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A profile of education in Canada

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Elementary & Secondary Enrollment

  • In 2002/03, there were 4,979,112 students enrolled in elementary or secondary schools across Canada. Between 2000/01 and 2002/03, enrollment declined by 0.5% overall.

  • Some provinces and territories reported modest increases in elementary and secondary school enrollment. Between 2000/01 and 2002/03, Ontario’s enrollment rose by 1.1% and Alberta’s increased by 0.9%. The largest enrollment gains in were in the territories: Northwest Territories saw an increase of 1.4% and Nunavut reported the largest rise in enrollment, at 3.1%.

Full-time Enrollment in Elementary and Secondary Schools
Canada and Provinces/Territories, 2000/01 to 2002/03

  2000/01 2001/02 2002/03 % Change
2000/01 to 2002/03
Newfoundland & Labrador 87,438 84,173 81,651 -6.6%
Prince Edward Island 23,591 23,355 23,132 -1.9%
Nova Scotia 155,873 153,450 150,599 -3.4%
New Brunswick 124,942 122,732 120,600 -3.5%
Quebec 1,094,333 1,090,435 1,083,427 -1.0%
Ontario 2,019,835 2,039,013 2,042,392 1.1%
Manitoba 187,944 181,232 180,895 -3.8%
Saskatchewan 178,461 175,116 171,674 -3.8%
Alberta 516,395 518,108 520,956 0.9%
British Columbia 589,914 587,198 580,407 -1.6%
Yukon 5,608 5,402 5,414 -3.5%
Northwest Territories 9,291 9,366 9,422 1.4%
Nunavut 8,289 8,412 8,545 3.1%
CANADA 5,001,913 4,998,050 4,979,112 -0.5%
Source: Calculations by the Canadian Council on Social Development using data from Statistics Canada's Summary of Public School Indicators for the Provinces and Territories, 1996/97 to 2002/03. Cat. # 81-595-MIE2004022.

Post-secondary Enrollment

  • In 2001/02, there were 689,700 students in Canada enrolled in full-time and part-time undergraduate studies at post-secondary institutions such as universities, colleges, and trade schools. Post-secondary enrollment has been rising. Between 1997/98 and 2001/02, the number of students enrolled in undergraduate programs rose by 8.5%.

  • The growth in enrollment over this period was greatest among full-time students. There were 482,100 full-time students in 1997/98, and by 2001/02, that number had climbed to 528,200 - an increase of 9.6%.

  • There were significant gender differences in enrollment over this four-year period. The number of female students in full-time undergraduate programs rose by 13.3%, compared to a 4.9% increase among male students.

  • Part-time enrollment increased by 5.3% over this period, with the increases more pronounced among male students. Between 1997/98 and 2001/02, the number of men enrolled in part-time undergraduate studies rose by 8.1%, compared to an increase of 3.7% among women, but the number of female part-time students remained considerably higher than for males. Of 161,500 students enrolled in part-time undergraduate courses in 2001/02, 98,900 - or 61.2% - were women and 62,600 (38.7%) were men.

Tuition Fees

  • Over the last several years, tuition fees have been rising in Canada. In 2005/06, average undergraduate tuition fees were $4,214 - up from $3,328 in 1999/2000, an increase of 26.6%.

  • Overall, tuition fees have increased across the country, with the two exceptions being Newfoundland and Manitoba. In Newfoundland, tuition fees dropped by 22.7% between 1999/2000 and 2005/06, while Manitoba reported a decrease of 6.2%. Tuition fees rose the most in British Columbia; in 2005/06, B.C.’s average undergraduate tuition stood at $4,874, an increase of 89.8% from 1999/00. Both Nova Scotia and New Brunswick reported tuition fee increases of more than 45% over this six-year period.

  • Many college and university graduates face large debt loads after completing their post-secondary education. Among college and university students who graduated in 2000, 33% of the college grads and 34% of the university grads owed money to government sources, 8% of both groups owed money to non-government sources, and 8-11% owed money to both government and non-government sources. However, 51% of the college students and 47% of the university students owed no money upon graduation.

Educational Expenditures

  • In 2002/03, total expenditures on education in Canada amounted to $6,667 per student. Costs were highest in the Northwest Territories and the Yukon - at over $10,000 per student - and lowest in the Atlantic Provinces, where average costs per student ranged from a high of $6,253 in Newfoundland to a low of $5,344 in Nova Scotia.

  • Education costs have been rising. Between 2000/01 and 2002/03, educational expenditures per student rose by 2.8% overall in Canada. New Brunswick was the only province to report a drop in their expenditures per student (-0.7%). The largest increase over this two-year period was in Newfoundland, where the educational costs per student jumped by 14%, followed by those in Saskatchewan which rose by 10.4%.


  • In 2001/02, there were 309,852 full-time teachers working in elementary and secondary schools across Canada. This was down by 0.4% from the previous year.

  • The number of full-time educators was down in most provinces. The exceptions were the Northwest Territories - which reported an increase of 4.3% in its teaching staff - and Alberta, where the number of full-time teachers grew by 3.7%. Saskatchewan also reported a small increase of 1.4%.

Educational Attainment

  • In 2003, 44% of Canada’s working-age population (those aged 25 to 64) had a college or university degree. This was the highest ranking among all 21 OECD countries. The United States was ranked second, at 38%, and Japan was third with 37%.

  • In 2004, a study by Statistics Canada found that 59.1% of Canadians aged 25 to 54 had a post-secondary certificate or university degree, 8.0% had taken some post-secondary education, 20.1% were high school graduates, and 12.9% had less than a high school education.

  • Across Canada, Nova Scotia had the highest proportion of the population (aged 25 to 54) with post-secondary education, at 62%. Quebec and Ontario also reported high levels of post-secondary attainment, at 60.9% and 60.4% respectively. Manitoba had the lowest proportion of post-secondary graduates in Canada (52.5%).


  • The 2004 Adult Literacy and Life Skills (ALL) Survey revealed that a considerable number of Canadians have low literacy and numeracy skills. (For a detailed description of this Statistics Canada survey, done in cooperation with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, see the end of this fact sheet.) Among those aged 16 to 65, literacy skill levels were moderate on all four assessment scales - prose literacy, document literacy, numeracy, and problem-solving abilities.

  • When Canadians were ranked on their prose skills, the majority (38.6%) scored at Level 3, 19.5% performed at the highest level (Level 4/5), 27.3% were rated at Level 2, and 14.6% scored at the lowest prose literacy level.


  • The 14.6% of Canadians who scored at the lowest level of prose literacy in 2003 represents well over three million Canadians who have problems dealing with printed materials and most likely have difficulty reading. This proportion was down slightly from 1994, when 17% of Canadians were rated at this lowest level.

  • Proportion of Canadian Pop