Higher Education in Newfoundland Pre-1925
The history of higher education in Newfoundland and Labrador prior to the
opening of Memorial University College in 1925 is that of the Council of Higher
Education (CHE). Formed in 1893 the CHE comprised nearly two dozen
representatives of the respective denominations. The CHE encouraged anyone
who wished to pursue university-level education in Canada, the United States,
or the United Kingdom. Informal agreements with universities were entered into
by the CHE. Students who decided to pursue university education had to write
the Common Examination (CE), after matriculating from Grade XI. Newfoundland's
examination was modeled on the London Common Examination, which universities
accepted as a prerequisite for admission.
||Vincent P. Burke (1878-1953), n.d.
Burke was a member of the Council of Higher Education.
Photo by Holloway. From Richard Hibbs,
ed., Who's Who in and from Newfoundland 1937, 3rd ed.
(St. John's, Newfoundland: R. Hibbs, 1937) 92.
Qualifying for admission into foreign universities was a major concern for
educators and students alike. By using an examination system that was parallel
to an already internationally accepted system, universities were able to
recognize and accept Newfoundlanders. Matriculating with Grade XI was not an
easy task on its own, and those who wanted to enroll in a university had to work
extremely hard to prepare for the CE. This was exacerbated by a teaching corps
that had few university-trained teachers. Students were advised to spend a year
preparing for the CE. An added incentive to do well on the examinations was
that the most successful students were given credit for one year of
The scope of the CHE included maintaining, as best it could, the Rhodes
Scholarship, which allowed one student from Newfoundland to enroll at Oxford
University each year. Unfortunately, in 1911 the Rhodes Scholarship Committee informed
the CHE that it was dissatisfied with the performance of Newfoundlanders at
Oxford. Canadian Rhodes Scholars had already completed two years of university
education, while Newfoundlanders had not. The CHE decided that it would be best
for the future of higher education in the colony if the first two years of
university education could be provided in Newfoundland. To accomplish that
goal, the CHE began to plan a two-year college to be operated in St. John's.
Encouraging the youth of Newfoundland and Labrador to attend university was a
calculated risk undertaken for the future benefit of the country. The risk was
that those who left might not return home, and a portion of students in fact did
not return because of a lack of well-paying employment opportunities. The
majority, however, did return to Newfoundland, and did find employment in their
fields, especially those with specialized skills, such as engineers, doctors,
©2002, Stefan Jensen
Sidebar links updated January 2011