.

Colleges are responsible for regular reviews of their programs in accordance with internal college policies and procedures. Colleges must ensure that their programs meet the requirements of provincially published standards.

Apprenticeship training and trade-certification systems are established under the Trades Qualifications and Apprenticeship Act, R.S.O. 1990, and the Apprenticeship and Certification Act, 1998. The skilled trades are incredibly diverse. In Ontario, there are over 140 apprenticeable trades, which are divided into four sectors: construction, industrial, motive power, and service. The program standards for apprenticeships and trades qualifications are based on occupational standards developed by Ontario's industries. Standards define the skill and knowledge requirements for successful performance in a trade or occupation.

The Programs Branch of the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities oversees the development and approval of training standards for apprenticeship programs. Apprenticeship is workplace-based training, and includes an in-school training component that supports skills development and mastery on the job. A competency-based approach is used for developing standards. Competency-based training (CBT) is a systematic approach to training that is results-oriented and based on specific, precisely stated competencies.

Inherent throughout the design and development process is meaningful and substantial participation of all stakeholders. Industry involvement is critical to developing standards to ensure that skills training meets industry's present and future needs. Formal approval of standards involves approval by industry and by the ministry.

The director of apprenticeship has responsibility for approving in-school curriculum in the apprenticeship trades developed by industry committees. These are provided to training delivery agents (TDAs), which are mostly, but not exclusively, Ontario colleges of applied arts and technology. The TDAs deliver the prescribed training in accordance with the direction of industry committees.

The quality of the in-school portion of apprenticeship training is monitored through student satisfaction surveys, graduate employment rates, and success rates in the examination for the Certificate of Qualification.

The Interprovincial Standards Red Seal Program promotes and facilitates the standardization of provincial and territorial apprenticeship training, as well as the regular updating of national trades standards in order to reflect the ongoing technological changes taking place in all trades. Canadian provinces and territories developed the Red Seal Program in cooperation with the federal government to standardize trade skill requirements and provide greater employment mobility throughout Canada. A provincial Certificate of Trades Qualification bearing the Red Seal provides training recognition in most jurisdictions throughout Canada. For employers in other jurisdictions, the Red Seal is an assurance of quality training and certification to nationally recognized standards.

Other organizations related to quality assurance in colleges and apprenticeships

Colleges Ontario publishes key performance indicators (KPI) results on graduate employment rates, graduate satisfaction, employer satisfaction, and student satisfaction.

The Ontario College Quality Assurance Service (OCQAS) provides effective and efficient mechanisms that ensure specific program quality and consistency standards are met by the colleges of applied arts and technology (CAAT) in Ontario. The OCQAS operates within the structure of Colleges Ontario and is responsible to a separate management board. The Program Quality Assurance Process Audit (PQAPA) was developed and implemented as a component of a self-regulatory mechanism for colleges.

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 the accreditation of educational programs.

A wide range of training programs exists to help Ontarians prepare for the job market or enter the professions. The majority of programs focus on courses that will prepare students for clearly defined occupations.


Private career colleges are privately owned organizations. Some operate for a profit as a business. Others are non-profit organizations. Private career colleges must be registered and have their programs approved by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities under the Private Career Colleges Act, 2005. This Act ensures that private career colleges meet certain standards for the programs that they offer, as well as for their advertising, refund policies, and instructor qualifications.

It is important to note that the protection provided by the Private Career Colleges Act does not apply to unregistered colleges or unapproved programs. It is also important to be aware that there are a number of private organizations offering education or training programs that are not regulated by the province. These include language-training programs, programs less than 40 hours in length, programs that cost less than $1,000, and professional-development and single-skill training programs.

Enrolment in a registered private career college requires the student and the private career college to sign a written enrolment contract that meets the requirements of the Private Career Colleges Act. The college is responsible for providing the educational services outlined in the contract. This contract must be signed by both the student and the college's owner or representative. Both parties to the contract should retain a copy. Students have a two-day "cooling off" period after signing the contract to decide if they really want to pursue the program. If a student changes his or her mind and informs the college in writing before the end of the two-day period, he or she is entitled to a full refund of all fees paid, including any application fee.

Students enrolled in programs at eligible registered private career colleges may apply for student assistance.

Key performance indicators

The Ontario government requires all postsecondary institutions participating in the OntarioStudent Assistance Program (OSAP) to provide students with accurate information on student loan default rates, graduation rates, and graduate employment rates. This type of information will enable students and parents to make informed decisions about which program to choose or which institution to attend.

The collection of key performance indicator (KPI) data has provided private career colleges with pertinent information to evaluate the quality of their programs and to make adjustments where necessary to ensure that the needs of students and employers are met.

It should be emphasized that not all private career colleges are approved for student loans.

External and internal review

All programs offered by registered private career colleges must be approved by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. Program approval requires the submission of detailed descriptions of program performance objectives, curricula, entrance requirements, labour-market needs, and physical facilities and equipment, accompanied by assessments by third-party experts.

Information about internal review processes may be available from individual private career colleges.

Non-vocational programs offered by private career colleges are not subject to ministry requirements or review (e.g., language programs, programs less than 40 hours in length, programs costing less than $1,000, professional-development programs, hobby courses). Further information about Ontario's private career colleges can be found on the Internet.