Athabasca University

Athabasca University (Photo: Stephen Addison)

Athabasca University

Athabasca University, Canada’s Open University, is dedicated to the removal of barriers that restrict access to and success in university-level study and to increasing equality of educational opportunity for adult learners worldwide. Athabasca University provides learning for life. Through the achievements of its students, faculty and staff, AU stands out as a provider of high quality post-secondary education.


Athabasca University was established by Order in Council of the Government of Alberta on June 25, 1970. Originally conceived as a traditional campus-based institution, AU changed course in 1972 through a pilot project to test the concept of an open, distance university. The first AU course, World Ecology, was offered in 1973, and AU’s first Convocation, for two graduates, was held in 1977. The university achieved self-governing status as Alberta’s fourth public university on April 12, 1978.

By 1984, AU had outgrown its original facilities in Edmonton and, in accordance with the policy of decentralization favoured by the provincial government of the day, the university moved 145 kilometres north to the Town of Athabasca. Satellite campuses were established in Calgary, Edmonton and Fort McMurray, Alberta, to enable students to receive first-hand educational support services and to write invigilated examinations. The Fort McMurray location closed in 2000.

During the 1980s, in keeping with its mandate to explore new ways of delivering post-secondary education to students anywhere, any time, AU pioneered the use of computers to deliver online courses. AU’s Executive MBA program, the world’s first online EMBA, was introduced by AU’s Centre for Innovative Management in 1994.

Today, AU is one of the world’s foremost and fastest growing online and distance education institutions, serving over 37,000 students worldwide.

The University

  • AU serves over 37,000 students (over 7,300 full-load equivalents).
  • AU offers over 700 courses in more than 90 undergraduate and graduate programs in a range of arts, science and professional disciplines.
  • AU has a $118 million annual operating budget.
  • AU employs over 1,200 faculty and staff members on four Alberta, Canada, campuses located in Athabasca, St. Albert, Edmonton and Calgary.
  • AU maintains over 350 collaborative agreements with other Canadian and international post-secondary institutions, with professional associations and employer groups and with First Nations institutions and communities.

Our Students

  • AU students come from every Canadian province and territory and 84 countries worldwide.
  • The average undergraduate is 29; the average graduate student, 37.
  • 81 per cent work while they study.
  • 67 per cent are women.
  • 63 per cent of program students study year round, balancing their studies with other commitments.
  • 63 per cent of graduates support dependents.
  • 74 per cent of graduates are the first in their family to earn a university degree.


AU is committed to excellence in research and scholarship. Through the discovery, dissemination and transfer of new knowledge and the engagement of students at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, the university integrates research with creative teaching, thereby informing the curriculum and providing opportunities for highly qualified graduates to promote innovation and to participate more fully in society.

Mission critical research in the scholarship of teaching and learning in open and distance environments is the primary focus of AU’s research activity; however, the university also actively supports and maintains high standards in discipline-based research. As a university with a growing graduate student population, now over 3,000 strong, AU ensures that the research and publication records of academic staff members are comparable to those of staff at other public universities in Canada.

AU is home to the Canadian Institute of Distance Education Research (CIDER) which publishes the International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, an open-access, online, peer-reviewed e-journal. Three additional innovative research institutes are under development:

  • The Athabasca River Basin Research Institute aspires to become an innovative interdisciplinary research centre that will exclusively study the Athabasca River Basin, Alberta’s largest river basin, from a broad range of perspectives.
  • The Technology Enhanced Learning Research Institute will create knowledge and foster innovation in the use of digital technologies to support learning.
  • The Centre of Excellence in Project Management will initiate and strengthen cutting-edge, multi-disciplinary research in project management, enabling project management scholars, organizations and practitioners to work together to address the significant challenges confronting project managers and project organizations.

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