Where to Study: Canada vs. Australia

If you are considering studying abroad at a university or college, there is a multi-step decision process that you should go through to reach a choice on what is a very important decision for you and your family. As explained by the University of Waterloo’s Nello Angerilli, you will likely have to make the following choices:


Do You Want to Study Abroad?

Clearly there are costs and advantages to going to a foreign country to complete or start your post-secondary education. The cost in most English-speaking countries like Australia, Canada, the USA, and the UK, is about the cost of a house, say US$ 150,000 to US$ 250,000 for an undergraduate degree. The advantage is you will be studying in English (assuming you choose an English-speaking country), and will gain familiarity with the country and make acquaintances and contacts that may help you when looking for work. Plus, you will have a degree from an institution that is recognized by employers in your adopted country and elsewhere as well, depending on the school’s ranking.


What Country Would You Like to Study in?

An important fact pointed out by Angerilli, a university administrator with decades of experience in several countries, is the OECD overall ranking of a country’s education system. Countries with high overall rankings have less variation in quality of education between their top and the bottom ranked universities. That means if you don’t get into your school of choice, your second choice or even third choice will still offer a quality education. The Program for International Student Assessment or PISA tests 15-year-olds’ ability in reading, math, science and problem-solving. It can be seen as a proxy for the basic quality of a country’s educational system. In the 2012 results, Canada ranked 9th. (China produces separate rankings for the Chinese Mainland, for Hong Kong, and for Macao, and we have excluded highly-ranked Liechtenstein from the sample because of its very small size.) Australia ranked 15th just ahead of Ireland at 16th while New Zealand ranked 19th. The UK ranked 22nd while the USA came in at a disappointing 32nd with a mean PISA score slightly below the OECD average. While it is clear that, in most ranking systems, universities in the USA occupy much of the top 10, or top 20 spots, the variability in the quality of education across the large number of colleges and universities in the USA is something to be aware of. Few people get into Harvard or MIT and your 2nd and 3rd options are important in deciding which country to choose. 


Which City Do You Want to Study in?

In a country like the USA, you have an overwhelming amount of choice from Seattle to Miami, from Boston to San Diego and everywhere in between. Remember however, that you are likely looking for a safe, stable environment where you can focus on studying and achieving your post graduate goals, be it employment or further education. Or both. In countries like Canada and Australia the choice is not nearly as widespread as in the USA but cities like Toronto, Sydney, Melbourne, Montreal, or Vancouver are among the most livable cities in the world according to Economist Intelligence Unit rankings. They are also important economic centres where much of the highly paid work is to be found.


What area of study are you interested in?

Medicine? Law? Information technology? Or a General Arts degree? Perhaps Social Sciences which often means Economics. Or how about Environmental Sciences? If the latter is your choice of study then at QS Top Universities rankings you will find 3 Australian universities just outside the top 10 in Environmental Sciences: 

In Medicine the rankings place: 

If Computer Science and Information Systems is where you plan to focus your studies, then:

  • The Australian National University in Canberra (ACT) is at 17th with a 5+ stars rating while
  • The University of Toronto is close behind at 19th.
  • The University of Waterloo, with its pioneering work-study co-op program, comes in at 24th,  while
  • The University of New South Wales comes in at 29th. Both Waterloo and NSW have 5+ stars ratings in Computer Science.

Having made a decision on each of the above choices, you now have to ask yourself what university or college do I want to study? As pointed out by University of Waterloo’s Angerilli, there are several factors that go into picking a specific school for post-secondary studies: 

  • How successful are graduates in the job market after they complete their studies?
  • Can you work part-time while studying? A great way to gain experience and start or add to your resume.
  • Are you able to stay and work for at least a year or two once you have graduated? International job experience can be a plus in today’s mobile world, especially if you can work in countries like Canada or Australia, as well as of course, the USA or the UK.
  • How competitive are the entrance requirements? Is it because the university’s graduates are in high demand on the job market or is it because of government policies that constrain the size of entrants? This is the case in some Medical Schools in Canada. You want to be with the brightest and the best.
  • What scholarships are available to gifted students, should you happen to qualify? A scholarship looks good on any resume. 
  • Finally, how well does the university rank in domestic rankings? This tends to be a good indicator of the quality of teaching and student satisfaction rather than its success as a research centre as is the case in some global studies like China’s respected Academic Ranking of World Universities that focuses on hard science and research capacity more than the quality of teaching.

With all this in mind, let’s see how the top Canadian and Australian universities do in the global rankings and then dig down into how well they score in domestic surveys in each respective country. A word of caution. There is no definite ranking. Like the universities themselves, they all compete with each other and often have a distinct focus implicit in their methodology. Sometimes they seem overtly political, like the Global University Ranking, which is based in Russia and ranked Moscow State University in 5th place ahead of Harvard and Cambridge.

The acknowledged Top 3 surveys are:

  • Times Higher Education (THE) Rankings: This British survey, judges research-universities across all their core missions; teaching, research, knowledge transfer and international outlook which means in part how diverse the school is. It uses 13 performance indicators that are grouped into 5 areas; Teaching 30%; Research 30%; Citations (of Research articles) 30%; Industry income and innovation 2.5%; International outlook, staff, students, and research 7.5%. Has an academic outlook.
  • QS World University Rankings: Formerly partners with THE, they parted ways in 2009. The QS World University Rankings is reputation centred, with 50% of any ranking derived from the surveys. British based as well, they divide their surveys by subject, faculty, and geographic area, surveying universities in Asia, Latin America, and The BRIC countries as well. Assess schools in individual subject matter and places emphasis on students and employers views of the schools surveyed.
  • Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU): A China-based survey that was developed in 2003 to assess how well Chinese universities were doing against other world universities. Focuses on Research, including how many Nobel Prize winners come from any given university that were doing research while actually at the university. It also takes into consideration factors like; number of highly cited research articles as chosen by Thompson Reuters news agency; number of articles published in Nature & Science journals; number of articles in the Science Citations Index and the Social Sciences Citation Index – measures of academic research output essentially; and the Per Capita Performance of the university to balance out for size of the student body and faculty. As mentioned above, this is a good measure of hard research but is not a good index at ranking the quality of teaching in the humanities for example.

Here are the top 5 Canadian and Australian universities in each of the three above mentioned surveys. Remember, you can dig down into individual subject matter rankings in the some of these surveys to get more detail.


THE rankings: Arts & Humanities 2014-5 Top 100

ANU School of Art By Bidgee (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 au (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5/au/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons

Australian National University by Bidgee / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.5

Rank University score
15 The University of Toronto 75.6
16 Australian National University 75.2
18 The University of Sydney 72.1
19 The University of Melbourne 71.9
26 McGill University 65.2


QS World University Rankings 2015/5

Queen's College, University of Melbourne By Donaldytong (Own work) [GFDL (https://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

Queen's College, University of Melbourne by Donaldytong / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Rank University Score and QS Stars¹
20 The University of Toronto 92.4 (no stars)
21 McGill University 91.5 (no stars)
25 Australian National University 89.7 (5+ stars)
33 The University of Melbourne 86.5 (no stars)
37 University of Sydney 84.3 (no stars)

¹ A quality certification separate from the rankings.



Vancouver School of Theology at UBC By Leoboudv (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (https://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

Vancouver School of Theology by Leoboudv / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Rank University Socre National Rank
24 The University of Toronto 41.8 1
37 The University of British Columbia 35.1 2
44 The University of Melbourne 32.6 1
67 McGill University 28.3 3
74 Austrlian National University 27.4 2

What these tables show is that for hard science and research, Canadian universities seem to have an edge on their Australian counterparts but in more general surveys, like the Times Higher Education rankings for Arts & Humanities, the Australian universities take more of the top 5 spots. While the ACT, or Canberra, might not be as exciting a city as Sydney, all the above universities claim first class campuses in highly rated cities like Melbourne, Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, and Sydney and ACT of course. And all of these cities are very good places to start looking for a job when graduation ceremonies are over. And both Australia, with its Temporary Graduate visa (subclass 485), and Canada with its Post Graduate Work Permit Program (PGWPP) that can be valid up to 3 years and is a step towards gaining permanent residence through the Canadian Experience Class, (CEC) program, offer work visas and/or permits for graduates from local universities. A good thing to keep in mind when choosing where to study abroad.

Study in Canada Read Part Two



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