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

9. Conclusions


Internationally educated applicants face a number of challenges when trying to meet academic requirements for licensing in Ontario.

In some cases, these challenges may relate to the fact that applicants require more education to become licensed in Ontario than they did in their country of training. In others, the greater challenge lies in demonstrating the required "equivalency" or "substantial equivalency" in academic background.

Ensuring requirements are necessary and relevant

Ontario's fair-access legislation has established the principle that all requirements for licensing must be relevant and necessary to the practice of the profession. And Canadian labour-mobility legislation has obliged professions to work towards a national consensus on requirements, contributing to healthy national debate about the relevance and necessity of requirements that have historically varied across provinces and territories.

Such debate and exploration are also needed at the international level. For example:

  • Negotiating mutual recognition agreements can encourage thoughtful consideration of the relevance and necessity of registration requirements, by placing them in an international perspective.
  • Professions may also benefit from involving international experts in a third-party review of the relevance and necessity of requirements. The value of such reviews has already been shown through experiences in evaluating academic programs.

Accommodating differences through alternatives and competency assessment

Globally, full harmonization of standards remains a distant goal. Considerable variation exists among jurisdictions both in the resourcing of educational systems and the technological contexts of professional practice.

As a result, Canada will continue to receive skilled immigrants who need bridging support in order to practise safely and effectively in a new professional environment.

At the same time, differences in knowledge and skills must be assessed — not assumed. Competency-based assessment has an important role to play in distinguishing between those applicants who already have the required knowledge and skill — however developed — and those with competency gaps. A focus on competency also supports the design of learning opportunities that allow applicants to bridge gaps in the most streamlined way possible.

Fair-access legislation has established the principle that competencies are more important than credentials, and that applicants should be made aware of any "acceptable alternatives" for meeting licensing requirements. The evidence suggests that acceptable alternatives can make the licensing process more flexible and contribute to improved employment outcomes for internationally educated professionals. However, care must be taken to ensure that such alternatives remain accessible, timely and effective in helping applicants to become licensed.

Ensuring sustainability and accessibility of acceptable alternatives

Post-secondary institutions are heavily involved in the delivery of self-paced learning, bridging programs, and advanced-standing programs.

To ensure the sustainability of these options and improve their accessibility:

  • Post-secondary institutions must better integrate the options into the institutions' regular activity.
  • The Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities must provide financial and institutional support.

These changes would foster more consistent coverage and quality across the full range of regulated professions. To date, the development of opportunities to close educational gaps has been led by people in a variety of organizational contexts who were passionate about integrating internationally educated individuals within a specific profession. A more systematic approach would help to ensure that high-quality opportunities are available in all professions.

Further, post-secondary institutions also need to make academic programs more flexible:

  • Access to individual courses must be improved. Programs could open direct access to individual courses. Or, they could offer access to individual courses through a bridging program that blends courses tailored to the particular needs of internationally educated participants with opportunities to interact with Canadian students.
  • Advanced-standing spaces must be planned for and reserved.

Resourcing foreign-qualification-recognition

Yet bridging and other alternatives are not a cure-all. They must not be used to compensate for gaps in the ability of assessors to recognize the real competencies of applicants.

Continued investment is needed in initiatives that help regulators and national bodies ensure that foreign qualifications can be recognized in an efficient and timely way. Such initiatives could focus on credential assessment, competency assessment, or both.

Only these investments and initiatives can minimize the deterioration of professional competency caused by prolonged periods away from practice — a deterioration that all too often makes a temporary career interruption into a permanent one.

Providing federal and provincial funding

Both federal and provincial governments have an important role to play in providing resources for foreign-qualification-recognition and for bridging programs. Significant financial investments have already been made, but observers have questioned whether momentum can be maintained, given the project-based approach to funding.51

Federally, the Foreign Credential Recognition Program (FCRP) is the main source of funding for assessment tools and processes. The federal government's latest progress report on foreign-credential-recognition states that the FCRP funded initiatives worth $120 million up to the end of 2011.52 Funding tends to cover the cost of developing a new approach to assessment, but not the ongoing expenses for delivering that new approach.

Provincially, the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration has tended to take the lead role in funding bridge training. From 2003 to 2011, the Ontario government invested $240 million in bridging projects. In 2012, Ontario bridging investment was projected at $57 million, co-funded by the provincial and federal governments.53

However, Ontario's Premier has stated concern about the sustainability of bridging programs, in light of proposed changes to federal funding for skills training. Federal funding to the province under the current labour-market agreement may fall significantly in April 2014, with the implementation of the Canada Job Grant, a new grant program to be funded equally by Ottawa, the provinces and the private sector.54

Project-based funding often results in a downloading of costs to applicants, for assessments, exams and bridging programs. The benefits of acceptable alternatives cannot be achieved if the alternatives are too expensive. Internationally educated applicants often face significant financial barriers, and have limited access to financial aid. Regulatory stakeholders and education providers can and should make affordability an important consideration in the design of acceptable alternatives, but government also needs to play a role in enhancing access to financial aid.

Investing in the public interest

Canada cannot afford not to invest in finding solutions to the undervaluing of immigrant education. A 2011 Royal Bank of Canada report estimates a total loss of $30.7 billion in potential immigrant earnings, equivalent to 2.1% of GDP in 2006.55

Behind these numbers lies an uncounted human cost: men and women frustrated by shattered dreams, children growing up in poverty, communities searching for professional services informed by their own language and cultural experience.

Both government and regulatory stakeholders have a responsibility to act in the public interest, to find acceptable alternatives to this waste of human resources. They must continue to collaborate to improve and sustain assessment processes and learning opportunities that allow internationally educated individuals to make their full contributions — to their profession and to the public.

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Notes and references

  • 51. Guo, S. and H. Shan. (2013). "Canada." Case study about good practices and recommendations regarding recognition of foreign qualifications. In Schuster, A., M. Vincenza Desiderio, and G. Urso (Eds.), Recognition of Qualifications and Competences of Migrants (Brussels: International Organization for Migration), pp. 229–253.
  • 52. Foreign Credential Referral Office (FCRO), Citizenship and Immigration Canada. (2012). Strengthening Canada's Economy — Government of Canada Progress Report 2011 on Foreign Credential Recognition. Retrieved from
  • 53. Ontario Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration. (2012). Helping Skilled Newcomers Find Jobs. Press release, June 25, 2012.
  • 54. Benzie, R. (2013, July 26). "Premiers to Ottawa: Fix Jobs Program." Toronto Star, p. A10.
  • 55. RBC Economics. (2011, December). "Immigrant Labour Market Outcomes in Canada: The Benefits of Addressing Wage and Employment Gaps." Retrieved from

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...