Provincial Tuition: An Analysis

Across Canada’s ten provinces, each jurisdiction pursues its own policies towards administering and pricing post-secondary education (including at the university level), this week’s CSBR Student Economist provides an analysis of the average undergraduate university tuition levels for each province and the respective percent changes in prices when adjusted for inflation.

In today’s modern economy, post-secondary education (be it technical training or university) has grown in importance for those seeking stable, gainful employment. In a 2016 study conducted by the Education Policy Research Initiative at the University of Ottawa, individuals with a university education experienced higher initial earnings and higher wage growth, regardless of field of study, compared to those without a bachelor’s degree.

When it comes to earning an undergraduate level university degree, students are presented with a myriad of options.  For example, a student can choose to attend a university in their province of residence at the provincial tuition rate, decide to attend a university in a different Canadian province at the out-of-province rate, or opt to attend university outside of Canada. Because we are all economically-minded individuals and strive to receive the best education at the best value, balancing tuition and other costs with educational benefit, personal development, and future employment opportunities is of the highest importance.  For the purpose of our analysis, we will make the (aggressive) assumption that all universities are relatively of the same caliber and that students would choose to attend university in-province over deciding to move elsewhere to pursue a post-secondary education.

The above table shows the average in-province undergraduate university tuition rate for Canada’s five largest provinces by population between 2006 and 2017.  Just by first glance at the data, it is clear that university students residing and studying in the province of Quebec face the smallest tuition levies whereas students in Ontario bear the heaviest tuition burden of the five largest provinces throughout the time period under analysis. The discrepancy between tuition levels in Ontario and Quebec can be explained by numerous factors including the provinces’ respective university funding models; universities in Quebec receive large portions of their annual funding from the province itself as a result of higher taxes (in addition to other sources) whereas universities in Ontario rank last (tenth) among provinces in per student funding and receive less than 70% of the average per-student provincial grant funding collected by other provinces.

In the above table, the tuition values for 2006/2007 have been adjusted to the 2016/2017 price levels using the Canadian Consumer Price Index (CPI) to determine the tuition rate if it was only adjusted for inflation over the ten-year time period. By comparing the inflation-adjusted numbers and the percent change, we can see that the non-inflationary percent change Quebec tuition rates largely has followed the growth of tuition rates in Canada as a whole; furthermore, the percent change in Quebec university tuition rates have been significantly lower than that of university tuition rates in Ontario, 26 versus 34 percent. If you are a resident of British Columbia who is looking to attend university locally, you are in luck; the average undergraduate tuition rate, when adjusted for changes in inflation, has slightly fallen over the past ten years. However, tuition hikes and inflation have had a significant impact over a greater time period; in 1990 the average undergraduate tuition rate was $2,770 compared to $5,534 today.

In the end, not all provinces are equal in their ability to restrain the increase of undergraduate tuition rates over time.  However, tuition hikes are often warranted, especially in situations where tuition rates have largely remained stagnant and tax/transfer revenues cannot cover the difference in cost. One must also keep in mind that though tuition rates may rise at different paces in different places, the greater cost and the overarching value of an education is much more than just the tuition price paid.


John Butler

[1] "Why College and University Degrees Are worth the Money." CBCnews. CBC/Radio Canada, 26 July 2016. Web. 20 Jan. 2017.

[2] “Canadian and international tuition fees by level of study.” Statistics Canada, 7 September 2016.

[3] “How much government funding do Ontario universities receive compared to universities in other parts of Canada?” Council of Ontario Universities.

[4] “Canadian and international tuition fees by level of study.” Statistics Canada, 7 September 2016.  Adjusted for inflation with information from the Canadian Consumer Price Index (CPI).

[5] “University tuition rising to record levels in Canada.” CBCnews, 11 September 2013

[6] “Quebec Students: Legitimate Strikers or self-absorbed brats?” The Globe and Mail, 4 May 2012.

Picture titled, "McGill Campus", taken by A yee on September 24, 2012, obtained through Creative Commons (