Open and Distance Universities in Canada

FAQ about Open and Distance Universities in Canada

Q: Why should every Canadian student know about Open and Distance universities?

A: Because they are an easy way to get into university without a high school diploma! Or, if you’re already in university, they can offer you a wider selection of courses.

Q: Are these programs that don’t require a high school diploma just for “drop outs”?

A: No, absolutely not! These programs also provide university access to:

  • those who live in remote areas and can’t or decide not to travel to a Canadian university
  • alternatively-educated students (alternative school students, homeschoolers, child actors/athletes, travellers) who chose a unique high school experience or who chose to focus on other interests/occupations during high school and never earned a high school diploma
  • gifted, accelerated or high-achieving students who decided to “skip” high school and go straight to university-level studies
  • normal high school students who realized that they could complete their university studies in a more flexible, efficient way and avoid all the admissions drama
  • current university students who want or need extra courses or more flexible offerings

Q: What if I want a traditional university experience or a program not offered by distance?

A: Many students enroll in distance/open universities for a year or two, then transfer to other institutions. That means that without a high school diploma, you can study for as little as one year then apply to transfer into the university and program of your choice.

Open and Distance universities are method of access to the Canadian university system for all those who want a chance to prove themselves, no matter what their educational background is or what pieces of paper they might be missing.

In fact, at the time of writing this, there was a case being made (Academic Transformation: The Forces Reshaping Higher Education in Ontario) for the need for, among other post-secondary reforms, an Open University in Ontario to deal with the increasing student population and remove barriers to access. Open universities are an appreciated and necessary component of a successful post-secondary education system.

There are several reasons to consider taking courses at a distance university in Canada. Canadian distance universities offer access and flexibility. Take advantage of the chance to complete an extra class during the summer, during a co-op placement, during a semester off or even while still in high school. Enjoy a richer course selection than your home university has to offer. Or, choose the ultimate in cost savings and flexibility and earn your entire degree right from the convenience of your own home!

And choosing a distance university with an open admissions policy means that you can enrol even if you don’t have a traditional educational background. Open universities do not require any formal education or credentials in order to be admitted and allow mature students, homeschoolers and those who chose to leave high school before earning a diploma equal, open access to a university education.

Different Types of Open and Distance Universities


Universities with no formal admission criteria and undergraduate degree programs can be completed by distance (usually online).

Athabasca University – An extensive selection of distance education courses leading to several undergraduate (and several graduate) degrees and an open admission process makes this Alberta university a popular choice for any Canadian student: mature students without a high school diploma, homeschoolers, accelerated gifted students, adults going back to school later in life, high school students wanting to earn university credits while still in high school. At Athabasca, you can complete the following undergraduate degrees entirely online:

  • Bachelor of Arts
  • Bachelor of Commerce
  • Bachelor of General Studies
  • Bachelor of Health Administration
  • Bachelor of Human Resources and Labour Relations
  • Bachelor of Management
  • Bachelor of Nursing
  • Bachelor of Professional Arts
  • Bachelor of Science

Thompson Rivers University – Similar to Athabasca, TRU in BC appeals to a broad range of students and has a wide selection of undergraduate degrees available with an open admission policy:

  • Bachelor of Arts
  • Bachelor of Science
  • Bachelor of Business Studies
  • Bachelor of Commerce
  • Bachelor of Technology
  • Bachelor of Science
  • Bachelor of Health Science
  • Bachelor of Tourism Management

In addition, TRU offers a “head start” program for BC secondary school students as well as a large number of certificates and non-credit study options.


The Canadian Virtual University-Université Virtuelle Canadienne (CVU-UVC) consortium was founded in 2000 as an association of Canadian universities specializing in online and distance education. Partnering universities had agreements to allow students to easily take courses from any institution. Now that the e-learning landscape has changed and CVU-UVC’s original purpose has been accomplished, CVU-UVC was discontinued in 2019.

CVU member universities offering distance education included the following:

British Columbia University Consortium

Thompson Rivers University Open Learning (TRU-OL) has agreements to offer, in addition to their own distance courses, distance courses from

  • Simon Fraser University (SFU)
  • the University of Victoria (UVic) and
  • the University of British Columbia (UBC)

without requiring separate admission to the member universities.

Royal Roads University (RRU) and the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) are also members of the University Consortium. Their courses, however, are not available for registration through TRU-OL and these schools must be contacted individually in order to take their courses as part of a TRU-OL undergraduate degree.

Alberta University Consortium

Previously organized under the umbrella of eCampusAlberta, the consortium is no longer centralized as of 2017. The eCampusAlberta communication about it stated that, “With online learning well established in Alberta, it is time for eCampusAlberta to pass the baton back to its founding members where high-quality online learning will continue to flourish.” It also indicated that, “A subsequent discussion will take place amongst Alberta post-secondary institutions that wish to consider a continuation of specific service offerings.” Meanwhile, you may find distance course options directly through the universities that were members of the eCampusAlberta consortium.


Although Athabasca University and Thompson Rivers University offer entire degree programs, many students choose to take advantage of their open admission policy simply in order to get into university and start their academic careers.

Then, after at least one full year of successful undergraduate study, students may apply to transfer to any other university in Canada (not just a CVU member) as a university transfer student. A transfer student may also be eligible for transfer credit or advanced standing at the new university. Transfer policies are set individually at every university, so you should check with the university you’d like to attend to confirm their policies for admission and receiving transfer credit.

Even if you are offered admission without any credit for your prior year of study at Athabasca or TRU, you have successfully gained admission to a Canadian university without a high school diploma!

University of Guelph – In addition to the CVU member universities, the University of Guelph in Ontario also offers a distance Open Learning program. Guelph’s Open Learning program enables learners around the world to take degree-credit distance education courses for personal enrichment, professional development, or eventual application to a traditional Degree Program at Guelph with no formal admission requirements. Success in Guelph’s Open Learning program is a way to seamlessly transition into a degree program at Guelph. While Guelph has an extensive selection of course offerings via distance education, they do not explicitly state that an undergraduate degree can be earned entirely online. Students may be required to take some on-campus classes or transfer to another distance institution to complete their degree requirements.


Universities typically requiring you to satisfy normal admission requirements, but who offer an extensive selection of courses or entire undergraduate degrees via distance education. Note that even if an entire degree cannot be earned online, often with a Letter of Permission from the university, students can use a small number of courses from other institutions to complete their degree requirements.

Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia offers an undergraduate degree program by distance in Social Work. They also offer university diploma and certificate programs as well as some graduate level degrees.

Lakehead University in Ontario offers undergraduate degrees available completely online through distance study including a Bachelor of Arts (general study) and Bachelor of Science in Nursing (Post-RN) for registered nurses. They also offer select graduate degrees at the master’s and doctorate levels.

Laurentian University in Ontario offers a selection of online and distance courses. CVU member school.

Memorial University in Newfoundland offers undergraduate degree programs entirely through distance including a Bachelor of Arts (only English and Police Studies majors can be completed entirely online), Bachelor of Business Administration, Bachelor of Maritime Studies, Bachelor of Nursing (post RN) and a Bachelor of Technology. Masters level degrees in Education, Nursing and Social Work are also available.

Mount Allison University in New Brunswick offers a good selection of courses via correspondance. It does not appear that an entire degree can be earned via distance. Students must meet regular university admission requirements.

Nipissing University offers a Bachelor of Commerce degree entirely by distance education. CVU member school.

Queen’s University in Ontario has an extensive list of courses and programs available through online learning and students may complete a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science degree entirely through Continuing and Distance Studies (CDS) in a number of subjects. Students who cannot attend day classes may earn their degree by combining Queen’s courses with distance education courses taken through other universities on a Letter of Permission. Admission requirements are the same as Queen’s general admission requirements.

Royal Roads University in British Columbia offers an online Bachelor of Arts in International Hotel Management, Justice Studies, and Professional Communication as well as an online Bachelor of Commerce in Entrepreneurial (Hotel and Tourism) Management and an online Bachelor of Science in Environmental Management. Online M.A., M.B.A. and M.Sc. programs are also available, as well as online Certificates and Diplomas.

Ryerson University in Ontario has a significant offering of online courses and undergraduate certificates that may, in some situations, be transfered towards an undergraduate degree at Ryerson University. Admission requirements are the same as Ryerson’s general admission requirements.

University of Manitoba offers a Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Social Work completely by distance education. They also offer 140 distance education courses from a variety of Arts and Science faculties.

University of Ottawa in Ontario offers a variety of online undergraduate courses, but no mention is made as to whether an undergraduate degree can be earned entirely via distance.

University of Waterloo in Ontario offers over 240 online courses in over 40 subject areas leading to a Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science and even graduate degrees available entirely via distance education. Admissions requirements are the same as regular attendance degree programs.

University of Western Ontario offers a wide range of courses via distance. As of 2010, some Arts degrees with majors/minors in select humanities and social sciences areas of study are available. Admissions requirements are the same as regular attendance degree programs.

University of Victoria in British Columbia offers a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) by distance education. Note: entrance to the program requires the equivalent of two years of undergraduate study. Transfer credit from another university is acceptable, so you could begin undergraduate study at an open, distance university, then apply for admission to the BSW delivered via distance, and complete this program entirely by distance.

Wilfred Laurier University in Ontario offers an extensive range of undergraduate online courses. You can apply to Laurier’s distance education program directly from OUAC (subject to the same requirements as traditional attendees), although their website is unclear as to whether an entire degree can be earned by distance.

York University in Ontario offers distance courses towards undergraduate degrees through the Atkinson Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies. This faculty offers Bachelors degrees in Arts, Administrative Studies, Human Resource Management and Social Work, although their website is unclear about whether these degrees can be earned entirely online. They do offer an extensive range of online courses.


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