The Difference between Working at a Canadian College and a University

The Difference between Working at a Canadian College and a University

  • Thursday March 20th, 2014
  • 5,554

university facultyIf you are interested in working at an institution of higher education in Canada, you have a dizzying array of choices.

Everything from universities, to colleges, to university/colleges, to private colleges should be considered in your search.

There used to be more of a distinction between public colleges, and universities in Canada. Recently though some colleges have been given degree granting privileges, presumably so that more students can be accommodated, so those distinctions are becoming somewhat blurred.

However, there are still significant differences between college, and university working environments. Community colleges were originally established in the late 1960’s for students to earn certificates in a number of practical disciplines from instructors who had been in the field, and had hands on knowledge to share. Teaching was and is the first priority for instructors in colleges across Canada. Class sizes are small compared to university class sizes, and students have direct contact with their instructors.

So expect to be in a more intimate environment when you work on a college campus. The campuses are generally smaller in size than university campuses, and easy to get around on foot.  The administrators, faculty, and staff tend to be more likely to know each other by face if not always by name.

Universities can be intimidatingly large, with the accompanying large level of bureaucracy. With the smallest Canadian universities having a population of well over 30,000 and the largest being the size of small cities, just getting around the campus can be an adventure when you are new. People tend to know the people they work most closely with, and are in closest proximity to, something like knowing your neighbours.

The students at colleges tend to be younger in general as some students chose to attend a college first as a transition to University after high school. Universities on the other hand do tend to have a more cosmopolitan feel with older students, perhaps working on master’s degrees or PHD’s, from all over the world.

Private colleges are another category altogether. These schools are often quite small in Canada, unlike the United States, and frequently teach English as a second language or a specific skill such as animation, film, esthetician, secretarial skills, and many others. These institutions often don’t pay as well or have as many benefits as the public institutions, and are generally non-union.

It should be said however, that none of these types of schools can be stereotyped. Every individual school has its own flavour, and feeling based on where it is located, its size, the internal politics, the philosophy of the leadership, what province it’s in, and many other factors.

So, with this knowledge in mind, if you have made the decision to work at an institution of higher education, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What kind of environment do I feel most comfortable working in?
  2. Do I like small, more intimate settings or do I thrive on large stimulating settings?
  3. How far from my current home am I willing to move for an opportunity to work?
  4. How much effort am I willing to make to check out various different schools, and their environments?
  5. Am I more comfortable in a union or non-union work environment?

Answering these questions will point you in the right direction for further exploration of your employment options.


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