We gathered information from professors, alumni and the universities themselves to describe some of the strengths and weaknesses of almost 60 universities in Canada. The National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) informed coverage of the type of undergraduate education. But, most importantly, we spoke to real-life students about the good and bad of their university experience.
See profiles of universities in other regions by clicking on the links:
University of British Columbia
Research powerhouse by the beach
Pro: World-class research opportunities
Con: Academic competitiveness and snobbery
Huge UBC is making genuine efforts to improve the undergraduate education experience. The innovative Co-ordinated Arts and Arts One/Science One programs offer alternatives to 350-student lectures, the Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative is improving science teaching, and UBC has achieved one of the lowest professor-to-student ratios in Canada. Its reputation for extreme academic competition (bordering on snobbery) persists and it’s still possible to feel lost among 47,000 undergrads, but nearly 90 per cent of students get involved in a club or other campus activity by fourth year. Plus, Wreck Beach (clothing optional) is within walking distance.
Hotshot prof: Marcello Veiga, a leading mining engineer, is known on campus for his musical lectures.
Notable alumnus: Rumana Monzur recently defended her master’s thesis just two years after being blinded in a horrific attack in Bangladesh that drew international condemnation.
Students say: “Though the size of the school can initially be intimidating, it’s easy for everyone to find a niche.”
- Farah Adamali, fourth year nutritional sciences
Educating performing artists
Pro: BC’s cheapest university
Con: Recent budget cuts to fine arts and computer science
Capilano was founded by education idealists who were too radical even for the leftist bastion at Simon Fraser University in the 1960s. Since then, the compact campus nestled on a mountain in sleepy North Vancouver has shaken off any overt political leanings and developed notable programs in jazz performance, musical theatre and film studies. Students note that with no residence or pub, this commuter campus becomes a ghost town on weekends.
Hotshot prof: Lars Kaario, choral studies instructor, has performed for the Dalai Lama with his internationally touring choir Laudate Singers.
Notable alumnus: Musical theatre actress Elicia MacKenzie won the CBC show How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria? in 2008.
Emily Carr University of Art + Design
Leader in fine arts
Pro: First-rate artists as professors
Con: No distinct campus feel
While co-op placements for artists are rare at most universities, Emily Carr students enjoy opportunities such as curating at local museums and designing at BlackBerry and Facebook. Ninety-two per cent of graduates from the past 15 years are employed. Students complain that Emily Carr’s location on touristy Granville Island lacks its own distinct character, but all that will change when the university moves to a new $134-million campus in 2016.
Hotshot prof: The renowned painter Landon Mackenzie was featured in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
Notable alumnus: Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby were nominated for an Academy Award in 2012 for their animated short film, Wild Life.
Students say: “You will not get a foot in the door after graduation if you rely solely on your classroom education.”
– Christine Novosel, second-year design
University of the Fraser Valley
Bargain tuition, small classes
Pro: Cheap tuition
Con: Limited research opportunities
Since UFV became a full university in 2008, it has maintained strong vocational programs (90 per cent of its apprenticeship graduates find related employment) and the benefits of studying at a college, such as easy access to faculty and an average first-year class size of 32 students. Some research opportunities exist. For example, Lenore Newman, Canada Research Chair in Food Security and Environment, conducts important research into the impact of climate change on food security, a fitting issue to probe at a university situated in some of the most productive farmland in the country.
Hotshot prof: Horticulture professor Tom Baumann’s research involves inventing the perfect strawberry.