CICan 50 Anniversay Logo


Since our formation in 1972, we have established ourselves as a valuable partner to federal departments and other national organizations in delivering nation-wide international, education, research, and skills development projects. This has helped us emphasize the priorities identified by our members and successfully secure funding and support for colleges, institutes, and their learners over the years.

In 1972, the Canada’s college system was new and not well known. Our earliest advocacy efforts were focused on raising awareness about our members, the college and institute system, and the unique contributions they were making. Our initial mandate included liaising between colleges, institutes, and related organizations, and we immediately set about the task.1 By 1979, the Kellogg Foundation in the United States, which had provided us with our initial operating grant, officially recognized CICan as “the national leader for the community college movement in Canada.”2

Beginning in 1980, we began to advocate for increased funding, both for CICan and our member institutions, to empower colleges and institutes to adapt to, integrate, and lead the emergence of modern technologies in the education sector, and to prepare technically literate graduates for participation in a rapidly changing workforce. To that end, we formed close partnerships with industry and government through our work with Sector Councils. This served a vital advocacy function, as we could regularly demonstrate how colleges and institutes could meet the workforce training needs of industry and the federal government. This also ensured that colleges and institutes were at the front line of the changing labour market and could rapidly implement new innovations or requirements in training programs.

These efforts paid off. We noted a shift in our relationships with senior federal decision makers in the 1990s, when we began to receive invitations to appear at Standing Committees, rather than requesting them. Federal ministers began to solicit expertise from the college sector. In the same decade, we increased our focus on the role that colleges and institutes could play in delivering programs to meet the needs of the federal government.3 To capitalize on our momentum as a respected and active advocacy organization, our Board of Directors voted to relocate our Secretariat offices from Toronto to Ottawa in 1992. The move to Ottawa was the physical representation of our commitment to be a national vocal advocate on behalf of colleges and institutes to senior federal decision makers and other national organizations.

Since then, we have continued to tackle the priority issues of our members and we have established ourselves as a valuable delivery partner to key departments such as Employment and Social Development Canada, Innovation, Science, and Economic Development Canada, Environment Canada, Health Canada, Natural Resources Canada, Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada, Global Affairs Canada, and others. Our past and present partnerships, projects, and advocacy wins – from applied research funding to our work with Sector Councils to current projects like Planning for Canada – are the outcomes of our 50-year effort to understand the priorities of our members, listen to the issues that government and industry leaders identify, and demonstrate how colleges and institutes are a key part of the solutions.

Supporting Our Members Through National Leadership

While postsecondary education falls under provincial and territorial jurisdiction, colleges and institutes are still directly impacted by national and federal decisions, events, and shifts. It has always been our role to stand alongside our members during those moments to ensure they were not left behind, or that they had access to the necessary support to fully take advantage of new opportunities.

One notable example was the introduction of the Canadian Jobs Strategy Framework in 1985. This policy signalled the federal government’s intent to redirect funding for training workers away from the colleges and into privatized industry, through on-the-job training programs. Unlike the late 1960s and 1970s, where there had been substantial amounts of government money available for education, colleges could no longer rely on “funding for the sake of education”. While our members acknowledged that they had to become more entrepreneurial to compete with private sector training agencies for funds to deliver training programs, this was a significant challenge that tested their ability to adapt4. As their voice in Ottawa, we presented the concerns of our members to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Employment and Immigration in 1987 in a long and dynamic meeting and ultimately our efforts did contribute to improved language in the strategy. More importantly, this demonstrated the adaptability and tenacity of colleges and institutes, who immediately began to pursue innovative opportunities for learners.

A similar issue arose in the early 2000s, when provinces began encouraging post-secondary institutions to recruit international students. This required significant coordination and socialization with the federal level, and with Citizenship and Immigration Canada in particular, as they handle border entry and study permit policy. Through initiatives such as the Student Partnership Program, which we helped pilot in India before it became permanent as the Student Direct Study Program and for more countries, we were able to both support the needs of our members while also alleviating some of the burden on the federal government in assessing visa applications. Our work helped to position colleges and institutes, and Canada as a whole, as a destination of choice for international students, leading to a phenomenal uptake in international enrolments. Over 120 000 international learners studied at Canadian colleges or institutes in 2018-2019, nearly double what it was just three years prior, in 2015-2016.

We have also consistently represented our members in long-standing priority areas such as copyright law. We advocated on behalf our members when changes to the Copyright Act led to increased costs for members and students in 1988. In 2010, we successfully petitioned government to improve the language in the Copyright Modernization Act. We testified at the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC), in support of the Alberta Board of Education on accessibility and copyrighted-works in instructional contexts and, in 2012, the SCC delivered a landslide ruling in our favour. Copyright and access to affordable learning materials remain a key priority for our members and we are continuing to ensure that colleges and institutes have an active voice in this ongoing dialogue. We demonstrated this most recently in the 2021 York vs. Access Copyright case, where we again presented arguments to the SCC in support of the educational community, leading to a favourable ruling in July 2021.

Key Advocacy Files

Applied Research

From the beginning, colleges and institutes have been leaders in training workers for the labour market of tomorrow. Colleges and institutes have demonstrated their adaptability and responsiveness to changing economic and technological environments by developing partnerships with industry and providing innovative experiential learning opportunities for their students. Our mission at CICan has always been to highlight these successes to senior decision makers and ensure that colleges have the resources required to continue supporting students. While CICan has successfully influenced public policy formation on a vast array of topics, CICan’s work in highlighting the applied research activities of colleges and institutes to secure additional funding is one of our most notable accomplishments.

Apart from a small amount of limited funding available from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), colleges and institutes were initially excluded from funding eligibility with the major federal granting bodies, such as the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). For a long time, federal research funding was earmarked almost exclusively for universities. This did not stop colleges and institutes from taking part in applied research activities long before federal funding became available. In 1986 and 1987, our flagship publication, COLLEGE CANADA, was already focusing on the vital relationships between colleges and local industry partners, and the value that these applied research initiatives provided to their communities, to students, and to industry. In a CICan-sponsored survey in 1988, respondents submitted 286 proposals for research projects and 88% of respondents expressed a desire to pursue these projects.5 It would still take several years and significant efforts before they could access formalized funding for applied research.

While we advocated for research funding for the colleges, we organized college tours for ministers and deputy ministers to witness first-hand ongoing applied research projects in areas such as renewable resources, technology, and business. We also formalized Science and Technology as a key advocacy priority in 1987. As a result, in the 1992-1993 fiscal year, Industry Canada tapped us to administer a $25 million, 4-year Canada Scholars in Technology scholarship program for outstanding students who demonstrated potential in the technology sector, with a particular focus on increasing the presence of women.

We remained committed to securing funding for the innovative research occurring within the college sector and we were ultimately successful. We experienced a momentous win in 1997. The Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) was launched that April by the Tri-Council funding agencies and Industry Canada, boasting $800 million in funding and a five-year mandate. As a direct result of our active and committed advocacy, colleges and institutes were included as eligible institutions for the first time. We continued to lobby the federal government for additional funding specifically for our members and, in the 2002-2003 fiscal year, a pilot project with NSERC was announced, which allowed colleges and institutes to apply directly for research grants for the first time. Our success with the federal funding bodies continued in 2008, with the formation of the Tri-Council College and Community Innovation (CCI) Program. As a result of the CCI program, which is administered by NSERC, the number of institutions eligible for NSERC funding increased from only 13 in 2005-06 to 108 in 2014-15.6 In 2019-2020 alone, CICan members entered into over 8,000 partnerships to produce more than 5,500 prototypes, products, processes, and services.


Our long-standing commitment to green infrastructure, environmentalism, and sustainability has always been strengthened by close relationships with employers and industry partners. Throughout the years, our members have rapidly responded to emerging trends and technologies, whether by introducing new skills training programs or by conducting innovative research on green technologies.

We established environmental initiatives as a key advocacy priority in the 1990s. In 1992, we launched an Environmental Task Group, with over 60 member representatives, to explore the environmental projects and policies undertaken by various levels of governments, colleges, and institutes. This consultation led to our Green Guide, published in 1992-1993, which showcased diverse initiatives taken by different colleges and institutes across the country. Our efforts also extended beyond the college system. We co-sponsored the “World Congress for Education and Communication on Environment and Development” in 1991, an international venture where educators, the private sector, governments, and environmentalists could collaborate on environment and development issues and resources. In 1992-1993, we formalized their commitment to environmentally conscious and sustainable initiatives with the creation of the ACCC Environmental policy, which was an extension of the ACCC Mission Statement. This embedded environmental considerations into all our future development of programs, curricula, and other initiatives.

Our advocacy efforts to secure funding for applied research in the 1990s also served the dual function of supporting environmental awareness and innovation in college-based research. By 2014-2015, colleges and institutes identified 583 research partners in social innovation research, with the greatest proportion of partnerships in environmental awareness and planning.7 By 2017-2018, 49% of colleges and institutes conducted research into clean technologies and utilities.

Alongside our commitment to environmentalism and supporting a greener workforce, we are also a vocal and active proponent of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and a proud signatory of the SDG Accord. This has been the basis of our recent ImpAct initiatives, as well as the creation of new internship opportunities, such as our Clean Tech and natural resource internships, which were permanently embedded in our Career Launcher program in 2017-18.

Indigenous Education

Since over 86% of all Indigenous peoples in Canada live within 50km of a college or institute, our members have always played a critical role in building relationships and responding to the needs of their local Indigenous communities. From Annual Conference workshops in the 1970s to editorial op-eds in CICan’s College Canada publication in the 1980s to our pivotal Indigenous Education Protocol, we have supported our members in their ongoing connections with Indigenous learners by bringing their concerns and priorities to federal decision makers and supporting their reconciliation efforts.

In 1992, we formed a Task Group on the Relationships of Colleges and Institutes with Indian, Inuit, and Metis Communities, establishing this as a key advocacy priority. The Group submitted a brief to the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples the following year, detailing the extensive damages done to Indigenous communities as a direct result of colonialism, it proposed collaborative partnerships between Indigenous communities and colleges and institutes, and clearly warned politicians and college leaders about the traps and impacts of institutionalized racism in Canada.

As our members continued to develop programs and work with their Indigenous partners, we paralleled their efforts by advocating for increased funding from the federal government so that Indigenous learners could more easily access post-secondary education. We submitted multiple briefs, proposals, and concept papers to the federal government on the needs of Indigenous learners. In October 2006, we hosted our first Indigenous Education symposium at Burns Lake, bringing together Elders, Chiefs, Council Members, industry partners, and government representatives to discuss the unique needs of Indigenous learners. We published a report in 2010 that led to funding in 2011 from Indian and Northern Affairs Canada for us to conduct in-depth case studies of how colleges and institutes were serving their local Indigenous communities.

In 2013, we formed our Indigenous Education Advisory Committee, who launched a series of consultations with our members and Indigenous partners, resulting in our ambitious Indigenous Education Protocol for Colleges and Institutes, in 2014. This important document acknowledges the unique cultures, histories, languages, and perspectives of Indigenous peoples and emphasizes the value of Indigenous ways of knowing. The protocol is founded on seven principles that aim to guide institutions who sign this aspirational document. To date, 67 colleges and institutes are signatories of the protocol.

Our advocacy efforts on behalf of Indigenous learners have never stopped. Since 2014, we have hosted multiple symposia exploring the needs of Indigenous learners, participated in federal consultations on Indigenous employment, access to post-secondary learning, and organized federally funded roundtables and panels. The federal government responded with increases to the Indigenous Post-Secondary Support Program in the 2017 and 2019 federal budgets. However, we acknowledge that we are still in early days of our journey in Truth and Reconciliation. We remain steadfast in our commitment to support our Indigenous partners and learners, we pledge to continue to learn and listen to Indigenous peoples, and we stand in solidarity with Indigenous communities as they continue to experience the painful legacies of colonization. Truth and reconciliation is a top priority for CICan and we are committed to this journey in all that we do.