Higher Education in Canada



Canada is the second largest country in the world based on land area. It ranked first for Best Quality of Life by U.S. News Best Countries Ranking (2016) and was named as the world’s most welcoming country by the 2015 Global Nation Brand Index. Canadians enjoy long life expectancy, high average income and robust social life. Its high quality and affordable cost of education, multicultural population and natural beauty offer a healthy and welcoming environment to international students.

Although home to just 0.5% of the world’s population, Canada produces 2.8% of global scientific research. Canadian universities undertake more than 40% of Canada’s research and development – one of the highest rates of academic research among OECD and G8 countries. Canada is recognized as a world leader in a number of research fields: clinical medicine, information and communication technologies, and psychology and cognitive sciences.

According to Citizenship and Immigration Canada, in 2015, Canada hosted 356, 574 long-term international students, among whom 1,335 were from Malaysia.

Canada has an efficient and extensive public transportation system which includes buses, Light Rail Transit systems and trains. Students can purchase student tickets or monthly passes at reasonable rates and usually for unlimited access anywhere within the city limits during the month. Students can also ride bicycles on specially constructed “bike paths” especially within and just outside the campus surroundings to ensure safety


Canada is a commonwealth country but the system of education is similar to that of the United States. There is no one single education system but each province/territory has either a Ministry or Department of Education responsible for education systems under its jurisdiction. These include all level of studies i.e. elementary, secondary and post-secondary education. Generally, the Ministry or Department sets out broad guidelines for educational institutions to adhere to but matters such as courses offered, admission requirements, application procedures and tuition fees are normally determined by individual institutions.

The Canadian education system is structured to ensure that all students have access to basic education. It offers a broad learning environment and at the same time provides for flexibility in learning. The learning system is based on the premise of encouraging students to think independently and of maximizing their learning potential and interests.

Elementary and Secondary Education

The elementary and secondary educational system comprises public or government funded schools and private or independent schools. Some of the private schools have boarding facilities. Students begin their formal schooling at the age of four or five when they enter kindergarten or pre school programs followed by elementary schools and subsequently junior or high school. Students are between 17 or 18 years of age when they graduate from high school. The academic year normally begins in September and ends in June the following year.

International students can choose to study at either of these types of schools or select private schools that generally cater for foreign students by offering a number of intakes and programs that appeal to this particular group of students. The programs include the last few years of secondary school as well as English as a second language programs (ESL). Some Malaysian students choose the seven/eight month Pre-University program where they can begin the Pre-University program in January immediately after completing their SPM examinations and complete their final year of secondary school in time to begin university or college studies in September the same year. Some of these colleges also offer first year university studies or a University Transfer program.


University courses normally lead, within three to five years, to a bachelor’s degree in Arts, Science or to professional disciplines such as Engineering, Business Administration (Accounting), Computer Science, and so on. The minimum time required for the second degree, the Master’s, is one year beyond the Honours Bachelor’s degree. Doctoral or PhD. degree usually requires three to five years’ study after a Master’s degree.

The universities offer superb library facilities, clubs, social activities, entertainment and sports facilities to students. Many support systems exist on campus to meet the individual student’s needs. There are health services, student and peer assistance groups, academic/personal/religious guidance counselors and international student advisers who can provide assistance to international students. Today, foreign students are present in most Canadian universities and are always ready to help newcomers settle in.


The University-Colleges are a new breed of Canadian institutions offering a variety of programs including partial or full degree programs. They grew out of the community colleges which serve the communities in their area. They offer full three and four year degree programs in addition to other academic and technical programs. In most situations, the degree programs are offered in conjunction with local universities with some awarding their own degrees.

Community Colleges

Community College is a general term used to describe a variety of post-secondary institutions, e.g. Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology, Institutes of Technology, Regional Colleges, Vocational Centres, etc. Generally, these colleges offer a wide range of programs including academic and technical certificate and diploma programs. Some of them also offer college upgrading and ESL courses for those students who lack the minimum qualifications to enter a post secondary institution.


The admission of students from outside Canada is determined by individual institutions.

Undergraduate Academic Requirements for Malaysians: Canadian Grade 12/OAC, STPM or GCE ‘A’ level (a minimum of two principal passes in the appropriate subjects), the Australian matriculation or International Baccalaureate.  A few universities in Canada also accept the SPM or GCE `O’ level (a minimum of five or six credits) or Senior Middle 3 Unified Examination.

Undergraduate Academic Requirements for Foreign Students:

Brunei Darussalam Brunei Matriculation Examination/ Brunei Cambridge GCE ‘A’ level
China (PRC) Senior High School Graduation Examination & Chinese National University Entrance Examination.
Hong Kong The Hong Kong Advanced Level Examination.
Indonesia Surat Tanda Tamat Belajar from SMU.
Philippines Second Year standing in appropriate academic subjects at a recognized university.
Singapore Singapore/Cambridge Advanced Level Examination.
Taiwan Senior High School Graduation Examination.
Thailand Matayom 6 Certificate.
Vietnam Bang Tu Tai (Diploma of General Education).
Laos First Year standing in a recognized university.
Myanmar First Year standing in a recognized university.

English Language Requirement
: Students are required to produce acceptable proof of proficiency in English such as TOEFL or IELTS.  The required TOEFL scores vary from one institution to another but the minimum is usually 550 (213 in the computer based testing) or IELTS 6.5. In some cases, students who have not obtained the required TOEFL score can undertake the ESL course at that institution.


The annual cost covering tuition and living expenses ranges from C$20,000 to C$30,000  depending on the course of study and the province in which the university is located.

Tuition Fees: All tuition fees for international students at Canadian universities are subsidized but the amount of subsidy varies from province to province.  Fees vary according to location and the course and may be subjected to a small increase annually. Below are the average annual university tuition fees for full-time international students:

Field of Study Undergraduate (C$) Graduate (C$)
Education 16,190 13,320
Visual & Performing Arts & Communications Technologies 19,172 12,626
Humanities 20,286 13,051
Social & Behavioural Sciences 19,408 12,999
Law, Legal Professions & Studies 26,503 15,563
Business Management & Public Administration 22,362 19,671
Executive MBA Not applicable 43,134
Regular MBA Not applicable 35,497
Physical & Life Sciences & Technologies 22,273 13,310
Mathematics, Computer & Information Sciences 23,452 12,809
Engineering 24,984 15,070
Architecture & Related Technologies 21,015 16,605
Agriculture, Natural Resources & Conservation 18,736 12,087
Dentistry 51,397 20,523
Medicine 29,980 Not available
Nursing 17,306 12,428
Pharmacy 31,650 13,627
Veterinary Medicine 54,472 9,653
Other Health, Parks, Recreation & Fitness 18,644 15,349

Living Expenses: The academic year in Canada is eight months long (September to  April) but an international student must bear the living costs for twelve months. Living costs (food, accommodation, clothing, etc.) will vary from C$8,000 – C$10,000 per year.


There is a wide range of student accommodation available in Canada. Many post secondary institutions have hostel type residences, apartments or even houses. These campus residences which are either on or off site can be taken on single or shared basis. The residences come with meal plans (or cooking facilities), laundry and recreation facilities. Students who prefer off campus housing can opt to stay in apartments/homes or rent a room in a family home. Most post secondary institutions have a housing registry to assist students in locating these types of accommodation.

Usually international students under the age of 18 or high school students are required to stay in school boarding facilities or a homestay with a Canadian host family.

Health Care

Health care in Canada is very expensive. All international students are required to have medical and hospital insurance to cover themselves. Some provinces cover international students through their provincial health care plans while others require international students to arrange for private health insurance. Details on health insurance coverage are available at university websites and those of the provincial ministries of health. Universities and colleges will also supply information on this matter locally in Canada.


In Canada, each university administers its own student admission. Details on Canadian universities can be obtained from the Universities Canada’s website (www.universitystudy.ca). Prospective students can also access for information on education in Canada enquire from the Registrar Office of their institutions of interest.

Application procedures vary by province. In some provinces, students can apply through a central application service. In others, application is made directly to the university. In both cases, application can be made online.

Application deadlines vary, but generally, application should be made at least eight to twelve months in advance. Typical entry dates for international students are in September and January. However, many universities also consider international students throughout the year.


International students who are enrolled in a study program lasting 6 months or more are required to apply for a study permit. Students need to show evidence of acceptance by a designated learning institution (DLI). A list of DLIs is available at www.cic.gc.ca/english/study/study_institutions-list.asp. In addition, students must be of good health and character with no criminal records and must have sufficient funds to live and study in Canada including for return transportation and an international passport valid for at least one year.

A document checklist, as well as all necessary forms are available at www.cic.gc.ca/english/study/index.asp.  Application can be made online via the above website or in person at the VFS Global office in Kuala Lumpur:

Pusat Permohonan Visa Kanada
Suite 19-03, Floor 19,
Wisma MCA, Jalan Ampang
50450, Kuala Lumpur,
Tel:  +603-23812296
Email: info.camy@vfshelpline.com

Students are required to apply for study permit at least SIX WEEKS in advance of the registration date of the educational institution to be attended.


Some international scholarships are available for undergraduate and postgraduate study. Refer to www.scholarships.gc.ca or ask the institution of interest.


Students registered and enrolled at a designated learning institution (DLI) are permitted to work in Canada. A Social Insurance Number (SIN) is required. More information is available at www.servicecanada.gc.ca/eng/sc/sin.

A full-time student with a valid study permit pursuing an academic, professional, or vocational training program that leads to a degree, diploma or certificate, is

  • Eligible to work on and off campus without a work permit;
  • Eligible to work on and off campus for up to 20 hours per week during a regular academic session and full-time during regularly scheduled breaks;
  • Welcome to have the spouse or common-in–law partner apply for a work permit

Refer to:www.cic.gc.ca/English/study/work.asp. In the case of co-operative program (work-term as part of course of study) or internship employment not forming more than 50% of the study program, application of work permit is necessary after receiving the study permit.  More information is available at www.cic.gc.ca/english/study/study.asp.

After graduation, a graduate can apply for a work permit under the Post-Graduation Work Permit Program (PGWPP). A Post-Graduation Work Permit may be issued for the length of the study program, up to a maximum of 3 years. More information is available at www.cic.gc.ca/english/study/work-postgrad.asp

There are also opportunities for staying and working in Canada on a long-term basis under  a number of programs, each with its own requirements:

The Canadian Experience Class: www.cic.gc.ca/cec
The Federal Skilled Worker Program: www.cic.gc.ca/english/immigrate/skilled
The Provincial Nominee Program: www.cicgc.ca/english/immigrate/provincial


Universities Canada portal: www.universitystudy.ca
Offers profiles of Canadian universities, a large study programs database for planning university education.

EduCanada portal: EduCanada.ca
Includes a program finder, cost calculator, study permit information and links to provincial, territorial and individual school information.

Canadian Information Centre for International Credentials (CICIC): cicic.ca
Provides the only Canadian online and authoritative directory of universities, colleges and schools recognized and authorized by Canada’s provinces and territories. The site includes information on foreign credentials and evaluations and qualification recognition.


Written by:      
Ms Wee Hui Bieh, AFMSA, September 2016

Information Source:
High Commission of Canada, Kuala Lumpur.

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