Canada and the Lisbon Recognition Convention

Below are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about the Lisbon Recognition Convention (LRC) and its meaning and implications for educational institutions, professional regulatory authorities and associations, employers, and individuals seeking to have their academic credentials recognized in and outside Canada.

An international convention is an agreement or treaty that is legally, politically, and diplomatically binding upon the signatory state. Countries that ratify a convention are legally bound to adhere to the principles outlined in it, and cases of non-compliance may be brought before an international authority. Signatory states must report periodically on their progress in implementing the principles of the convention.

Canada is a federation of 10 provinces and three territories. Under the Constitution of Canada, provincial governments have exclusive responsibility for all levels of education. Territories have been delegated similar responsibility. There is no ministry or department of education at the federal level. However, international conventions are multilateral agreements contracted between Canada and other countries. This responsibility falls under the federal Department of Global Affairs Canada (GAC). As such, the process requires:

  • agreement from all provincial and territorial governments on the terms of the legal instrument. In some cases, this may involve legal reform and be subject to approval by provincial and territorial legislative bodies;
  • the tabling of the international treaty in Canada's House of Commons and its approval by Parliament; and
  • the deposit by GAC of the instrument of ratification, along with any related declaration, to the international organization responsible for the legal instrument. For education-related conventions, this international organization is most often UNESCO.

Get more information on this process from the Treaty Law Division at GAC.

When a country:

  • signs a convention, this indicates general support for the principles of the convention as well as that country's intention to eventually become legally bound by it.
  • ratifies a convention, it becomes legally binding after the country has deposited the instrument of ratification—letter of accession, acceptance, or approval—with the relevant international organization. A date on which the convention enters into force is identified, after which the signatory state is bound by the articles of the convention and must conform to its principles under international law.

Within the framework of UNESCO, Canada belongs to the Europe and North America region. Up until recently, it was referred to as the Europe region, as stated in the name of the convention. Other non-European countries have also been invited to ratify the convention, such as Australia, Israel, New Zealand, and the United States.

Canada ratified the 1979 UNESCO convention. Like other UNESCO Member States in the Europe region that signed this convention, Canada was invited to ratify the 1997 UNESCO convention. Upon ratification, Canada will apply its principles not only to the Europe and North America region, but to all UNESCO regions.

Since the first generation of regional conventions were introduced, countries have undertaken higher-education reform that has had a significant impact on quality assurance and diversity in approaches. Global academic and professional mobility has drastically increased, and a variety of academic credentials are being used outside the country in which they were issued.

The second-generation convention:

  • takes into account the rapid increase in the number of countries that could benefit from the provisions of the convention and improves links between the Europe and North America region and other regions of the world;
  • prevents duplication of effort by replacing several outdated conventions related to recognition with a newly revised version;
  • facilitates the improvement of assessment and recognition best practices, information dissemination, and implementation mechanisms; and
  • helps unify efforts of the Council of Europe and UNESCO to promote collaboration and resource sharing among organizations responsible for implementing the principles of the convention.

By ratifying the LRC, Canada signals its commitment, within Canada's own constitutional framework, to:

  • follow up on its initial commitment as signatory of the 1997 LRC;
  • uphold principles of fair practice and non-discrimination in academic credential assessment and recognition procedures;
  • share information and collaborate with international organizations on matters concerning mobility and recognition; and
  • enhance the visibility and credibility of its 13 education systems, including the academic credentials issued by our educational institutions, within the international community.

Just as its predecessor, the aim of the LRC is to facilitate inbound and outbound international mobility of students, academics, and professionals with academic credentials and/or qualifications. These include:

  • internationally educated individuals who settle in Canada; and/or
  • individuals with academic credentials and/or qualifications issued in Canada who settle outside Canada.

While recognizing the autonomy and diversity of educational institutions and professional regulatory authorities, the LRC spells out more clearly the principles of promoting the mobility of individuals through mutual recognition of academic credentials and/or qualifications.

The convention stipulates that:

  • requests for recognition be assessed in a fair and timely fashion;
  • recognition be granted unless a substantial difference can be demonstrated. As such, the burden of proof lies with the organization responsible for recognition of the credential and/or qualification, and not with the individual who wishes to access further studies, research, and/or employment;
  • competent authorities, through their national information centres, disseminate information on their respective education systems, including:
    • quality-assurance practices;
    • a list of educational institutions;
    • academic programs; and
    • academic credentials and qualifications.

The joint Secretariat of the LRC comprises:

  • UNESCO; and
  • the Council of Europe.

In 1999, the Lisbon Recognition Convention Committee (LRCC) was created and, in close collaboration with the joint Secretariat, is responsible for:

  • overseeing the implementation of the LRC;
  • guiding competent authorities in its implementation; and
  • approving additional recommendations.

The LRCC is composed of members from each signatory to the LRC, the joint Secretariat, other organizations (e.g., the European Commission, President of the ENIC Network), and observers. A meeting of the LRCC is usually held every three years.

The LRCC is supported by the LRCC Bureau, an elected governing body that meets three times a year. The LRCC Bureau's function is to:

  • support the LRCC in the revision of recommendations or the development of new versions;
  • ensure that the implementation of the LRC by signatory states is continually monitored; and
  • act as the link between other regional and inter-regional conventions related to recognition.

A convention is a legally binding international treaty—the LRC—that lays down the basic principles to be implemented by the signatory state.

Recommendations or subsidiary texts are guidelines that are not legally binding. They would supplement the LRC by providing more detailed guidelines on how the convention could be applied by signatory states.

Since the introduction of the LRC, the LRCC has adopted a series of new recommendations related to recognition. Get more information on CICIC's Web site.

The Lisbon Recognition Convention Committee (LRCC) Bureau conducts cyclical monitoring exercises of the LRC implementation by signatory states. The results of these exercises serve to inform and improve the ongoing progress of the implementation of the convention in each signatory state, but also to identify any provisions where additional focus may be applied. This practice is in line with a quality assurance process wherein gradual improvements are introduced over time.

In 2015, the LRCC Bureau conducted its first monitoring exercise. Based on responses provided by State Parties, the LRCC tabled and adopted the Monitoring the Implementation of the Lisbon Recognition Convention – Final Report in February 2016. Because Canada had not yet completed the ratification process of the LRC at the time, it was excluded from this monitoring exercise.

In 2018, the LRCC Bureau conducted its second monitoring exercise, focused on the implementation of refugee-related provisions of the LRC (Article VII). The LRCC tabled and adopted the Monitoring of the Implementation of Article VII of the Lisbon Recognition Convention – Final Report in June 2019. Canada had completed the ratification process of the LRC at the time and thus took part in this monitoring exercise.

In 2020, the LRCC Bureau conducted its third monitoring exercise, focused on the implementation of specific provisions (i.e., right to appeal, information provision, transnational education, automatic recognition, digital solutions). Canada also took part in this monitoring exercise. Based on responses provided by State Parties, the LRCC tabled and adopted the Monitoring the Implementation of the Lisbon Recognition Convention – Final Report in November 2022.

There are several levels at which governments in Canada can meet their obligations under the LRC—and foremost of these is by demonstrating their support for the spirit of its principles. Beyond that, governments in Canada have three basic obligations:

  • to transmit the text of the convention to the competent recognition bodies and assessment services in their respective province or territory. These bodies should be encouraged to apply the principles of the convention. In countries where the federal government is responsible for education and recognition matters, federal authorities must apply the principles of the convention. In Canada, this responsibility lies with provincial and territorial governments;
  • to collect and make available official information on provincial and territorial education systems, quality-assurance mechanisms, and academic credentials issued in Canada, so that other countries can assess them; and
  • to establish a national information centre to support provincial and territorial governments in abiding by the legal framework. The Canadian Information Centre for International Credentials (CICIC) was established in 1990, under the terms of the 1979 UNESCO Convention, and is positioned to meet these obligations.

The LRC recognizes that in some signatory states, the responsibility for education is defined constitutionally as resting with an order of government other than the national or federal government. Accordingly, the convention is to be implemented in full respect of the existing diversity of education systems within each country.

“Canada's constitution provides for a federal system in which legislative powers are allocated between the federal Parliament and the provincial legislatures. In compliance with the exclusive legislative powers in the field of education granted to the provinces by the Canadian Constitution and with the similar responsibilities given to the territories by delegation from the federal government, the implementation of the Convention in Canada will be ensured by the provinces and territories.”

Within the context of Canada, a distinction is made between the following terms, as they constitute different types of documents:

  • An academic credential is a document provided as evidence of learning based on completion of a recognized program of study at an educational institution. Degrees, diplomas, and certificates are examples of academic credentials. To use the language of the LRC and the intended meaning as it applies in Canada, they include both a:
    • “higher-education qualification”; and
    • “qualification giving access to higher education.”
  • A professional qualification is a document issued by a professional regulatory authority for the purpose of registration or permission to practise a particular occupation in the labour market. A statement of professional standing as a teacher is an example of a professional qualification. Under the LRC, this type of document is not cited.
  • A qualification is a broader term that encompasses academic credentials as well as other required documents for admission to postsecondary studies (e.g., language-test results) or to regulated occupations (e.g., statements of professional standing, academic credentials). Under the LRC, this type of document is not cited.

This distinction is quite important for the interpretation of legal obligations under the LRC in Canada. While CICIC's mandate focuses on the assessment and recognition of academic credentials, the broader term “qualification” is sometimes used to reflect the reality that:

  • many competent recognition authorities or recognition bodies, assessment services, and government policies focus on qualifications;
  • some of the best practices in assessing and recognizing academic credentials can be applied to a broader range of qualifications.

  • A competent recognition authority or recognition body is an organization officially charged with making binding decisions on the assessment and recognition of an academic credential. In some countries, this responsibility falls to a central organization, and all other organizations must abide by the resulting decision. However, in Canada, these would include postsecondary educational institutions, professional regulatory authorities and associations, and employers. For example, an individual would be required to meet academic requirements to practise as a dental surgeon. Requirements are usually based on provincial or territorial legislation governing access to the profession, and include a duty to protect the public. The resulting recognition decision would become a binding decision for the specific purpose of practising this profession in a given province or territory of Canada.
  • An assessment service is an organization that provides an expert, non-binding opinion on the assessment of an academic credential, as opposed to formal recognition. In Canada, six members of the Alliance of Credential Evaluation Services of Canada (ACESC) provide these services and produce assessment reports for competent recognition authorities that require assistance. For example, an admissions office at an educational institution may not have the capacity to perform its own assessment of an academic credential issued outside Canada for admission to further studies. It may require internationally educated applicants to initially obtain an assessment report from one of the members of ACESC to later inform its admission decision. CICIC is the Secretariat of the ACESC and continues to assist with the adoption and monitoring of best practices set by recognition-related conventions.

The principle of institutional autonomy is recognized in Article II.1:

“Where the competence to make decisions in recognition matters lies with individual higher education institutions or other entities, each Party according to its constitutional situation or structure shall transmit the text of this Convention to these institutions or entities and shall take all possible steps to encourage the favourable consideration and application of its provisions.”

Therefore, although there are no legal obligations for educational institutions, the good faith implied by ratification compels institutions to apply the following principles:

  • Adequate and clear information on assessment requirements must be provided;
  • Transparent, coherent, and reliable procedures and assessment criteria must be used;
  • Mutual recognition of academic credentials and qualifications must be extended unless substantial differences in requirements can be demonstrated; and
  • Refusal of recognition must be justified.

In Canada, colleges and universities are responsible for setting their admission requirements for specific academic programs. When a student seeks admission to one of these institutions and holds an academic credential issued outside Canada, the competent admissions authority is required to apply fair and non-discriminatory assessment procedures in determining the comparability of the applicant's academic credential to those found in Canada. The convention does not require the institution to grant admission to an applicant claiming an equivalent academic credential. Rather, it requires the institution to demonstrate that it has applied fair and non-discriminatory procedures in its assessment. Institutions often establish a wide range of criteria for admission beyond the basic academic requirements, such as:

  • a certain level of fluency in a given language;
  • a portfolio;
  • work experience; or
  • a program quota.

In addition, institutions may already have bilateral agreements in place. In any case, the autonomy of institutions with respect to admissions procedures is in no way affected by the terms of the LRC.

In Canada, about 20 per cent of occupations—for example, doctors, engineers, plumbers, teachers—are regulated to protect the health and safety of Canadians. Specific professional regulatory authorities and associations have been mandated by governments to govern access to these regulated professions and trades. They are responsible for issuing professional qualifications (e.g., certificate of competency or qualification, licence to practise) to applicants who have met registration requirements.

In turn, newcomers to Canada may hold academic credentials and professional qualifications issued outside Canada and wish to access these regulated occupations in the labour market. This generally requires the submission of previously completed academic credentials by applicants. However, there could also be other requirements, such as:

  • examinations to test an applicant's knowledge and competencies;
  • a criminal-record check;
  • a Canadian work placement or practicum; or
  • a period of internship or supervised on-the-job training.

As with educational institutions, professional regulatory authorities and associations maintain broad autonomy in recognizing academic credentials, whether obtained in or outside Canada, for the purposes of registration or permission to practise a trade or profession in Canada. However, in supporting the spirit of the convention's principles, these organizations will want to show that their assessment of an academic credential or a professional qualification issued outside Canada is based on fair, consistent, and non-discriminatory procedures.

Furthermore, four provincial governments have established fairness commissioners to ensure greater fairness in the assessment and recognition procedures for internationally educated applicants seeking to practise in regulated occupations. In those cases, specific provincial legislation was introduced and reinforces the aims of the LRC.

CICIC can help Canada to implement the terms of the convention in several ways:

  • CICIC is the pan-Canadian body responsible for information collection, dissemination, and referral on assessment- and recognition-related matters. Through its network of stakeholders, CICIC is able to disseminate information on the LRC and other related information;
  • In its national coordinating role, CICIC is the hub for assessment services, professional regulatory authorities and associations, educational institutions, other organizations, and internationally educated individuals for the purpose of enhancing fair, consistent, and transparent practices in the assessment and recognition of academic credentials;
  • CICIC contributes to policy dialogue and analysis on the management of academic credential assessment issues in Canada, including building awareness of the impact of developments in related areas such as immigration and labour-market policies, and of the need to facilitate mobility by reducing barriers for students and workers who are moving to, across, or outside Canada;
  • As a member of the European National Information Centres (ENIC) network, CICIC:
    • represents Canada at meetings of experts where procedures and best practices are discussed; and
    • is responsible for answering inquiries on academic credentials issued in Canada and sharing other information with members of the network on an ongoing basis.
  • CICIC provides assistance to organizations and internationally educated individuals seeking information on the recognition of their academic credentials by referring them to the appropriate recognition body or assessment service, and by keeping them up-to-date on current developments in assessment and recognition policies.
  • CICIC also coordinates the collection, maintenance, and dissemination of data on provincial and territorial education systems, and ensures that these data reach those who are involved with recognition matters.

Over the years, CICIC has developed a number of tools and resources to support the assessment and recognition practices of educational institutions, professional regulatory authorities and associations, and employers.

The Assessor portal——forms the digital hub of the pan-Canadian academic credential assessment community. Organizations, and their assessors, across Canada are able to access:

Members of the academic credential assessment community may also register through the password-protected part of this portal to access additional resources, including:
  • the Directory of Comparability Assessment Outcomes, for detailed profiles on the education systems and academic credentials of 12 countries, and how they may compare to education systems in Canada; and
  • the EVALUATION listserv, where experts can obtain feedback or access resources with the assistance of other subject-matter experts.

Over the years, CICIC has developed a number of tools and resources to support assessment and recognition for:

  • internationally educated applicants seeking to settle in Canada to study or work; and
  • individuals who have obtained academic credentials from an educational institution in Canada and are seeking to settle outside Canada to study or work.

The Individual portal——is the digital hub to help individuals locate comprehensive information on the credential recognition process and referral to appropriate recognition bodies and assessment services. This is possible through the directories of:

The Connect the dots! feature helps users find information that applies to their own situation simply by answering six questions.

The Education portal——provides detailed information on education systems and quality-assurance mechanisms in Canada's 13 provinces and territories. This includes a list of ministries/departments responsible for education in Canada.

The Mobility portal——provides detailed information on the LRC as well as other education- and profession-related international-collaboration agreements.

The ratification of the 1979 UNESCO convention led to an initial consultation process in the 1970s and 1980s, led by provincial and territorial governments prior to the creation of CICIC in 1990.

Since then, CICIC has taken the lead on these consultations in accordance with the terms of these conventions. Similarly, the signature and ratification processes of the 1997 LRC was the result of extensive consultations and measures implemented by provincial and territorial governments. Provincial and territorial ministries/departments responsible for education in Canada, as well as organizations in related sectors, have indicated unanimous support for the principles of the LRC.

The development of the tools and resources put in place by CICIC was based on consultations with governments, recognition bodies, and assessment services through:

  • official committees and working-groups; and
  • ad-hoc workshops, conferences, and events.

Some of these were carried out under the aegis of CMEC and CICIC, and others through sectoral organizations, with CICIC representatives invited as participants, speakers, or panellists.

Stakeholders from various regions across Canada were consulted, and most were employees of:

  • federal, provincial, and territorial governments, with a special focus on ministries/departments responsible for education, the labour market, and immigration issues;
  • academic credential assessment services that are part of the Alliance of Credential Evaluation Services of Canada (ACESC);
  • admissions departments at postsecondary educational institutions;
  • other organizations facilitating the admissions process on behalf of institutions;
  • professional regulatory authorities and associations of a regulated profession (for professional licensure);
  • apprenticeship offices (for professional certification); and
  • provincial fairness commissioners.

CICIC led extensive research on best practices, tools, resources, and other related publications produced within and outside Canada, to support discussions throughout these consultations. Developments within the ENIC-NARIC networks from other signatories to the LRC have also greatly contributed.