This document is a code of good practice and is an integral part of the Pan-Canadian Quality Assurance Framework for the Assessment of International Academic Credentials (QAF). It is largely based on:
- the General Guiding Principles for Good Practice in the Assessment of Foreign Credentials produced by the provincial academic credential assessment services supported by the Canadian Information Centre for International Credentials (CICIC);
- the Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications concerning Higher Education in the European Region 1997 — commonly known as the Lisbon Recognition Convention (LRC) — and its Revised Recommendation on Criteria and Procedures for the Assessment of Foreign Qualifications, adopted in 2010 by the LRC Committee;
- the 2019 Global Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications concerning Higher Education (Global Convention); and
- the Digital Student Data & Recognition White Paper for the ENIC-NARIC Networks.
The QAF recognizes the importance of technological advances and new partnership models to facilitate trusted and official exchange of data and documents. In particular, there has been a growing prevalence of technological capacity, data exchange standards, and academic-document-issuing entities. This context requires an evolution of the fundamental principles and practices that support international academic credential assessment methodologies. Digitized documents, and the growing access to digital data, present opportunities to update assessment policies, principles, and practices for international students. Formal recognition of alternative methodologies for inbound and outbound exchange of official documents, credentials, and assessment reports represents a defining consideration for the QAF.
The emergence of the 2019 Global Convention, which was adopted at the 40th Session of the General Conference of UNESCO, serves as an overarching principled framework to coordinate the regional conventions, such as the LRC. The Global Convention identifies the value of substantial difference and a focus on learning outcomes, and considers these components to be important factors when forming comprehensive assessment policy and practice. The QAF amplifies the importance of these components.
Because the General Guiding Principles for Good Practice are responses to the globalization of markets, the technological advances in the fields of document and data exchange, the emergence of the Global Convention, and the increasing mobility of the labour force, they recognize the importance of linking the principles adopted in Canada to the good practice models developed elsewhere in the world.
In Canada, the provinces and territories have exclusive jurisdiction over education, and education systems vary from one province or territory to another. Given the inherent diversity of Canada's education systems, the QAF recognizes:
- the need to promote fair, credible, and concerted methods for assessing international academic credentials;
- the role of competent recognition authorities or bodies (e.g., professional regulatory bodies, professional associations, elementary/secondary school boards or districts, postsecondary educational institutions, employers) in making recognition decisions on the assessment of academic credentials issued outside Canada, based on a specific purpose (e.g., further education, licensure, employment, immigration);
- the role of assessment services (e.g., members of the Alliance of Credential Evaluation Services of Canada, Pan-Canadian hubs or alliances of professional regulatory bodies, Alliances of postsecondary educational institutions or regional admission application centres) in providing assessment reports that outline expert, non-binding opinions on the assessment of academic credentials issued outside Canada. These reports are then used by competent recognition authorities in Canada that require assistance with document authentication and comparability procedures, to assist in making recognition decisions;
- that assessment services and competent recognition bodies maintain broad autonomy in recognizing academic credentials in accordance with their respective legislated autonomy and policies, as well as their given roles/mandates, within each of the provinces and territories in Canada;
- the need to promote consistency and the portability of assessments prepared by organizations involved in assessment and recognition.;
- the benefits that Canada accrues from collaborative efforts to examine issues associated with the assessment of international academic credentials;
- the importance of acknowledging the supporting role provided by document-issuing providers that issue digitized documents or data on behalf of academic credential-issuing organizations; and
- trusted and formal exchange of data and documents may occur entirely or partially with physical document and/or digitized ones, while observing increasing infrastructural and operational technology changes. Consequently, the terms “document” and “documentation” are inclusive of all types of data formats, whether physical or digital, using various methods of transmission.
All of the organizations that adhere to the QAF subscribe to the following 64 principles and recommendations:
- Assessment must be performed without discrimination because of age, ancestry, colour, citizenship, disability, family status, gender, gender identity, marital status, place of origin, political beliefs, religion, sexual orientation, or source of income.
- Assessors must be free from conflicts of interest, and excuse themselves from cases where there is a possible appearance of conflict of interest.
- Upon request, holders of international academic credentials must have adequate access to academic credential assessment services.
- The procedures and criteria used in the assessment of international academic credentials must be part of a quality assurance process in which the methodology aims to make assessment procedures consistent, clear, rational, and reliable to ensure that all applicants receive a fair treatment.
- Procedures for the assessment of international academic credentials must be periodically reviewed with a view to increasing clarity and eliminating, as much as possible, any requirement resulting in undue complications in the procedure.
- The general approach to dealing with international academic credentials and comparing them to a particular system must consider the diversity of educational traditions in different countries.
- Assessment methodology should be evidence-informed and flexible, while adhering to the foundational principles within the QAF.
- The criteria used to assess international academic credentials have been formulated with the purpose of ensuring greater consistency of assessment outcomes across Canada. It is acknowledged that some variability in decisions or opinions must be expected and that these may vary depending on the provincial or territorial system of education, as well as the institution type involved.
- Assessment must be performed with consideration of alternate delivery methods for official documents beyond solely requiring receipt directly from the educational provider.
- Assessment decision outcomes should prioritize establishing substantial difference as a rationale for declining comparability, as opposed to relying on substantial equivalence.
- The assessing organization should consider the opportunity to assess alternative credentials such as micro-credentials, where appropriate and applicable, to advance access to education and the labour market.
- The procedures for the receipt and assessment of international credentials must be expanded to include adoption and reliance on official trusted data or document exchange providers, digitized documents, and officially sanctioned universal wallets. Such procedures must respect, and support local decisions made by recognized institutions and government assessment policies.
- Assessment practice and operations should consider the rights of the individual as embedded in privacy and data protection regulations, including but not limited to, the right to be forgotten.
- The assessment of an international academic credential must:
- situate the academic credential within the framework of the education system of origin, to take into account its relative place and function compared to other academic credentials of the system in which it was issued;
- identify, in the host provincial or territorial education systems, the level and type of academic credential that is most comparable to the international academic credential, and take into account the purpose for which the assessment is requested; and
- determine, where applicable, the level of comparability between an academic credential issued in Canada and an international academic credential, with a view to possible recognition of the latter.
- Where appropriate, current assessments should consider the outcomes (i.e., decisions or opinions) of prior assessments within an organization to ensure consistency in recognition practice; however, these outcomes should be regularly reviewed or reconsidered when new information and evidence become available that validate evolution of practice. Both the historical approach and the new, revised approach should be recorded in an inventory in order to guide continuity of practice and quality assurance.
- The outcomes of assessing organizations should be based on the information available to them at the time the assessment is performed. Further, new information may result in the modification of these outcomes. The precedent outcomes and guidelines should be routinely reviewed, including exploring and adopting opportunities to adjust practices towards a focus on learning outcomes. Such reviews should be conducted in light of the new methods for presenting achievements and related information as a result of digitization and technological advances, to ensure currency, accuracy, and forward-thinking.
- The time normally required to process applications for assessment must be specified, and every effort must be made to produce an assessment within that time period. Time is counted from the moment when all the necessary documentation has been provided by the applicant and by the educational institutions. If there is a delay (e.g., document authentication), the assessing organization:
- must inform affected applicants of the reason for the delay and of the length of time required to complete the assessments;
- may enact other internal policies.
- The assessing organization must provide clear, current, accurate, comprehensive, and publicly accessible information regarding the procedures and requirements for the assessment of international academic credentials. Information must be provided in advance to all applicants and to individuals responsible for making preliminary inquiries about academic credential assessment, and must indicate, in particular:
- the documentation to be provided and the requirements regarding the authentication and translation of documents;
- the mode of submission, required content, and format of required documents;
- the documentation that may, or will, be shared with other organizations, retained by the assessment service, or returned to the applicant;
- the steps in the assessment process the applicant can undertake from outside of Canada;
- the specific role of professional associations, regulatory bodies, and educational institutions in the assessment and recognition processes;
- the scope of the assessment notice or assessment report, in particular where admission to an educational institution or access to a profession or trade is concerned;
- the anticipated time required for the assessment process;
- the cost of the assessment; and
- the procedure for appealing decisions or reviewing opinions.
- The assessing organization should provide alternate modes of delivery for learners to submit documents that recognize technology advances and the growing emergence of document-issuing providers and universal wallets. These options must be clearly and accurately communicated.
- The assessing organization should accept receipt of documents using the channels provided by the issuing organization (at minimum, accept the human-readable document type), regardless of the method of transmission (e.g., mail, fax, email, trusted digital exchange network or wallet), as long as these channels have been confirmed by the issuing organization as a trusted method. Further to this obligation, and in order to support digital document exchange, the assessing organization should provide an email address to international applicants and/or seek to become a formal receiving organization for particular document channels.
- The assessing organization, applicant, document issuing organization (e.g., educational institution, trusted digital exchange network or wallet, other organization that conferred the academic credential), and any other organization involved in the process share responsibility for providing information.
- The document-issuing provider must support the applicant by providing the documents required for assessment purposes on behalf of the issuing organization.
- The assessing organization must provide the applicant with complete information regarding its requirements for academic credential assessment.
- The assessing organization must maintain or have access to a bank of information on education systems.
- The applicant is responsible for providing the documents and information required by the assessment service.
- The academic credential-issuing organizations that conferred the academic credential are the official entities responsible for providing official information about academic credentials earned, and any other information (e.g., course content, program structure).
- Fees charged to those who apply for the assessment of international academic credentials must be kept to a minimum, and ensure cost recovery in order to ensure sustainability of the support framework.
- To the greatest extent possible, in keeping with self-sovereignty principles for student data exchanges and digitization, the storage and transmission of credentials (e.g., current badges, diplomas, degrees, micro-credentials) and assessment outcomes or report by the assessing organization should enable full learner agency, ownership, and control, which is often interpreted as free or cost recovery.
- To the greatest extent possible, special arrangements should be made for individuals with limited incomes and for other disadvantaged groups so that no one will be prevented from applying for assessment of their international academic credential because of the cost involved.
- Where possible, assessments should rely primarily on documents in the language in which they are issued by an educational institution or other issuing organization.
- Translation procedures should be clear and consider the limitations of mode of delivery, in that translation procedures cannot always be provided with the official documents when these are sent directly from an educational institution or issuing organization, through an official document-issuing provider or within a virtual wallet.
- Subject to the usual practices, requirements, and directives of the assessing organization, the translation of only essential documents issued in a language other than one of Canada's two official languages should be required. Such translations should be entrusted to certified or legally authorized translators.
- Official documents, including the titles of international academic credentials, must be provided in the language in which they were issued.
- For verification purposes, official documents issued and received directly from the educational institutions—or through their designated official document-issuing organization or government authority, as applicable—will be preferred. If official documents cannot be used, original documents or copies which may be verified on-line may also be accepted. The type of document used for verification must be clearly indicated on the assessment report.
- In the case of assessments prepared for regulatory purposes, academic documents that indicate failed or unsuccessful completion of an academic year or program, if accepted, will normally not be factored into or affect the assessment outcome. However, failed or unsuccessful completion of an academic year or program may be considered in the case of assessments prepared for the admission to postsecondary study purposes.
- The assessing organization must have an established process to authenticate documents. All submitted documents, and the source and delivery mechanism for documents, must be examined to make sure they are authentic, have not been falsified, and are not fraudulent.
- Submission of a document that is confirmed to be fraudulent or falsified following verification with the issuing organization or jurisdictional authority will normally result in a refusal to complete the assessment process. Documents deemed to be fraudulent, or falsified in any way, should be retained by the assessing organization and the organization should enact other internal policies (e.g., communicate with the applicant on document authenticity concerns prior to as well as after determining final outcomes in respect of due process), while respecting legally binding provisions in provincial, territorial, federal and international legal frameworks (e.g., privacy and personal information protection, and exchange of electronic data legislation).
- In cases where it is difficult to obtain an answer from the relevant authorities, the assessing organization may determine whether to accept or reject documents whose authenticity is not proven. In such cases, the organization must document the grounds for accepting or refusing the documents, including precedents, document analysis techniques, or other grounds.
- In cases where documents submitted for assessment are detected as being fraudulent or altered after an assessment report has been issued, the organization should retrieve and rescind the assessment report and enact other internal policies.
The assessment outcome must not be disadvantaged by the document delivery organization or online wallet used, if one of them is considered to be the official document delivery mechanism by the source institution. Such documents must be accepted as official.
Status of institutions and programs
- In view of the wide diversity of educational institutions, the status of an academic credential must be established and take into account the status of the program of study and institution where the academic credential was earned. Normally, the assessment process involves confirming the recognition status of the educational institution as one that has been formally approved by competent authorities within a country or that is widely accepted by other institutions or organizations inside and/or outside the country.
- Academic credentials result from studies completed at educational institutions, other organizations, or both. In each instance, the recognition of the credential and the underlying program of study should demonstrate a direct tie to the quality assurance program approval process and/or framework within a province/state or country. The assessment process should include methodologies to verify and confirm the quality assurance and recognition of the academic credential.
- In case the recognition of an educational institution does not guarantee recognition of all the academic credentials issued by that institution, an academic credential will only be assessed if the program of study is recognized by a competent authority.
Purpose/outcome of the assessment
- Since the same data and criteria are used to establish the level of each academic credential, the assessment outcome for a specific academic credential must be consistent with other relevant assessment results.
- While the same basic methodology must be applied in all assessment procedures, the assessment of international academic credentials may take into account the purpose for which recognition is sought. The assessment report should clearly indicate the purpose for which the academic credential has been assessed and/or any restrictions on the report's use.
- The assessment outcome of an international academic credential may take one of the following forms:
- a written report and/or structured data:
- containing a comparative assessment of the academic credential prepared by an assessment service, a regulatory body, or an educational institution;
- containing a comparative assessment of the academic credential for general employment purposes delivered to the applicant and, if requested by the applicant, to a third party;
- to an educational institution or one of its divisions (e.g., faculty, department), pursuant to an agreement with the institution and for the purposes of admission to its programs;
- to a regulatory body, pursuant to an agreement with that body, that will use this advice as the first step in its review of applications for licensing/registration/certification that authorize the practice of a trade or occupation;
- a formal communication to an applicant containing:
- admission and/or transfer credit assessment results prepared by a postsecondary institution;
- licensing/registration/certification results prepared by a regulatory body.
- In the case of advice issued for educational institutions or their divisions and for regulatory bodies, a written statement containing a comparative assessment of the academic credential should be sent to the applicant, with a view to enhancing quality assurance and transparency.
Level of study
- Assessment of a particular academic credential must be based entirely on analysis of the normal entry and completion requirements for that academic credential. The assessment outcome must not be influenced by the applicant's prior studies.
- Assessment of a particular academic credential must be based on the entry and completion requirements in effect at the time the academic credential was completed.
- International academic credentials at the same level obtained in different programs may not be added together to constitute an academic credential at a higher level of study.
- Assessment must be based on the examination of the academic credentials presented for assessment and must not cite the prior completion of other academic credentials if those prerequisite academic credentials are not submitted for assessment, or if it is not necessary to mention them.
- A variety of criteria must be applied to determine the level and type of a program of study, including, but not limited to:
- entrance requirements (e.g., what are the normal requirements for admission to the program? What is the level of study required in the country of origin?);
- full-time duration of the program (e.g., what is the normal duration of the program when a person studies full time?);
- structure of the program (e.g., how is the program structured? What type of program is it, such as apprenticeship, vocational, academic?);
- content of the program (e.g., in what discipline? What courses? How many hours of studies?);
- end purpose of the academic credential in the country of origin (e.g., for what purpose was the program taken? To obtain the right to practise a specific trade or profession, or as a prerequisite for further studies?);
- bridges to traditional academic credentials (e.g., to what other programs does this academic credential provide access in the country of origin?);
- status of the teaching institution and/or program of studies.
- In keeping with UNESCO Conventions' principles, assessments should prioritize a focus on establishing demonstrable achievement of learning outcomes, with a lack of comparability to be confirmed when substantial difference is established. The purpose of the assessment needs to be clearly stated in order to ensure a focused appreciation for the basis of comparability. Over-reliance on establishing substantial equivalence based on inputs—such as number of credits taken—should be discouraged.
Duration of the program of study
- One academic year of study, as recognized by the official designated authority in the country of origin, should not entitle the applicant to more than one academic year of recognition. However, this year-to-year comparison may be overruled by other factors, such as learning outcomes or the structure and content of the program of study.
Requests for review or appeals
- Upon request, the assessing organization must inform the candidate of the factors on which its outcome is based, of the review or appeal procedures available to the candidate, and of the applicable deadlines. The procedures should be progressive and provide for more than one level of decision making—they ultimately prevent the assessing organization from being both judge and jury by providing a right to lodge an appeal with an external, independent group or, where applicable, with an ombudsman.
Alternative Assessment procedures
- As per obligations under Article VII of the LRC and Global Convention, assessing organizations must establish alternative academic credential assessment procedures to allow persons who, because they find themselves to be in a refugee-like situation, are unable to provide verified documentation of their academic credentials or studies. These situations include cases where personal and/or institutional files have been fully or partly destroyed, or where the issuing organization no longer exists.
- The assessing organizations should provide appropriate training to their staff to build understanding and the cultural competence necessary to develop and carry out appropriate policies and procedures.
- The assessing organization must provide clear, current, accurate, comprehensive, and publicly accessible information regarding its alternative procedures for those lacking documentation, in a similar manner to those requirements in article 29 above. It must be provided in advance to all applicants and to individuals responsible for making preliminary inquiries about alternative procedures for academic credential assessment and must indicate, in particular:
- alternative types of documentation to be provided and the requirements regarding translation of documents;
- the mode of submission, required content, and format of required documents, if applicable;
- what documentation may or will be shared with other organizations, retained by the assessing organization, or returned to the applicant;
- the steps in the assessment process the applicant can undertake from outside of Canada;
- the specific role of professional associations, regulatory bodies, and educational institutions in the alternative assessment and recognition processes;
- the scope of the alternative assessment outcome or report, in particular where admission to an educational institution, or access to a profession or trade is concerned;
- the anticipated time required for the alternative assessment process;
- the cost of the alternative assessment;
- the procedure for appealing or reviewing outcomes; and
- which organization is officially designated as the document-issuing provider.
- The assessing organization will take measures to determine whether an applicant's circumstances warrant an alternative assessment procedure. This determination shall be based on information collected from reliable public sources, as well as the individual applying for recognition of their academic credential. Such evidence can include:
- documentation of official refugee status
- public information documenting the applicant's situation (e.g., news articles)
- written testimony from the applicant and other persons familiar with the circumstances
- The assessing organization must document their rationale, based on the evidence above, regarding whether an applicant is eligible for the alternative assessment procedure.
- The assessing organization will establish no unreasonable restrictions to such eligibility.
- If the grounds for alternative procedures are deemed insufficient, the applicant will be invited to apply for the standard assessment procedure.
- The assessing organization should seek to establish whether applicants are likely to hold the academic credential or to have completed the studies they claim. Applicants will be granted an opportunity to submit any documentation they might have in support of their claim, such as:
The assessing organization should make use of any available, and reliable, written or online sources. These sources may be supplemented by targeted information collection through interviews, examinations, or other appropriate means. These documents should demonstrate that the applicant is likely to have obtained the academic credential they claim, that they are likely to have been enrolled in a given institution or study program giving rise to the academic credential, or they should help establish their identity. The assessing organization should also accept information collected about inadequately documented academic credential carried out in other countries by competent recognition authorities, in order to avoid repetition of information gathering that has already been undertaken under satisfactory conditions elsewhere.
- original documents (certificate, diploma, partial or complete transcript)
- copies of the above
- public lists of graduates or other evidence of enrolment or completion
- evidence of admittance to state examinations
- sworn statements before a legal authority
- written testimonials from other parties (e.g., fellow students, professors, institution officials)
- statements of professional standing, professional licence to practice, or professional registration requiring the academic credential in question
- statement from employer confirming credential
- prior educational documents (e.g., secondary school diploma)
- academic credentials obtained by the applicant in other countries
- Where the assessing organization has the capacity to accept and review documents in the original language, requirements for official translations may be waived.
- The types of documents used for the assessment must be clearly indicated on the assessment report.
- The assessing organization may attempt to verify documentation presented by the applicant; however, given the potential for harm to applicants and/or their family members in some circumstances, the assessing organization must always have the express written consent of the applicant before any contact is made with issuing institutions in the country from which an applicant has fled.
Types of alternative assessment
- The assessing organization can take one or more of the following approaches to providing an alternative assessment, depending on the particular circumstances:
- Country Profile/Comparability Statement
A country profile of the education system of the issuing institution is provided, along with a comparison of the claimed credential with one offered in Canada. Such a country profile would be suitable in cases where there is no independent verification of the applicant's study pathway.
- Background Paper
An assessment is provided based on background paper or dossier, which contains any documentation and evidence provided by the applicant.
- Partial or Unverified Documentation
An assessment is provided based on some documentation of the academic credential, such as originals or copies of certificates and/or transcripts, corroborated by other supporting evidence or testimony.
- Assessments provided on the basis of the Background Paper or Partial or Unverified Documentation should provide an authoritative description of the academic credential(s) or period(s) of study the applicant is considered likely to have obtained or completed with all available documents and supporting evidence. They should include:
- personal data of the applicant
- name of the academic credential, awarding institution, and program in the original language
- status of the institution and program in the education system where the academic credential was obtained, level of the qualification, nominal duration or workload, formal rights given by the qualification
- year in which the academic credential was earned or the period of study undertaken
- A combination of approaches is possible, especially in cases where some of the applicant's academic credentials can be verified, but others cannot.
- With the consent of the applicant, the assessing organization should, where possible, share documents that have informed their assessments.
Get more information about the QAF and find out how it can improve policies and practices within your organization.
QAF version approved in February 2024