Procedure 20-4 - Records Retention Periods

Date effective: 1989-10-11

Authorized by: Secretary of the University



1. The Records retention schedule (PDF) is the main component of a records management system. The Schedule defines the processing of all records, regardless of the format and medium, from their creation to their destruction or their transfer to the Archives of the University. It also defines the academic and administrative units’ responsibilities as well as the archives’.

The schedule makes it possible to achieve several objectives outlined in Policies 105 (Storage Space) and 23 (The University of Ottawa Archives), including:
1.1 the systematic reduction of records;

1.2 the reduction of the costs associated with the physical and electronic storage of records;

1.3 increased administrative efficiency;

1.4 the identification and protection of essential University records and records having permanent value;

1.5 the identification, protection and access to records having long-term permanent value.


2. The retention rules described in this procedure apply to all records, regardless of the medium or format. They also govern records generated from databases and with the aid of software. The retention rules’ application is based on the informational content of the record rather than on its medium.


3. To gain a proper understanding of how the value of a record evolves over time, one must bear in mind the three main stages of its lifespan in accordance with the custodians of the records and their responsibilities in the application of the retention schedule.

3.1 Initially, a document is used for administrative purposes in a unit. The document is then said to be active. The unit stores the document on site or on its servers. The academic or administrative unit organizes or codes the document according to a filing system and stored it in a filing cabinet or on the server for easy and quick retrieval.

3.2 A document may subsequently lose all value and the academic or administrative unit eliminates it, or it may remain occasionally useful to the unit and maintain an administrative value. The document is then said to be semi-active. The unit removes it from the filing cabinet (to make room for active documents) and sends it to the Archives of the University of Ottawa. The Archives will store it for a period of time determined by Procedure 20-4 below and, if applicable, by the statutes and regulations governing its retention. The unit responsible can reactivate, reproduce or consult the document as needed, depending on its status. The unit is responsible for standardizing all the electronic documents into supported software approved by Computing and Communications Services, for easy updating and to enable migrations. The Archives store these records in the format in which they are received, and ensure the migration to future versions as well as updating the document to preserve access.

3.3 Finally, a semi-active document kept in the Archives of the University of Ottawa is either destroyed after the specified retention period, or stored permanently at the Archives for consultation by University administrators and researchers, since it preserves its institutional and historical value. The Archives store these records in the format in which they are received, and will ensure the migration to future versions as well as updating the document to preserve access.

3.4 In principle, 10% to 15% of the records sent to the Archives of the University, regardless of the format and medium, are stored on a permanent basis, for administrative or historical importance.

A retention schedule is an efficient and cost-effective management tool. This procedure deals only with records used by more than one unit or containing personal information that requires special handling because of its confidential nature. It provides the framework for a basic retention schedule to which further provisions may be added to accommodate records unique to each unit.

It will be noted that the schedule is in accordance with operational guidelines commonly used in all institutions where an information management system has been established.

Explanation of Entries

4. Please read the following explanations before consulting the Schedule. Documents are organized according to the following categories, in no particular order:

  1. Organization and Management
  1. External Relations
  1. Finances
  1. Teaching and Research
  1. Human Resources and Client Records
  1. Physical Resources and Equipment

To find a specific document type, users may either consult the alphabetical index at the end of the Schedule or look in the category that seems most appropriate (e.g. Annual Report would be under “Organization and Management”).

Each entry for a type of document, regardless of the medium or format, includes the following information, subdivided into original documents and copies:

  • the unit responsible for the document (URD), i.e., the unit that either created or holds the original document.
  • the retention period when its status is active or semi-active; the absence of a specific retention period (in years) in column “A” (active) or “I” (semi-active) is usually explained in the “Comments” column.
  • mention of its fate: destruction or permanent retention.

Let us consider, for example, the document entitled “Development plan” at the end of the “Organization and Management” section.

The original development plan (or its equivalent) of a unit remains active (i.e., it can be found on site) for as long as the document is in effect. Once it becomes semi-active, i.e., consulted only occasionally by the staff of the unit, it is to be sent to the Archives of the University, where it is held permanently as reference material to show the development of the unit. However, once they are no longer useful, copies that were distributed for information purposes may be destroyed by the unit and the recipients, without ever reaching the Archives. In other words, to avoid duplication, only the original is sent to the Archives by the unit that created it.

Revised August 22, 2007
(Archives of the University)
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