Postsecondary education in Ontario

Postsecondary education in Ontario is delivered through 19 publicly assisted universities and their affiliates; 24 publicly assisted colleges of applied arts and technology; one applied health science institute; 17 privately funded institutions with restricted degree-granting authority; the federally funded Royal Military College; about 570 registered private career colleges; and many more non-degree-granting private institutions offering postsecondary education or training that do not have regulatory oversight in the province (e.g., language programs, programs less than 40 hours in length, programs costing less than $1,000, professional development programs, single-skill training programs). There are also a number of private and out-of-province public institutions that have the consent of the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities to offer specified degree programs in Ontario.

Universities offer degree programs in the arts and sciences, graduate and professional programs, as well as continuing-education programs and certificates, including distance and part-time programs.

Most publicly assisted universities offer both undergraduate and graduate degree programs, although some, such as Brock, Nipissing, and Trent, tend to focus on undergraduate education. Two universities, Laurentian and Ottawa, offer programs in both English and French. As well, York University's Glendon College offers liberal-arts programs in French.

In addition, there are two specialized institutions that operate at the university level — the Collège dominicain de philosophie et de théologie, which is provincially funded, and the OCAD University, which is authorized to grant degrees in design and fine arts, and is treated as part of the university sector for funding purposes.

Privately funded and out-of-province degree-granting institutions are authorized under the Post-secondary Education Choice and Excellence Act, 2000, to advertise and offer a degree program or part of a program leading to a degree.

Ontario's 24 colleges of applied arts and technology offer certificate, diploma, advanced diploma and graduate certificate programs in business, applied arts, community and social services, technology, and health sciences. Some colleges have consent to offer degrees in applied areas of study. Colleges also deliver part-time, distance education, and continuingeducation courses; apprenticeship training; and skills-training programs that provide students with the opportunity to develop skills for careers in a field of their choice. Collège Boréal and La Cité collégiale, offer programming in French. There are currently over 3,000 college programs approved for funding purposes.
Although college programming varies across the province, there are over 200 provincial program standards in place to provide consistency in program learning outcomes. However, individual colleges have established areas of specialization. The program in natural resources at Sir Sandford Fleming, the wine and brewmaster programs at Niagara College and the internationally recognized animation program at Sheridan College are examples of the diversity and range of programs offered within the college system.

The Michener Institute for Applied Health Sciences, funded by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, offers various three-year diploma programs in health technologies, in cooperation with more than 60 hospitals.

A number of privately funded institutions have been given statutory authority to grant degrees in restricted areas, mostly in religious education.

Private career colleges (PCCs) are independent organizations that offer certificate and diploma programs in a variety of fields. PCCs must be registered and have their programs approved by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities.

Postsecondary education in Ontario is the responsibility of the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. The Ontario Council on Graduate Studies, made up of university deans of graduate studies, appraises new graduate programs prior to their review by the ministry.

Postsecondary education in Ontario traces its history to the establishment of King's College, the future University of Toronto, in 1827. Other institutions founded in the 19th century include Queen's University, established by the Presbyterian Church in 1841; the University of Ottawa, established as the College of Bytown in 1848; and the Western University, formerly the Western University of London, founded in 1878.

Like most of Ontario's early universities, King's College had strong religious affiliations. However, in 1849, it became the first provincially chartered, non-sectarian university in the province. Three denominational institutions — Victoria, St. Michael's, and Trinity — became affiliated with the public university after the province withdrew financial support from church-related universities in 1868.

This model was repeated in the 20th century when most church-related institutions either dropped their religious affiliations or sought federation agreements with public institutions in order to obtain provincial funding. Examples include Queen's University, which severed its ties with the Presbyterian Church in 1912; Assumption University, which became the University of Windsor in 1963; Waterloo Lutheran University, which became Wilfrid Laurier University in 1973; and the University of Ottawa, which dropped its religious affiliation in 1965 and transferred theology and canon-law studies to its affiliate, Saint Paul University.

Returning veterans from World War II had a profound impact on universities in Ontario, placing unprecedented levels of demand on the province's limited education system. Carleton University was founded in Ottawa in 1942 primarily to respond to the educational needs of the thousands of young people who had come to the national capital in support of the war effort.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the Ontario university system entered another period of rapid, sustained growth. New universities were established to cope with rising demand — Brock, Laurentian, Ryerson University, and Trent being examples.

In 1967, the province opened 19 colleges of applied arts and technology. The new institutions were built on the existing technology institutes and vocational centres. Today there are 24 Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology. Five of the colleges are Institutes of Technology and Advanced Learning (ITAL) including Humber, George Brown, Seneca, Sheridan and Conestoga.

Over the years, Ontario's public postsecondary system has been complemented by a diverse private career-college sector, which has continually grown over the past several decades to provide market-driven postsecondary programming. The non-degree programs offered by these private career colleges are vocational in nature and are primarily intended for people who seek to obtain specific skills for a specific occupation.

To expand public educational opportunities and study options for residents throughout Ontario, various initiatives have been undertaken to support a province-wide open-learning system. These include distance education through Contact North and the Franco-Ontarian Distance Education Network, credit transfer arrangements, prior learning assessment in colleges, and increased cooperation and collaboration among institutions. Under the SuperBuild initiative, $2.2 billion was invested in major capital projects across Ontario. This investment will create additional student spaces to accommodate expected student demand for postsecondary education in Ontario.

University Programming and credentials

Ontario universities offer a full range of undergraduate and graduate programs in a wide variety of educational settings. The University of Toronto, with a total enrolment of more than 50,000 students, 129 academic departments, and 75 doctoral programs, is the largest English-language university in Canada and a major centre for research and graduate studies. The University of Ottawa is North America's oldest and largest bilingual university, offering a wide range of programs in both English and French.

Students can choose to study at large urban universities or smaller undergraduate institutions such as Trent or Brock. The intimacy and personal attention that are typically found at smaller universities are also available at most of the province's larger institutions through their federated and affiliated colleges and universities.

The University of Waterloo is a world leader in the field of cooperative education, combining academic studies with on-the-job training. Ryerson University specializes in particular fields, such as applied professional programs.

Undergraduate degrees at most universities in Ontario require four years of full-time study. Honours degrees, involving a higher level of concentration in the honours discipline and a higher level of academic performance, generally require a research paper or a thesis. Most universities also offer diploma and certificate programs in various specialized fields. These can vary in length from two to three years, depending on the program and the institution.. University calendars are the best sources of information about specific program requirements.

IIn addition to the publicly supported universities, 17 privately funded institutions in Ontario — all with religious affiliations — have restricted degree-granting authority through an Act of the Ontario legislature. A number of other private and out-of-province public institutions have been granted authority by the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities to offer specified degree programs in Ontario. Information about the degree-granting status of any institution in Ontario is available through the Postsecondary Accountability Branch of the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. Visit PEQAB Web site for more information.


College Programming and credentials

Together, Ontario's 24 public colleges of applied arts and technology, with more than 100 campuses across the province, offer some 900 programs in business, social services, health sciences, applied technology, applied arts, communications, and a host of other fields. All college programs are career-oriented and are intended to prepare students for employment. College Program Advisory Committees (PAC) are made up of local community members, experts and employers and work with the college to develop programs that are intended to meet the diverse needs of the local community.

Colleges also provide contract training that aretailored courses and programs, designed to meet the training needs of particular businesses and industries. Colleges also provide the in-classroom training portion of apprenticeship training. Recent initiatives in distance education and alternative delivery strategies are also widening the choices available to students in accessing postsecondary educational services. A system of prior learning assessment and recognition (PLAR) has been implemented in all Ontario colleges. PLAR allows for the evaluation of past learning against established academic standards so that college credits can be awarded.

Hospital-based programs include diploma programs in areas such as medical-laboratory technology and radiotherapy. Most of these programs require 24 to 32 months of study. The Michener Institute for Applied Health Sciences offers three-year diploma programs in areas such as nuclear-medicine technology and respiratory therapy.

For over 100 years, private career colleges (PCCs) have had an important role in preparing Ontario students for entry into occupations. About 570 PCCs across Ontario offer approximately 3,000 registered programs to approximately 36,000 students in 70 communities. PCCs 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 they offer and for their advertising, refund policies, and instructor qualifications.

PCCs are independent organizations that offer certificate and diploma programs in fields such as business, health services, human services, applied arts, information technology, electronics, services, and trades. Some PCCs operate as for-profit businesses; others operate as not-for-profit institutions. Registered PCCs range in size from small ones offering one program to large multi-campus organizations with on-site student-support services.

Registered PCCs and approved programs can be found using the on-line search tool. It is important to note that students enrolled in an unregistered college or an unapproved program are not covered by the protections provided by the government under the Private Career Colleges Act, 2005.

Under the existing requirements of the Ontario Secondary School Curriculum for students in grades 11 and 12, students wishing to enter college or university must have an Ontario Secondary School Diploma (OSSD), which consists of 30 credits (18 compulsory and 12 optional). Universities require 6 of these credits to be grade-12 university-preparation or university/college-preparation courses. Colleges require an OSSD with a mixture of grade-12 university/college- and college-preparation courses. In addition, all secondary students must complete 40 hours of community service to complete the OSSD requirements.

All grade-11 and -12 courses within the Ontario curriculum are coded to indicate the subject, grade level, and destination. The destination for university-preparation courses is designated with a U, for college with a C, and university/college with an M. For example, the Grade-12 English university-preparation course is coded ENG4U while the Grade-12 college-preparation course is coded ENG4C, and the Grade-12 Challenge and Change in Society university/college-preparation course is coded HSB4M.

The Ontario curriculum also has two other designations for courses in grades 11 and 12: workplace preparation courses, coded E, are designed to prepare students for direct entry into the workplace; and open courses, coded O, which are not linked to any specific postsecondary destination and are appropriate for all students.


Application to College or University


Students seeking admission to undergraduate programs in Ontario universities and to the Ontario College of Art and Design must direct their applications to the Ontario Universities' Application Centre (OUAC). Canadian residents pay an application fee of $105 for the service and $35 for any additional program choice or university; for international students, the fee is $120 in Canadian currency, payable by international money order. Students applying for admission to graduate programs in universities direct their applications to the university of their choice.


Students seeking admission to college programs in Ontario can apply to the Ontario College Application Service.

As a further assistance to Ontario students, the government requires all public institutions to make available Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). These indicators include graduation, employment, and loan-default rates for recent graduates of the institutions, and are meant to aid students in their decisions about which institution and program of study they choose. Registered private careers colleges approved for Ontario student loans are also required to submit loan-default rates.

A student applying for admission to a private career college must meet the following requirements:

  • have an Ontario Secondary School Diploma or equivalent; or
  • be 18 years or older and pass a qualifying test that has been approved by the Superintendent; or
  • meet other academic qualifications or minimum age requirements established as a condition of the ministry's approval program; and
  • have met all additional admission requirements established by the PCC for the program.

PCCs can admit students who do not meet the admission requirements of a program on a provisional basis (e.g., sign a contract for the delivery of a program). However, students are entitled to a full refund of fees paid for a program, minus 20% of the total fees paid for a program, or $500, whichever is less, if they do not meet the program's admission requirements when the program begins.

There is no central organization that facilitates applications for PCCs. Students who are interested in a program offered by a registered PCC need to apply to the PCC directly. Enrolment in a registered PCC must be done by the student and the PCC, signing a written enrolment contract that meets the requirements of the Private Career Colleges Act. The college is responsible for providing those educational services that are outlined in the contract. This contract must be signed by both the student and the college's owner or representative. Both parties should retain a copy. Students have a two-day "cooling off" period after signing the contract to decide if they really want to take the program. Students who change their minds and inform the college in writing before the end of the two days are entitled to a full refund of all fees paid, including the application fee.

Ontario's new Tuition Fee Framework for 2013-14 through 2016-17, limits the overall institutional average tuition fee increase (overall within all programs) to a maximum of three per cent, adjusted for enrolment. Flexibility is built into the framework, allowing tuition increases for university undergraduate professional, graduate and college high demand programs of up to five per cent, while maintaining the three per cent overall cap.

To support modest to middle-income Ontario families, Ontario launched the 30% Off Ontario Tuition grant in January 2012.

Beginning in January 2014, expanded eligibility for the 30% Off Ontario Tuition grant was expanded to include:

  • Students enrolled in the final year of a five year co-op program; and
  • Students enrolled at private career colleges and all other postsecondary institutions in Ontario that are approved for OSAP.

Starting in the 2017-18 school year, Ontario is bundling many existing provincial OSAP grants into a single Ontario Student Grant.

The changes will make average college and university tuition free for the majority of eligible students, whose parents make a combined household income of less than $50,000 per year. The grant will be available to full-time students only.

The changes also apply to middle-to-upper income families and include:

  • providing grants to most students whose parents make a combined household income of $83,000 per year or less to cover their tuition;
  • providing additional financial support to full-time mature and married students;
  • changing eligibility so that grant approval isn't tied to how long a student has been out of high school;
  • giving students from middle- and upper-income families (making $83,000 to $130,000 per year) more access to interest-free and low cost loans through OSAP;
  • capping the maximum OSAP debt level at $10,000 for an academic year;
  • making sure no eligible student receives less grant money under the Ontario Student Grant than they would have under the 30% Off Tuition grant;
  • reducing the amount parents and spouses contribute towards the costs of college/university starting in the 2018-19 school year.

The grant will adjust for inflation and increases to tuition.


Comprehensive review of this information: January 2019