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Why study a PhD in Canada?

In the past, Canada has lived in the shadow of the US as the North American destination of choice for prospective PhD students worldwide, but the country's universities are now emerging as an increasingly attractive option for those who want to reduce costs without compromising the quality of their graduate education.

With highly developed systems of graduate programs and world-class universities, reasonably priced tuition fees and cost of living, and strict quality-control of its PhD programs, all located in one of the most open and enjoyable countries in the world, Canada could well be your first choice too.

Canada's universities and graduate schools are very outward facing and open to receiving international students, yet many of these institutions are not overwhelmed with students from outside of the country. In the last ten years Canada has become an increasingly popular choice for international students wishing to study at the graduate level, but numbers have yet to exceed 75,000 throughout the country.


Along with other top Canadian universities, McGill University in Montreal is an established destination for top graduate students worldwide. Isabelle Daoust, director of recruitment and retention at the university, says McGill is home to more than 6,000 international students, who make up nearly 19% of the university's student population. ?At the graduate level, close to 2,000 international students are registered in various programs and they make up nearly 21% of the graduate student population. We hope and expect to see a consistent growth in international graduate students over the next decade,? she says.

Daoust believes that although academic renown is a major factor behind the increased influx of students from abroad in recent years, the dynamic and multicultural environment of major Canadian cities such as Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver plays an equally important role. ?I believe that international students who pursue their studies in Montreal have an exceptional cultural experience since Montreal is, with Boston, among the cities with the most students, and that includes international students,? she says. ?The city is vibrant, French and English intertwine, and the fact that there are four universities in Montreal make for an exceptional living experience.?

Like the UK's Russell Group and Australia's Group of Eight, Canada has its own group of leading universities known as the Group of Thirteen (G13). These institutions are among the most research-intensive in the country and specialize in offering joint research programs. G13 institutions are:

  • University of Alberta
  • University of British Columbia
  • University of Calgary
  • Dalhousie University
  • Laval University
  • McGill University
  • McMaster University
  • University of Montréal
  • University of Ottawa
  • Queen's University
  • University of Toronto
  • University of Waterloo
  • University of Western Ontario

A range of other Canadian universities are equally well known and offer taught and research programs across a broad range of academic subject areas.

A Canadian PhD

Like the UK, a Doctoral or PhD degree in Canada requires the successful completion of original research and the defense of a thesis that makes a substantial contribution to the advancement of knowledge in a student's chosen field of study. The doctoral degree usually requires two or three years of full-time residency, although a longer period of directed research and writing is often required to complete the doctoral thesis.

Quality assurance

As one of the largest systems of higher education in the world, Canada has an extremely robust quality assurance and accreditation process ensuring that degree-level studies are recognized internationally.

Most Canadian institutions subscribe to the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada principles of institutional quality assurance. Adherence to these principles is renewed every five years. Within the Canadian structure, universities also have to be in compliance with provincial or regional authorities for quality assurance, thus creating a double guarantee for students. All institutions and programs subscribe to a regular cycle of reviews by the appropriate authority. These tend to be peer-led and involve an element of self-evaluation and external review by subject experts. The results are made public for the sake of transparency.

Funding and graduate scholarships

Graduate scholarships are available to offset some of the costs of studying in Canada. The best source of funds tends to be individual universities and colleges, many of whom offer a range of different scholarships that cover tuition costs or living expenses and sometimes both.

Many awards are based solely on academic merit and therefore financial aid is not taken into account through the application process. The Canadian government also offers a range of awards for graduate students, as do a large number of individual universities. A free service coordinates most scholarships and is available at www.scholarshipscanada.com.

A number of scholarships that offer funds to cover tuition fees and living expenses are administered by the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada.

Work abroad

All international graduate students are given permission to work while studying full time. In order to be eligible for the program, foreign students must have a valid study permit and have studied full time at an eligible public, postsecondary institution for at least six months of the 12 months preceding their application. Institutions must sign an agreement with the province or territory in which they are located in order to participate in the program.


Reproduced by kind permission of QS World Grad School Tour.

The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of FindAPhD.

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