Quality assurance practices for postsecondary institutions in Nova Scotia

The postsecondary education system in Nova Scotia is described in CICIC's Postsecondary Education Systems in Canada, Provinces and Territories. The system can be divided into four categories of postsecondary program delivery:
  • universities and university colleges
  • colleges
  • apprenticeship
  • private training institutions
Mechanisms that manage Nova Scotia's postsecondary education system vary by type of institution and program. They include
  • legislation (statutes and regulations)
  • affiliation
  • external and internal review
  • professional accreditation
  • other organizations related to quality assurance


Universities are the only institutions that grant degrees in Nova Scotia. Each institution is established by individual statute. The authority of each institution to govern itself through the operations of a board of governors and in some cases a senate is outlined in these statutes, their regulations, and bylaws established by their boards of governors. In most cases, Nova Scotia universities have the authority to determine all matters relating to programs, qualifications of employees, and all other matters deemed to be in the interest of the institutions. Statutes establishing individual institutions do not contain explicit reference to mechanisms for or accountabilities pertaining to quality assurance of educational programming. Program quality responsibilities are implied through the powers and duties assigned to institutions' internal governing bodies.

The Degree Granting Act protects the integrity of Nova Scotia university credentials by providing the provincial government with sole authority to authorize the province's degree-granting institutions. Under this statute, the minister may also require an inspection of any institution if there are reasonable and probable grounds to believe that the institution has contravened the Degree Granting Act or its regulations.

The Maritime Provinces Higher Education Commission (MPHEC) was established in 1974 as an agency of the Council of Atlantic Premiers and acts as a regional agency for postsecondary education in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island. The Maritime Provinces Higher Education Act was enacted in all three provinces establishing the commission. In 1997, the ministers of education in the Maritime Provinces agreed to renew and refocus the commission's mandate through "An Agreement Respecting the Renewal of Arrangements for Regional Cooperation Concerning Post-Secondary Education." Under this agreement, the commission has the responsibility for quality assurance, data and information collection, cooperative action, and regional programs. In January 2005, the new MPHEC Act was proclaimed in each of the Maritime Provinces giving force to the Commission's new mandate.


A formal affiliation exists between the Atlantic School of Theology and Saint Mary's University. A formal arrangement exists between the Canadian Coast Guard College and the Cape Breton University. The University of King's College is associated with Dalhousie University.

External and Internal Review

The quality of Nova Scotia's university programs is addressed in three additional ways. First, programs are evaluated by the university's own process of self-study and review conducted in accordance with internal policies and procedures. Second, the MPHEC reviews new or modified academic programs prior to implementation to assure that programs meet agreed-upon standards of quality. The third major quality assurance activity is the MPHEC's monitoring of quality assurance policies used by institutions to assess the quality of existing programs. The specific objective of the MPHEC monitoring function is to ascertain that the policies and procedures used by institutions to assess the quality of existing programs are performing adequately as quality control and quality improvement mechanisms. A key outcome of the process is to provide assistance and advice to institutions on ways to enhance their current quality assurance policy and procedures. Full details on quality assurance procedures used by the MPHEC are available on their Web site.

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 Universities

The majority of Nova Scotia universities belong to Universities Canada – the Atlantic School of Theology is not a member of Universities Canada. 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 that reports to the Universities Canada Board of Directors on a variety of items and recommends a decision on whether the applying institution is providing education of university standard.

The Association of Accrediting Agencies of Canada (AAAC) is a national organization composed of professional associations involved in accreditation of educational programs. Information on the activities of these professions with colleges and universities can be accessed through the AAAC Web site.


The Community Colleges Act establishes the Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC). (Collège de l'Acadie merged with Université Sainte-Anne in 2002.) As established by legislation, quality assurance of educational programs is a shared responsibility between the provincial government and NSCC's governing body. NSCC has responsibility for "enhancing the economic and social well-being of the province by meeting the occupational training requirements of the population and the labour market of the province." The college is also mandated to participate in joint programs with respect to education and training and related services developed and delivered in conjunction with other postsecondary institutions and educational bodies.

The Community Colleges Act establishes a board of governors as the governing body of the NSCC. Among the boards responsibilities are:
  • establishing programs of study,
  • providing for the granting of community college certificates and diplomas (the college does not grant degrees),
  • publishing an annual academic report on enrolment, attrition, graduation, and graduate employment placement,
  • evaluating programs of study on a regular basis in accordance with guidelines approved by the minister,
  • conducting, at least every five years, special organizational and operational reviews in accordance with guidelines approved by the minister.

On the recommendation of the minister, the government may appoint an administrator of a community college if the board of governors takes up a practice or tolerates a situation incompatible with the mandate of the college or the act or if in the opinion of the minister, it is otherwise in the public interest to do so.

Under the Community Colleges Act, the minister is responsible for approving guidelines for conducting internal reviews of existing programs. Approval of all new programs also rests with the minister. The minister may appoint and give extensive inspection powers to a person or committee to review and evaluate any program offered by the colleges, their mandates, or any other matter relating to the development, content, or delivery of a program by the colleges. Finally, the college is required to submit to the department, annual reports that must include audited financial statements and any other information that the minister requests. The minister must in turn, table the reports in the provincial Legislature.

The Community Colleges Act also establishes college program advisory committees primarily composed of representatives from industry. These committees are responsible for advising the board of governors and making recommendations regarding new and existing programs of study.


Nova Scotia Community College supports student mobility through recognizing prior learning and partnering with other post-secondary institutions through articulation agreements. For further information visit nscc.ca.

External and Internal Review

In accordance with the Community Colleges Act, existing community college programs are evaluated internally by college program staff on a regular basis for updating and to ensure relevance to the demands of the marketplace.

All new community college programs are also subject to review and approval by the department, whose staff examine proposals from a content perspective as well as in relation to institutional capacity and market demand.

If the internal review of existing programs produce recommended changes in length, credential, name or program scope, the Nova Scotia Department of Labour and Advanced Education reviews and approves those recommendations.

Professional Accreditation

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

Apprenticeship training is a method of learning a skilled trade through a combination of practical training (about 85%) in the workplace and technical training (about 15%). An individual who wants to be trained and certified in a skilled trade must first be employed in one of Nova Scotia's 71 designated trades and be registered through a formal apprenticeship agreement recognized by the Nova Scotia Apprenticeship Agency. The on-the-job practical training is supervised by a certified journeyperson and guided by a logbook that identifies each of the skills and tasks to be learned. The technical training is based upon a training standard that augments the practical training and assists the apprentice with the theory portion of their respective trade. When the apprentice has successfully completed the hours worked in the trade, all of the practical skills, technical training and level exams (if required), he or she writes a certification examination. Upon successful completion of the certification examination, the individual receives a Certificate of Apprenticeship and a Certificate of Qualification in that trade from the Nova Scotia Apprenticeship Agency. If the trade is a Red Seal trade, a Red Seal endorsement will be affixed to the Certificate of Qualification will, which is recognized across the country.


The legislative authority for the apprenticeship system in Nova Scotia is the Apprenticeship and Trades Qualifications Act, General Regulations and the Operating Charter of the Nova Scotia Apprenticeship Agency. Under the Act, the Minister of Labour and Advanced Education is responsible for the general supervision and management of the Act, Operating Charter and regulations. Under the direction of the Apprenticeship Board, the Chief Executive Officer is responsible for the general leadership and management of the Agency and reports to the Deputy Minister of the Department of Labour and Advanced Education.

Forty-six of the 71 designated trades in Nova Scotia have trade-specific regulations and 13 of the 71 are specified as compulsory certified trades. To work in a compulsory trade, an individual must hold a Certificate of Qualification, be a registered apprentice, or hold a temporary permit in the trade. For an up-to-date list of all designated trades, refer to the Agency's website.

The Provincial Apprenticeship Board

The Board is responsible for advising and making recommendations to the Minister on matters pertaining to the apprenticeship and trades qualifications system and holds regulatory authority regarding voluntary trades. Under the Act and according to the Operating Charter, the Minister may appoint a Board made up of no more than 15 persons. Ten members are employer or employee representatives of the 4 trade sectors: 4 are from the construction sector and 2 representatives are from each the industrial/manufacturing, motive power and service sectors. Of the five remaining members, one is the Vice-President, Academic of the Nova Scotia Community College and 4 members are members-at-large. Member-at-large seats are often appointed to individuals representing diverse and/or under-represented groups in the skilled trades.

The Board has a duty to communicate with and enhance the participation of apprenticeship and trades qualifications system stakeholders; inform apprenticeship and trades qualifications system policy decisions; liaise with provincial and inter-provincial partners; develop and influence the development of apprenticeship and trades qualifications system regulations; administer and ensure compliance with the apprenticeship and trades qualifications system; provide for the internal administration of the Board and its committees; and establish trade advisory committees to advise the Board concerning any matters relating to the apprenticeship and trades qualifications system.


Under the General Regulations made pursuant to the Apprenticeship and Trades Qualifications Act, the Nova Scotia Apprenticeship Agency has authority to prescribe the standards for apprenticeship training and trade certification in Nova Scotia.

The Agency's Standards and Examinations staff are responsible for the development, implementation and review of occupational standards, curriculum standards, logbooks and examinations in designated trades. Staff consult extensively with apprenticeship stakeholders and partners – including industry, advisory committees, subject matter experts and training providers – to ensure they are engaged throughout the development cycle.

The Agency's Standards and Examinations staff oversees Nova Scotia's role in the Red Seal Program and related initiatives to ensure the province meets interprovincial responsibilities. These staff collaborate with Atlantic and national counterparts to ensure and maintain the integrity of the Red Seal Program and related standards; to increase consistency and harmonization in apprenticeship delivery; and to improve labour mobility.

The Red Seal Program is the Canadian standard of excellence for skilled trades. Formally known as the Interprovincial Standards Red Seal Program, it promotes and facilitates the standardization of apprenticeship training and sets common standards to assess the skills of tradespersons across Canada. Tradespersons who meet the Red Seal standards receive a Red Seal endorsement on their provincial/territorial trade certificates. There are currently 56 designated Red Seal trades.

The Red Seal Program is administered by the Canadian Council of Directors of Apprenticeship (CCDA) and funded by Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC). Each Director of Apprenticeship for each jurisdiction in Canada sits as a member of the CCDA. It is a forum for interjurisdictional collaboration in support of developing a certified, highly skilled and mobile trades workforce in Canada.

The Nova Scotia Apprenticeship Agency is also an active participant in the Atlantic Apprenticeship Harmonization Project (AAHP) to harmonize trades and improve apprentice mobility throughout Atlantic Canada. The AAHP is the primary focus of the Atlantic Apprenticeship Council (AAC), which is composed of the Apprenticeship Board Chairs and Directors of Apprenticeship from each of the four Atlantic Provinces. The goal of the AAC is to work cooperatively to foster the development of a highly-skilled workforce and to work regionally to facilitate and share best practices in order to streamline mobility of workers. The desired outcomes of the AAC are to create efficiencies in time and resources, and to promote consistency in training and apprentice mobility.

External and Internal Review

Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC) is the primary deliverer of apprenticeship technical trades training. It provides both traditional classroom and shop training, technical training and online options for apprentices. Technical training is also provided by the United Association Local 56, Plumbers and Pipefitters; the International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers Local 116; the Nova Scotia Boatbuilders Association; and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 625. In practice, Agency staff work with these training providers to develop curriculum standards and examinations based on the occupational standard for the trade. Occupational standards, curriculum standards logbooks and examinations are validated by industry.

Other Organizations Related to Quality Assurance in Colleges and Apprenticeship

Nova Scotia Community College is a member of the Colleges and Institutes Canada. Colleges and Institutes Canada does not perform formal quality assurance functions, but it does promote quality programming and the use of high academic standards, by conducting research and facilitating broad discussion on quality assurance issues.

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 Atlantic Provinces Community College Consortium (APCCC) was established in 1998 as an informal consortium of departments and institutions to enhance cooperation across the community colleges in the four Atlantic provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island. The activities, initiatives, and projects of the consortium are designed to reflect the values and principles agreed to by the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC). Key areas of performance expectations that reflect these values include quality and accountability. The primary activities of the APCCC include sharing information, issues, and solutions and generally promoting consistency, cooperation, joint initiatives, and transferability across institutions. The impact of the consortium on program quality is indirect.




The Private Career Colleges Act sets out requirements for the registration of private postsecondary training institutions in Nova Scotia. No private postsecondary training school may operate in the province unless it has a certificate of registration issued by the Department of Labour and Advanced Education or exempt under the legislation.

Through the regulations under the Private Career Colleges Act, the department has authority to prescribe the qualifications for instructors, entrance requirements for students, and impose industry standards for curriculum. The department also sets the parameters around professional development for instructors.

Students who attend training programs registered with the department may be eligible to apply for student financial assistance.

External and Internal Review

Private career colleges register with the Department of Labour and Advanced Education and submit detailed documentation on all new, proposed programs for approval by the department in relation to items such as content and curriculum, instructor qualifications, organizational capacity to deliver, and all other matters listed in the regulations. The department also conducts internal reviews of registered colleges on an annual basis and has extensive powers of either scheduled or unscheduled inspection. External reviews relate to third party reviews of programs and/or instructor applications where formal regulators or recognized associations or industry experts are utilized.

For information on inspection or review processes, please refer to the Act and Regulations and the Private Career Colleges Web site.


The Language Schools Act requires that all organizations offering instruction in English or French to international students must be registered. The legislation provides for the registration of the schools and authority to audit, review programs, inspect and administer regulatory compliance. It also requires that all language schools subject to the Act be accredited or in the process of accreditation. The recognized accreditation authority is Languages Canada.

Current language schools operate as part of or in relation to universities or as free-standing institutions run as private businesses.

External and Internal Review

In addition to the general requirements of the legislation and accreditation, all aspects of proposed and operating language schools are subject to review by the Department of Labour and Advanced Education and are audited by a third-party to assure continued meeting of the Languages Canada criteria.

The Act, General Regulations, and the Accreditation and Accountability Regulations are accessible on-line.