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

6. Ontario professions: Registration regulations

This section discusses the registration regulations for Ontario's professions and the degree of flexibility the regulations allow for meeting academic requirements.

Legal constraints on the professions

Ontario's regulated professions operate within the constraints imposed by their statutes, regulations and bylaws. Professions can propose changes to any of these official documents, but the amendment process can be long and cumbersome. Changes to statutes and regulations must be approved by the Ontario government. Changes to bylaws must be approved by the profession's membership.

These approval processes help ensure that changes are carefully considered. However, they can also limit the regulators' flexibility in responding to new challenges, such as the increasing number of internationally educated applicants.

Academic requirements and registration regulations

Typically, professions describe their academic requirements in registration regulations.

Some consider that taking a flexible approach to academic requirements is incompatible with their registration regulations.

However, many professions have relied on flexible interpretations of terms like "equivalent academic qualifications" to introduce acceptable alternatives for assessing or developing professional competencies. Others prefer to go through the amendment process and embed new approaches within their registration regulations.

The regulations or other official documents typically state that an applicant must have:

  • a) a degree from an accredited or approved program or
  • b) academic qualifications that are "equivalent" or "substantially equivalent" to those named in clause (a).

Some professions' regulations include a third clause that:

  • allows the applicant to demonstrate a combination of education, training and experience that is considered "equivalent" to the academic requirement or
  • names an alternative assessment process for demonstrating equivalency

The variations in this third clause reflect a growing recognition among regulators that professional competencies can be developed in a variety of ways, and not only through formal academic study.

Alternative credentials

The bar for recognizing alternative academic credentials is high:

  • 10 health and 8 non-health professions require an "equivalent" program or credential.26
  • Only four professions use terminology such as "substantially equivalent," "substantially similar," or "not substantially different."27
  • 2 professions require certification by a national body that assesses academic qualifications, specifies what the applicant must do to address any identified gaps, and verifies successful completion of these requirements.28
  • The paralegal profession does not recognize any alternatives to an accredited program.29
  • 5 health professions accept a program that their council or registration committee has approved or considers acceptable.30
  • 4 health and 4 non-health professions define or list acceptable programs within their registration regulations.31

The wording of most registration regulations continues to emphasize credentials, rather than competencies. This can translate into a focus on program format and hours, rather than content and skills development. The regulations for pharmacists and pharmacy technicians are unique in specifying their acceptance of a program approved by their council as "one whose graduates should possess knowledge, skill and judgment at least equal to those of current graduates of an [accredited] program."32

Competencies developed outside a formal academic program

Despite the continued emphasis on academic programs and credentials, registration regulations frequently allow for acceptable alternatives for meeting academic requirements. These acceptable alternatives involve recognition of competencies developed through complementary training and/or work experience.

As noted earlier, some regulators take a flexible approach to interpreting clauses about "equivalent" or "substantially equivalent qualifications." Others embed clauses that describe the specific approach to recognizing competencies developed outside a formal academic program.

A full 20 professions use language that allows for a more holistic assessment of knowledge and skills:

  • 4 health and 5 non-health professions recognize applicants who have a relevant credential and can also show additional education, training or experience that together meet the academic requirement.33
  • 5 health professions refer to the use of competency assessments or exams.34
  • 2 non-health professions name an alternative syllabus or certification program that can be used to develop and demonstrate competencies.35
  • 2 health and 2 non-health professions use the flexible language of "alternative qualifications."36

Professions requiring graduate-level education are the least flexible about recognizing competencies developed outside of formal academic education.

Exemptions

An academic program is still the normal route to developing professional competencies. Registration regulations may allow applicants to demonstrate a combination of education and experience that is considered equivalent to the academic requirement, but they rarely allow for exemptions from the requirement to have completed an academic program.

Accounting bodies are more flexible than most professions, since they require both an undergraduate academic education and a program of professional training offered by the regulator. Applicants can complete required academic credits either during or after their undergraduate degree, and develop core competencies through their professional program. As a result:

  • The Certified Management Accountants of Ontario and the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Ontario offer exemptions from academic requirements on the basis of relevant work experience.
  • Allaccounting regulatory bodies may grant full or partial exemptions from education requirements for applicants who are members in good standing of an accounting body in another jurisdiction.
  • [Correction: These points contain corrected information about exemptions in the accounting professions.]

Only two health regulators — for physiotherapy and respiratory therapy — offer exemptions. These exemptions are offered only in extremely limited circumstances, where the applicant was previously licensed or registered in either the same or a different province.


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Notes and references

  • 26. Health professions: Audiologists and Speech-Language Pathologists, Chiropractors, Dental Technologists, Denturists, Dietitians, Massage Therapists, Medical Radiation Technologists, Nurses, Occupational Therapists, Opticians. Non-health: Early Childhood Educators, Engineering Technicians and Technologists, Engineers, Geoscientists, Land Surveyors, Management Accountants, Social Service Workers, Social Workers.
  • 27. Dental Hygienists, Optometrists, Physiotherapists, Teachers.
  • 28. Architects, Lawyers.
  • 29. When the paralegal profession was first regulated in 2007, the Ministry of the Attorney General insisted on requiring successful completion of an approved paralegal program in Ontario.
  • 30. Chiropodists, Medical Laboratory Technologists, Pharmacists, Pharmacy Technicians, Respiratory Therapists.
  • 31. Health: Dental Surgeons, Midwives, Physicians, Psychologists. Non-health: Chartered Accountants, Foresters, General Accountants, Veterinarians.
  • 32. O. Reg. 202/94, s. 6(1) and 16(1) pursuant to the Pharmacy Act, 1991, S.O. 1991, c. 36.
  • 33. Health: Dental Technologists, Medical Laboratory Technologists, Nurses, Optometrists. Non-health: Early Childhood Educators, Geoscientists, Land Surveyors, Social Service Workers, Social Workers.
  • 34. Dietitians, Opticians, Pharmacists, Pharmacy Technicians, Respiratory Therapists.
  • 35. Architects, Lawyers.
  • 36. Health: Massage Therapists, Midwives. Non-health: Engineers, Teachers.

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...