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Academic Requirements and Acceptable Alternatives:
Challenges and Opportunities for the Regulated Professions in Ontario

Message from the Commissioner

I am pleased to present the study, Academic Requirements and Acceptable Alternatives: Challenges and Opportunities for the Regulated Professions in Ontario.

The purpose of the research was twofold: to compile information about the academic requirements that Ontario regulatory bodies demand and to describe the alternatives they are willing to consider when they judge someone's application.

The requirements are sometimes quite rigid and the alternatives hard to get, costly, or unsustainable.

Mostly, of course, this affects people who are internationally educated — the very highly skilled people Ontario so urgently needs. They grapple with a licensing system that undervalues their international qualifications and underrates their overseas experience.

I call on regulatory bodies to be more flexible in their assessments and to boost the alternatives they accept.

Regulators and government officials both have a responsibility to act in the public interest, to find acceptable alternatives to this waste of human resources.

Ad-hoc innovation is not enough. Our collective future depends on long-term vision and a commitment to immigrant success.

I hope this study draws attention to this compelling topic.


Hon. Jean Augustine, PC, CM
Fairness Commissioner
November 15, 2013

Executive summary

Internationally educated people often struggle to meet the academic requirements for licensing in a regulated profession in Ontario. This study, Academic Requirements and Acceptable Alternatives: Challenges and Opportunities for the Regulated Professions in Ontario, examines fair-access issues related to those requirements. It focuses principally on 38 professions under the mandate of Ontario's Office of the Fairness Commissioner. The study presents these professions' standard academic requirements, discusses their flexibility in recognizing "acceptable alternatives" to these requirements, and examines fair-access issues for those alternatives.

The challenge for internationally educated professionals

Canada's immigrants often arrive with high levels of education and may have been licensed to practise a profession. But they often find it challenging to become licensed here.

In some cases, the challenge lies with differences in requirements: applicants who practised their profession with an undergraduate degree in their home country may need a graduate degree to practise here. In other cases, applicants have difficulty showing the equivalence of their education.

National and provincial governments, and many regulatory bodies, have worked to bring increased flexibility to the licensing process for the regulated professions. Their efforts have included improvements to the recognition of international credentials, and innovations in competency-based assessment and training.

Increasingly, regulatory bodies are identifying acceptable alternatives for meeting the academic requirements to become licensed. These include alternative ways for applicants to develop competencies and alternative ways in which these competencies can be demonstrated or assessed.

Acceptable alternatives in Ontario professions

The professions' academic requirements vary, from college diplomas, to general BAs, to post-graduate academic or professional degrees.

Almost all professions have a mechanism for accepting alternatives to their standard academic requirements.

Five types of acceptable alternatives that are available in various professions include:

  • paper-based assessment of education and experience (available for 10 professions)
  • direct assessment of knowledge and skills (e.g., exams) (16 professions)
  • self-paced learning (20 professions)
  • bridging programs (13 professions)
  • advanced standing in academic or professional degree programs (at least 5 professions)

Each type of alternative can help improve applicants' access to licensing, and each also presents challenges. For example, time commitments and costs vary widely, and are often extremely significant.

Some alternatives also face sustainability challenges, due to uncertain or project-based funding.

Nationally, there is a significant correlation between the accessibility of acceptable alternatives and reduced disadvantage for internationally educated professionals.

Conclusions and recommendations

Acceptable alternatives bring new flexibility to the licensing process, but they do not remove all barriers for internationally educated professionals.

Regulators must still ensure that academic requirements are relevant and necessary to the practice of the profession. Acceptable alternatives must be developed with careful attention to accessibility, affordability and sustainability.

Educational institutions and governments are key partners in sustaining acceptable alternatives and maximizing their fair-access contributions. For lasting impact, programming that helps internationally educated professionals to bridge competency gaps must be better integrated into the core work of post-secondary education. And governments must commit ongoing funding and support participants with adequate financial aid.

The Office of the Fairness Commissioner makes 11 recommendations to regulatory bodies, educational institutions, and government.

1. Introduction

Poor returns on immigrants' education

Today's immigrants in Canada are more highly educated than ever before. However, these immigrants are seeing poor returns on the educational investments they made before coming to Canada. Over the past three decades, the earnings of Canada's immigrants have steadily declined compared to the earnings of their Canadian-born counterparts.1

Better ways to recognize credentials and skills

Response to the decline has focused on finding better ways to recognize international qualifications, especially for people educated in a regulated profession. As a result:

  • Professions' regulators and credential-assessment agencies have worked hard to identify and implement promising practices in the assessing of academic credentials from other countries.
  • Federal and provincial governments have provided new funding to help develop competency assessments and bridge training programs.

These initiatives have helped to expand the focus of assessment from applicants' paper credentials to their actual competencies, and to introduce new and flexible alternatives for developing and recognizing the required competencies.

Changes in Ontario

Ontario's Office of the Fairness Commissioner (OFC) was created through the passing of fair-access legislation in 2006.2 Since 2007, it has been tracking changes made by many of Ontario's regulated professions. Between 2007 and 2012, 13 Ontario professions introduced changes with regards to acceptable alternatives that applicants can use to meet the requirements for licensing in those professions. These changes included:

  • introducing provisional and restricted licences to help internationally educated applicants meet work-experience requirements
  • recognizing competency assessments and bridge training programs as acceptable alternatives for meeting academic requirements

However, for the most part, the requirements themselves have not changed. It is a basic principle of self-regulation that the profession itself establishes the registration requirements that are considered necessary to ensure safe and competent practice of the profession.

Therefore, the OFC cannot directly mandate changes to licensing requirements.

However, the OFC can:

  • call on a profession to critically analyze the necessity and relevance of its requirements
  • use the OFC assessment process to recommend strategies that regulators can use to ensure that their requirements and assessment methods are transparent, objective, impartial and fair

Purpose of this study

This study explores licensing challenges that internationally educated applicants continue to face in meeting academic requirements for licensing in Ontario. In particular, it analyzes the effectiveness of initiatives designed to accommodate differences in educational training received outside of Canada. These "acceptable alternatives" include alternative ways to acquire professional competencies and alternative ways in which these competencies can be demonstrated or assessed.

The study focuses on the following questions:

  • What kinds of acceptable alternatives exist for meeting formal academic requirements?
  • What challenges limit the success of these alternatives? How can these be overcome?

This focus addresses an important gap in the research literature, where there has been little systematic analysis of acceptable alternatives for meeting academic requirements. The study offers a brief review of the existing research literature on this subject, but focuses mainly on an in-depth analysis of reports and information that regulators have submitted to the OFC.

Many acceptable alternatives are relatively new. Regulators and education-providers have much to learn from each other, regarding the strengths and limitations of different approaches they have taken. At the same time, federal and provincial governments can also learn from these experiences with acceptable alternatives, to better target their funding and to ensure the sustainability of fair-access interventions.

The analysis that follows seeks to contribute to continuous improvement in the designing and implementing of acceptable alternatives for meeting licensing requirements. The analysis will pay particular attention to the alternatives' accessibility, affordability, efficiency and effectiveness.


This study is organized in the following sections:

  • Section 2 offers a brief review of relevant background information and research literature on the undervaluing of international qualifications, both in Canada and around the world.
  • Section 3 discusses the methods and sources used for this study.
  • Sections 4 through 8 present the study's analysis:
    • Section 4 introduces the policy context and regulatory framework that shape challenges and opportunities related to academic requirements for licensing and acceptable alternatives for meeting those requirements, among regulated professions in Ontario.
    • Section 5 documents the standard academic requirements of 38 regulated professions in Ontario that are under the mandate of the OFC, and the processes for accrediting or approving programs that meet those requirements.
    • Section 6 discusses the registration regulations for these professions and the degree of flexibility the regulations allow for meeting academic requirements.
    • Section 7 describes approaches for using acceptable alternatives to meet academic requirements. It examines five common types of acceptable alternatives and their availability and fair-access implications in the Ontario professions under the OFC's mandate.
    • Section 8 explores the positive correlation between the availability of acceptable alternatives and improved access to the professions.
  • Section 9 presents conclusions.
  • Section 10 provides the OFC's recommendations to regulators, educational institutions, and government.
  • The Glossary of terms defines terms and abbreviations used in this study.

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Notes and references

Academic Requirements and Acceptable Alternatives:
Challenges and Opportunities for the Regulated Professions in Ontario

Exemplary Practices

The OFC gathers regulatory bodies' exemplary licensing practices so that they may learn from one another. Exemplary practices about academic requirements and acceptable alternatives are listed below.

  1. Accepting and supporting diverse applicants

    This practice acknowledges a diversity of midwifery...

  2. Clarifying documentation requirements and acceptable alternatives

    This practice will be of interest to regulators seeking...

  3. Communicating acceptable alternatives for applicants with non-accredited education

    This practice offers a visual map of pathways to registration...

  4. Communicating acceptable alternatives for meeting certification requirements

    This practice allows applicants to better understand...