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2. Canada and the Provinces


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.


2.1 Federal Cash Transfers for Post-Secondary Education (% GDP)

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 2018-2019. Despite significant student enrolment growth over the past decade, federal funding has remained stagnant.

2.2 Provincial Government Expenditure (Operating) on Post-Secondary Education (% GDP)

Provinces differ significantly in their operating spending on post-secondary education. In 2017-2018, the provincial transfer for general operating to post-secondary education was highest in Newfoundland and Labrador (1.4%), Nova Scotia (1.4%), and Quebec (1.3%), while it was lowest in British Columbia (0.8%), Ontario (0.7%) and Alberta (0.7%).

2.3 Provincial Government Expenditures (Operating ) on Post-Secondary Education as a Share of Total Government Spending

Nine out of 10 provinces are spending less on general operating of post-secondary education as a share of total provincial expenditures since 2010-11, from an average of 4.5% 2010-2011 to 4% in 2017-18. Although Newfoundland and Labrador had it’s highest provincial operating expenditure as a share of total spending in 2014-15 (6.6%), it has since also started reducing their expenditure on PSE (6% in 2017-18).

2.4 Provincial Government Funding per FTE Student ($ 2017)

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%.

2.5 University Revenues and Expenditures, 2017-2018

This table shows university revenues and expenditures for the 2017-2018 academic year.

2.6 University Revenues & Expenditures, 1977-1978 to 2017-2018

The composition in university revenues and expenditures in Canada has changed considerably in past decades. In 1977-1978, government grants and contracts represented 75% of all university revenues. This number steadily declined over the decades to 47% in 2017-2018. During the same period, there was an increase in the percentage of revenues coming from student fees. In 1977-1978, the share of revenues coming from student fees was 10.4%. This rose steadily through the decades up to 28.2%. Other private sources of revenue, such as bequests, donations, non-government grants, and investment income, also increased during this period.  Regarding expenditures, the percentage of expenditures devoted to salaries, wages and benefits has declined over the past few decades. In 1977-1978, salaries wages and benefits represented 68.8%, and by 2017-2018, they represented only 57.7%.

2.7 Community College Revenues and Expenditures, 2001-2002 to 2017-2018

This table shows community college revenues and expenditures from 2001-2002 to 2017-2018. As with universities, student fees at community colleges have increased considerably over the past decade.

2.8 University FTE Enrolment to Full-time Faculty Ratio by Province

This table shows the ratio of university FTE student enrolment to full-time faculty by province. Ontario has the highest student-faculty ratio of all the provinces, followed by BC and Alberta. The national average student-faculty ratio is 25 students for one faculty member.

2.9 Endowments by University, 2017

This table shows endowments at universities across Canada in the 2017 fiscal year. The percentage change from 2016 to 2017 shows considerable increases in endowments at many universities, with some reporting up to a 248% increase over the course of the year.

2.10 University Presidents' Compensation, 2020

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.

2.11 College Presidents' Compensation, 2020

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).

2.12 Educational Attainment of Adult Population, Canada and the Provinces, 2021

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%).

2.13 Educational Attainment of Adult Population by Visible Minority, Aboriginal Identity and Gender, 2016

Across Canada, adult educational attainment varies considerably by equity-seeking group, and averages can also mask significant differences for particular racialized groups. In 2016, a lower proportion of women (0.88%) had earned PhDs than men (1.27%), while a higher proportion of women held Master’s degrees (6.7% vs. 6.0%), university certificates and diplomas above the Bachelor’s level (2.37% vs. 1.75%), and a significantly higher proportion of Bachelor’s degrees (22.4% vs. 17.4%). Conversely, a significantly higher proportion of men are without any certificate, diploma or degree (including secondary school) than women (11.6% vs. 7.4%). Men who held a certificate of apprenticeship or certificate of qualification had more than four times the proportion of women (8.3% vs. 1.7%) in 2016, reflecting the long-standing dominance of men in the trades.

Among visible minority groups as a whole, the overall proportion of those aged 25+ that haven’t 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 as a whole 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%).

2.14 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.

2.15 Recognized Post-Secondary Education Institutions in Canada

There are 148 recognized public and not-for-profit private university establishments (including affiliated, constituent and federated institutions and campuses) in Canada. 39 of these schools and campuses are theological schools (about half of which are in the public and half in the not-for-profit sector). There are no recognized private universities. There are also 200 public and 32 not-for-profit colleges and other institutions that are authorized to grant diplomas, credentials, or degrees.

2.16 Employment in Educational Services, 2017

The education sector accounts for about 8% of total employment in Canada. Employment in the broader educational services industry grew by 2.1% over 2016-2017 to a level of 1,278,405, keeping pace with year-over-year growth in employment across all industries of 2.0%. Employment growth in the university sector grew by 2.8% to a level of 307,368, while in the college sector growth was more anemic at 0.6%, to a level of 122,400.

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