Federal spending on post-secondary education remains stagnant at 0.2% of GDP, impacting tuition fees and expenditure patterns in each province. While there is provincial variation on post-secondary education finances, all provinces are increasingly reliant on private sources of funds, particularly international student tuition to make up for funding gaps. This section also looks at presidential compensation, adding in college data for the first time.
Federal government cash transfers for post-secondary education in Canada, when measured as a proportion of GDP, have declined from 0.5% of GDP in 1983-1984 to 0.19% in 2021-2022. Despite significant student enrolment growth over the past decade, federal funding has remained stagnant.
Provinces differ significantly in their operating expenditure on post-secondary education. In 2019-2020, the provincial transfer for general operating to post-secondary education was highest in Newfoundland and Labrador (1.4%), Nova Scotia (1.2%), and Quebec (1.2%), while it was lowest in Ontario (0.6%), Alberta (0.7), British Columbia (0.7%).
2.3 Provincial government expenditures (operating) on post-secondary education as a share of total government spending
Provincial government spending on general operating for post-secondary education has decreased in nine out of 10 provinces in 2019-2020 compared to 2010-2011, from an average of 4.4% to 3.9%. Although the province of Newfoundland and Labrador spent the same share in 2019-2020 as it did in 2010-2011 (5.8%), this share has been declining from a peak of 6.6% in 2014-15.
The average funding per full-time equivalent (FTE) student over this fifteen-year period declined by 0.5%, though this masks significant variation among the provinces. Per FTE student funding increased significantly in Newfoundland and Labrador (68%), New Brunswick (28%) and Nova Scotia (27%), Alberta (12%) and Saskatchewan (11%), while it declined significantly in British Columbia (19%), Manitoba (5%), and Quebec (4%). Ontario, where almost 40% of all students in Canada are enrolled, funding was stagnant at 1.8%.
University revenues in Canada were $39.8 billion in 2019-2020. When compared to inflation-adjusted revenues, 2019-2020 decreased by 5.3% compared to the previous year. This decrease was largely due to revenues from investment income plummeting across Canada. The share of revenue from government grants and contracts has declined since 2008-2009, from 61.1% to 48.0% in 2019-2020. During the same period, the share of revenues from student fees increased from 22.1% in 2008-2009 to 31.5% in 2019-2020. This represents an increase in tuitions revenues of 83% over this period, or an average of 5.6% per year. University expenditures totalled $39.4 billion in 2019-2020, a decrease of 0.4% over the previous year. The main component of university expenditures is salaries, wages, and benefits, representing 61.2% of spending in 2019-2020.
College revenues in Canada were $13.3 billion in 2019-2020. The share of college funding from government has declined since 2008-2009, from 67.0% to 54.7% in 2019-2020. During the same period, the share of revenues from student fees has increased considerably from 19.6% in 2008-2009 to 34.1% in 2019-2020. College expenditures totaled $13.0 billion in 2019-2020. The share of expenditures for salaries, wages and benefits has fluctuated from a high of 55.6% in 2002-2003 to a low of 50.3% in 2010-2011 and were 54.0% in 2019-2020.
The university full-time equivalent enrolment to full-time faculty ratio has increased by more than 25% since 2000-2021 from 19.7: 1 to 24.9: 1 in 2019-2020. Ontario has the highest ratio (30.1:1) of all the provinces, followed by BC (24.9) and Alberta (24.8).
In 2020, the presidents of McGill University ($860,971), University of British Columbia ($611,712), Western University ($522,683), and the University of Toronto ($494,654) received the highest compensation among university presidents in Canada.
The five highest paid college presidents in 2020 are at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology ($616,518), Humber College ($472,686), Seneca College ($417,980), Conestoga College ($411,186) and Northern College ($399,068).
In 2021, two-thirds of the Canadian population aged 25 and older had attained at least a post-secondary certificate or diploma, ranging from a low of 60.3% in New Brunswick to a high of 68.2% in British Columbia. The share of adult Canadians with post-secondary education increased by 19 percentage points between 2000 and 2021. In 2021, 34.7%, of adults had a college qualification, 21.4% had an undergraduate degree, while 10.4% had a post-graduate qualification. Across the provinces, Newfoundland had the lowest university attainment (18.7%) while Ontario had the highest (34.9%) closely followed by British Columbia (34.7%). However, Newfoundland had the highest college attainment (43.6%) while Ontario had the lowest (31.9%).
In 2021, 3 out of 4 women held a postsecondary certificate or diploma compared to 7 out of 10 men. A higher proportion of women than men had earned a bachelor’s degrees (26.6% vs. 21.8%) and post-graduate degree (12% vs. 10.8%). About the same proportion of women and men attained a college certificate or diploma (35.9% vs. 36.4%). Conversely, a significantly higher proportion of men had earned a high school certificate or less than women (30.9% vs. 25.6%).
Among visible minority, the overall proportion of those aged 25+ that have not graduated from secondary school, at 8.6%, is slightly lower than for the total population, this proportion ranges from a low of 1.8% for Koreans up to 23.3% for Southeast Asians. Similarly, a significantly higher proportion of visible minority Canadians attained a PhD compared to the average for all adult Canadians (1.6% vs. 1.1%), although the proportion ranges from a low of 0.18% among Filipinos to a high of 4.73% among West Asians. The scenario is similar for other university-level credentials.
While Aboriginal people have a far higher proportion of those aged 25+ who are not high school graduates than in the overall population aged 25+ (19.3% vs. 9.6%), this proportion ranges from 14.7% among self-identified Métis to 38.0% among Inuit peoples.
Adults with disabilities also have significantly lower rates of educational attainment, with about half the rate of PhD and Master’s degree attainment as adults without disabilities (1.4% vs. 2.0% and 11.5% vs. 18.9% respectively), and about twice the rate of non-completion of high school (23.8% vs. 12.5%).
2.13 Average earnings of full-year, full-time workers by educational attainment and designated Group, 2015
Increased levels of educational attainment does not necessarily mean that there is any closing of the wage gaps experienced by women, visible minorities and Aboriginal peoples. Aboriginal people with lower levels of educational attainment earn what is typical for the equivalent population as a whole, but also significantly less among holders of Master’s degrees, who experience a wage gap of 89 cents on the dollar compared to all Master’s degree holders, and for PhD holders, who experience a gap of 86 cents on the dollar. Visible minorities as a whole similarly experience a significant wage gap, earning only 80 cents on the dollar for visible minority Master’s degree holders, and 88 cents for PhD holders. Women are most disadvantaged by having lower levels of educational attainment, with women holding Certificates of Apprenticeship and Certificates of Qualification earning only 55 cents on the dollar. Women with Master’s degrees earned 82 cents on the dollar, and women with PhDs earned 88 cents.
In 2021, the education sector accounted for 8.1% of total employment in Canada, representing a total of 1,281,792 workers. Employment in this sector grew by 3.8% over 2020, a smaller change compared to the 5.8% growth across all industries in Canada. The year-over- year change in the education sector was driven by the elementary and secondary sector which added close to 32,000 new jobs in 2021 (4.2% growth), while the university sector added 3,975 jobs (1.3%) and the college sector added more than 2,300 jobs (1.9%).
There are 152 recognized public and not-for-profit private university establishments (including affiliated and federated institutions) in Canada. Thirty-nine of these schools are theological schools (about half of which are in the public and half in the not-for-profit sector). There are also 197 public and 32 not-for-profit colleges and other institutions that are authorized to grant diplomas, credentials, or degrees.