Image: Wikipedia
Image: Wikipedia

Of all the wonderful countries I have travelled to, I still haven’t found one that equals Canada in its beauty and grandeur.

I have been fortunate to have travelled from coast to coast to coast several times:

  • I met my future (and current) wife in Newfoundland when we were both visiting from England in 1979. She was looking for a lift from St. John’s to Corner Brook, and I, being a gentleman, of course obliged – the rest is history.
  • I have piloted a small plane from Tofino on Vancouver Island to Sydney, Nova Scotia (and back again), with lots of stops in small towns along the way. At the same time, not to be outdone, my wife crewed a tall ship for six days and nights from Halifax to to meet me when I arrived in Sydney.
  • For our 30th wedding anniversary, we booked the Via Rail train from Vancouver to Toronto – and missed it in Vancouver, entailing a taxi ride to Kamloops (a four hour drive) where we caught up with the train. (I lost 30 years of brownie points over that: 20.30 is 10.30 pm, isn’t it?)
  • We have driven from Vancouver to the start of the Alaska Highway at Dawson Creek then on to Watson Lake in the Yukon, then back via Stewart and Prince Rupert. We have also driven from Whitehorse to Dawson City. From Dawson City we drove the Dempster Highway to Inuvik, and from there we flew in a small plane to Tuktoyaktuk on the Arctic Ocean.
  • I have visited over 40 universities as well as many colleges across Canada, taking me to every province and territory in the country – except Nunavut.

More though than the scenery has been the incredible hospitality and friendliness of everyone along the way – a truly wonderful country, despite its provincial, territorial and federal governments (and we have 14 of them!).

So I will use my experience to provide both a simple guide to Canada’s post-secondary education system, and some photographic examples of the areas I am talking about, moving from west to east. I will focus on those institutions with a strong focus on online and distance education. For images and more information about the post-secondary education system in each province, click on the name of the province or region.


There is no federal department of education in Canada. The federal government’s role is limited both constitutionally and in practice. Its main role is to provide funding for:

  • aboriginal education,
  • the national research councils,
  • re-training of the unemployed,
  • some specific and time-limited job training programs (including grants for apprenticeships),
  • a student loan program,
  • supporting parents and students through several forms of tax breaks, such as a registered education savings plan
  • a $5 million marketing plan to help double the number of international students coming to Canada

Most of these programs (except for aboriginal education) are actually delivered or managed by provincially funded institutions, or employers (see Service Canada for more information on these programs).

The lack of a federal government department to develop or support nation-wide education initiatives is a constitutional weakness. This is seen most clearly in successive federal governments’ failed strategy for aboriginal education, which is frankly a national disgrace, with the aboriginal participation rate in post-secondary education (23%) almost half that of the non-aboriginal population (Statistics Canada, 2011), partly because aboriginal students get far less funding per capita in the aboriginal school system.

There is no federal government department responsible for nation-wide policy or statistics on online or lifelong learning. The current federal government has cut funding for Statistics Canada, so adding a new service is unlikely.

On the other hand, partly because of its lack of expertise and experience in post-secondary education, when the federal government does launch a national initiative, such as its recent job training plan or plan for doubling international students, it is usually poorly thought through and even less well implemented.

In 2017 I led a team of independent researchers, working in collaboration with the Babson Survey Research Group and WCET, that surveyed all 203 public post-secondary institutions in Canada to identify the extent of online learning and distance education. The results of this survey can be found here:

The Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC) is an intergovernmental body founded in 1967 by provincial ministers of education to serve as:

  • a forum to discuss policy issues;
  • a mechanism through which to undertake activities, projects, and initiatives in areas of mutual interest;
  • a means by which to consult and cooperate with national education organizations and the federal government; and
  • an instrument to represent the education interests of the provinces and territories internationally.

The effectiveness of this organization has been described as ‘a waterfall behind which elephants go to die‘. In reality, it is almost impossible to get 13 ministers of different political stripes to agree on anything, especially putting their own province’s money into a general fund for national projects.

One important feature that distinguishes Canadian post-secondary education is that with very few exceptions, all the key institutions (universities and colleges) are publicly funded and accredited by the provinces. Private universities are few and far between and often religious-based. At the two-year college and vocational level, there is a stronger private sector market, but in general publicly funded two-year colleges do a very good job, and are usually the first choice for Canadian-born students.

Thus the strength (and weaknesses) of the Canadian post-secondary education system will be found at the level of the provinces. Click on the province for more information about their education system and their online and distance education provision (and/or more photos)

British Columbia

A brief description of post-secondary education and online and distance education in British Columbia – with photos.

Lytton, where the Thompson and Fraser Rivers converge


Alberta (to come)

Saskatchewan (to come)

Manitoba (to come)

Ontario (to come)

Québec (to come)

New Brunswick (to come)

Nova Scotia (to come)

Prince Edward Island (to come)

Newfoundland (to come)