Best universities in Canada 2020

Find the best universities in Canada using Times Higher Education’s World University Rankings data

September 11 2019
Best universities in Canada 2018

Canada is home to some of the world’s top universities. In fact, 30 Canadian institutions are counted among the best in the world, according to Times Higher Education’s World University Rankings 2020.

You might not have heard of all of them, but with seven universities in the top 200, Canada offers plenty of opportunities for a world-class education.

Compared with the US, Canada can also provide cheaper study options, simpler application processes and more opportunities for permanent residency. 

Best universities worldwide

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Canada’s top two universities – the University of Toronto and the University of British Columbia – score particularly highly for research impact, which means that these schools produce high-quality academic work that is well-respected.

Many of Canada’s universities are renowned for promoting a global outlook by recruiting international students and faculty and encouraging international collaborations, so you can expect a cosmopolitan atmosphere on campus.

According to the Canadian Bureau for International Education’s International Student Survey, more than 90 per cent of students questioned were satisfied or very satisfied with their studies in Canada, and 95 per cent would recommend Canada as a study destination.

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Top 5 universities in Canada

1. University of Toronto

Originally controlled by the Church of England, the first university founded in the colony of “Upper Canada” is structured as a collegiate system, much like prestigious universities in the UK. The seven colleges all have distinct history and traditions.

The University of Toronto has many pioneering achievements to its name, including Canada’s first academic publishing house, the first forest science faculty in the country, and becoming the first Canadian university to reach more than C$1 billion (£586 million) in endowment.

Influential academic movements began at the university, including the Toronto School of literary criticism and communication theory, the NP-completeness theory in computer science, and research into stem cell treatment.

The University of Toronto's downtown campus contains several historic buildings and courtyards that rival Europe’s finest.

More than 700 undergraduate degrees and 200 postgraduate degrees are on offer and the university is one of the best in the world for medicine.

Notable alumni include five Canadian prime ministers and the writers Michael Ondaatje and Margaret Atwood. In total, 10 Nobel laureates are affiliated with the university.

2. University of British Columbia

The oldest university in the province, the University of British Columbia is one of the most competitive in Canada.

There are two campuses: one in Vancouver and one in Kelowna. The main campus in Vancouver is near several beaches and boasts views over the North Shore mountains. There are a number of botanical and memorial gardens on campus as well as a renowned performing arts centre.

The university offers a number of scholarships, including the Donald A. Wehrung International Student Award for candidates from war-torn countries.

Eight Nobel prizewinners are associated with the university, as are 71 Rhodes scholars and 65 Olympic medallists.

The world’s largest cyclotron – a type of particle accelerator – is housed at the university, in TRIUMF, the country’s national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics.

The university is organised into 12 faculties on the Vancouver campus and a further seven on the Kelowna campus. The university offers a special joint undergraduate programme with Sciences Po in Paris.

Three Canadian prime ministers have been educated at UBC, including current prime minister Justin Trudeau, who graduated with a bachelor of education degree.

3. McGill University

McGill University is the only Canadian institution represented in the World Economic Forum’s Global University Leaders Forum, which comprises the heads of 26 of the world’s top higher education institutions.

It was founded in 1821 and the main campus is at the base of Mount Royal in downtown Montreal. Many first-year students also live on the park-like campus.

All original buildings were constructed using local grey limestone, giving the campus a striking aesthetic.

In 1829, McGill founded the nation’s first faculty of medicine, and to this day the university scores particularly highly in world rankings for clinical subjects.

The university offers more than 300 degree subjects to more than 31,000 students from 150 countries. It counts itself as one of Canada’s most internationally diverse institutions.

Singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen and the actor William Shatner are graduates of McGill. The university also educates more Rhodes scholars than any other Canadian university.

4. McMaster University 

McMaster University is located in Hamilton, Ontario with the main campus situated on 121 hectares of land near Hamilton’s Royal Botanical Gardens.

The university is named after William McMaster, a prominent Canadian senator and banker who donated C$900,000 to found the institution.

McMaster’s medical school is world-renowned and there are also faculties of engineering, business, humanities, social sciences and science. The university places a strong emphasis on research working to target some of the most urgent needs in society, particularly in the field of health sciences. This includes research from the Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute, which turned bits of human skin into blood cells, which could help to alleviate the shortage of blood donors.

Students and faculty come from more than 90 countries and the university holds some 70 international exchange agreements with universities around the world. 

The university’s motto, chosen from Colossians 1:17, is: “All things cohere in Christ” and is unusual in that it is written in Greek instead of the traditional Latin or English. 

5. University of Montreal

The only francophone university in the top five, the University of Montreal is the second-largest university in the country in terms of student numbers, with more than 37,000 students enrolled. A quarter of all students are international.

The University of Montreal’s main campus is on the slopes of Mount Royal. The distinctive central building was built in an Art Deco style.

Seventy-four per cent of the student body is enrolled on an undergraduate degree. A students’ union represents undergraduate and postgraduate students and it has three affiliated fraternities and sororities.

University sport is popular – the teams are known as the Carabins and compete in badminton, Canadian football and hockey, among other sports.

Many renowned business leaders are graduates of the university, including Louis R. Chênevert, chief executive officer of the United Technologies Corporation. Other graduates are noted for their contributions to scientific research, including innovations in nuclear power, visual perception and quantum cryptography.

The university also boasts former prime minister Pierre Trudeau and 10 premiers of Quebec among its alumni.

Best universities in Canada 2020

Click each institution to view its full World University Rankings 2020

Canada Rank 2020 World University Rank 2020  University Province City
1  18  University of Toronto Ontario Toronto
2  34  University of British Columbia British Columbia Vancouver
3  42  McGill University Quebec Montreal
4  72  McMaster University Ontario Hamilton
5  85  University of Montreal Quebec Montreal
6  =136  University of Alberta Alberta Edmonton
7  =141  University of Ottawa Ontario Ottawa
=8  201–250  University of Calgary Alberta Calgary
=8  201–250  University of Waterloo Ontario Waterloo
=8  201–250  Western University Ontario London
=11  251–300  Dalhousie University Nova Scotia Halifax
=11  251–300  Laval University Quebec Quebec City
=11  251–300  Queen’s University Ontario Kingston
=11  251–300  Simon Fraser University British Columbia Burnaby
15  351–400  University of Manitoba Manitoba Winnipeg
=16  401–500  University of Saskatchewan Saskatchewan Saskatoon
=16  401–500  University of Victoria British Columbia Victoria
=16  401–500  York University Ontario Toronto
=16  501–600  Carleton University Ontario Ottawa
=16  501–600  University of Guelph Ontario Guelph
=16  501–600  Memorial University of Newfoundland Newfoundland and Labrador St John's 
=22  601–800  Concordia University Quebec Montreal
=22  601–800  Lakehead University Ontario Thunder Bay and Orillia
=22  601–800  Université du Québec Quebec Quebec City
=22  601–800  University of Regina Saskatchewan Regina
=22  601–800  Ryerson University Ontario Toronto
=22  601–800  Université de Sherbrooke Quebec Sherbrooke
=22  601–800  University of Windsor Ontario Windsor
29  801–1000  University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) British Columbia Prince George
30  1001+  University of Lethbridge Alberta  Lethbridge

Read more: Best universities in the United States

Reader's comments (2)

*UBC doesn't have a main campus...
Now they do. UBC system officially lists two campuses - Vancouver and Okanagan.

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