The Canadian Information Centre for International Credentials

FAQ

Below are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about the 2019 Global Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications concerning Higher Education (2019 Global Convention).

The FAQ covers topics such as:

  • context around the UNESCO treaty-making process, which enables Canada to ratify education-related conventions;
  • implications of a possible ratification for:
    • provincial and territorial governments
    • assessment services and competent recognition bodies (postsecondary educational institutions, professional regulatory authorities and associations, and employers)
    • individuals seeking to have their academic credentials recognized in and outside Canada
    • the Canadian Information Centre for International Credentials (CICIC);
  • CICIC support for the implementation of convention provisions in Canada.

An international convention is an agreement or treaty that is legally, politically, and diplomatically binding upon the signatory state. When a country ratifies a convention, the convention 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.

Signatory states must report periodically on their progress in implementing the principles of the convention.

The development and adoption of international conventions usually involve six main steps. Specifically, in the context of the 2019 Global Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications concerning Higher Education (Global Convention), this includes:

  • Step 1 – preparation phase: This process began in 2012 and ended in November 2019, with the drafting and negotiation of the final text.
  • Step 2 – adoption: The final draft of the 2019 Global Convention was adopted at the 40th Session of the UNESCO General Conference in November 2019.
  • Step 3 – signature: It is important to underscore that the 2019 Global Convention does not contain the option for Member States to sign, in contrast to the Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications concerning Higher Education in the European Region (1997 Lisbon Recognition Convention). Consequently, the process moves to the next step.
  • Step 4 – implementation: Interested UNESCO Member States must complete a domestic/internal process to confirm the implementation of provisions appropriate and relevant to their own circumstances.
  • Step 5 – ratification: The 2019 Global Convention is now open to ratification by interested UNESCO Member States, in accordance with Section VI (Final Clauses). Once ready, the Member State has to deposit the instrument of ratification—letter of accession, acceptance, or approval—with UNESCO.
  • Step 6 – entry into force and monitoring: The 2019 Global Convention enters into force on a specific date, in accordance with Section VI (Final Clauses). Conducting cyclical monitoring exercises of the implementation of international conventions by signatory states is a normal procedure, which usually occurs on a three- to five-year cycle, and at the request of UNESCO.
The Secretariat of the 2019 Global Convention is UNESCO.

The UNESCO Office of International Standards and Legal Affairs plays the role of the depositary, and it collects the instruments of ratification of all parties and informs them of the specific date on which the convention will enter into force. It also keeps all parties informed of any new ratification.

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, the federal government has responsibility for procedures enabling the ratification of international legal instruments, ultimately binding Canada under international law. The Treaty Law Division of Global Affairs Canada (GAC) is part of the department's Legal Affairs Bureau. Its principal functions are to provide legal advice to governments in Canada on treaty law and to take care of the actual “nuts and bolts” of Canada's treaty-making activities.

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. It may also involve domestic consultations with interested parties at the pan-Canadian and provincial/territorial levels;
  • the tabling of the international treaty in Canada's House of Commons and its approval by Parliament, in accordance with the Policy on Tabling of Treaties in 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.

For many decades, provincial and territorial governments, through the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC), have collaborated with GAC to support the procedures enabling Canada's ratification of education-related conventions. Currently, two multilateral education-related conventions (Convention on the recognition of qualifications concerning Higher Education in the European Region, Lisbon, 11 April 1997 and Convention on the Recognition of Studies, Diplomas and Degrees concerning Higher Education in the States belonging to the Europe Region, Paris, 21 December 1979) have been ratified through this process.

In 2018, CMEC tasked CICIC with finalizing these preparatory steps with the provincial and territorial governments, in collaboration with assessment services and competent recognition bodies in Canada, as well as GAC and UNESCO.

The major next steps for Canada relate mainly to the domestic procedure and consist of:

  • Step 4 – implementation: All provincial and territorial governments must confirm the implementation of the provisions of the 2019 Global Convention, and agree on the declaration that will accompany Canada's ratification instrument, in order to provide specifics about the convention's implementation in Canada.
  • Step 5 – ratification: All provincial and territorial governments must reach a consensus on the agreement to ratify the 2019 Global Convention, in order to notify GAC, which is responsible for initiating the administrative procedure for having Canada ratify an international treaty.

Learn about the consultation process with UNESCO and within Canada.

Learn about the consultation process with UNESCO and within Canada, as outlined in the independent report authored by CamProf Inc., published by CICIC, and titled Substantial Agreement – Academic Credential Assessment in Canada: Implementation of the Lisbon Recognition Convention and Preparation for the UNESCO Global Convention.

It is also important to underscore that upon the agreement of all provinces and territories, Canada has already ratified two UNESCO qualification recognition conventions for the Europe region: initially the 1979 Convention, and subsequently the 1997 Lisbon Convention. These ratifications led to an initial consultation process in the 1970s and 1980s, led by provincial and territorial governments, prior to the establishment of CICIC in 1990. Since then, CICIC has taken the lead on pan-Canadian consultations and implementation monitoring of qualification recognition conventions in Canada within its role as Canada's national information centre, under the governance of provincial and territorial ministries/departments responsible for education through CMEC. In the context of the 1997 Lisbon Convention, CICIC conducted extensive pan-Canadian consultations beginning in 1990 and leading to its ratification in 2018. NB: Provisions under the 2019 Global Convention are very similar to those under the 1997 Lisbon Convention.

Canada is one of the 193 UNESCO Member States. In the 1970s and 1980s, UNESCO facilitated the development of six normative instruments, five regional, and one interregional, for regulating the recognition of qualifications concerning higher education. Later, these were followed by a second generation of revised conventions (aimed at replacing the first-generation conventions). Upon the agreement of all provinces and territories, Canada ratified two UNESCO qualification recognition conventions for the Europe region: initially the 1979 Convention, and subsequently the 1997 Lisbon Convention. Within the context of UNESCO's five regions, Canada belongs to UNESCO's Europe region. Canada is party only to the convention covering that region, which consists of 55 countries. Consequently, provinces and territories already benefit from existing implementation structures established over the past four decades.

The 2019 Global Convention will extend similar provisions to all countries that ratify it, and not only to the countries that comprise UNESCO's Europe region. Its aim is not to dismantle the implementation structures or the academic credential recognition networks established under the five regional conventions or existing bilateral agreements, but rather to support the exchange of information and best practices between Member States on the matter of academic credential recognition. The objective is not to create a global recognition procedure, but to affirm international engagement in favour of fair processes for recognizing academic credentials.

Get more information on UNESCO regional conventions. Also get an overview of the 2019 Global Convention and learn about the consultation process with UNESCO and within Canada.

Just as with the 1997 Lisbon Convention, the aim of the 2019 Global Convention is to facilitate inbound and outbound international mobility of students, academics, and professionals with academic credentials and/or qualifications. Examples of 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.

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.

In Canada, distinctions are 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 2019 Global Convention 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 2019 Global Convention, this type of document is not cited and has been specifically excluded from the outset in the negotiation process.
  • 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 2019 Global Convention, this type of document is not cited.

These distinctions are quite important for the interpretation of legal obligations under the 2019 Global Convention 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.
  • 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 ACESC and continues to assist with the adoption and monitoring of best practices set by recognition-related conventions.

Should ratification go ahead, there are several levels at which governments in Canada can meet their obligations under the 2019 Global Convention—and foremost of these is by demonstrating their support for the spirit of its principles. Beyond that, governments in Canada would 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 establish a national information centre to support provincial and territorial governments in abiding by the legal framework. This includes providing information and referral services to individuals and organizations on the recognition of academic and occupational credentials for working and studying in Canada and abroad. CICIC was established in 1990, under the terms of the 1979 UNESCO Convention, and is positioned to meet these obligations; and
  • 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. In Canada, CICIC provides this service and works in close collaboration with provincial and territorial ministries responsible for education to ensure accuracy and timeliness of information accessibility.

The 2019 Global Convention 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 accordance with Article XX(b) of the Convention, 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 carried out by the provinces and territories, defined as constituent units.”

The 2019 Global Convention would be implemented in full respect of the existing implementation structures within Canada, including those specific to educational institutions, as outlined below:

  • Firstly, the preamble to the Convention reads: “...the need to uphold and protect the principles of academic freedom and of the autonomy of higher-education institutions.”
  • Section I, Article I clearly defines “competent recognition authorities” and their role in the “recognition” of academic credentials for the purpose of admission to higher education or employment opportunities, based on “general requirements” and “specific requirements.”
  • Section II, Article II.5 reads: “Respect, uphold and protect the autonomy and diversity of higher-education institutions and systems.”
  • The whole of Section III, Article III emphasizes the principles of transparency and fairness in the recognition procedure, as opposed to the outcomes of decisions and their use by educational institutions.
  • Section IV, Article X.4 reads: “Where the competence to make decisions on recognition matters lies with individual higher-education institutions or other entities, each State Party or constituent unit thereof, according to its constitutional situation or structure, shall transmit the text of this Convention to these institutions or entities and shall take all the necessary steps to encourage the favourable consideration and application of its provisions.”
  • Section IV, Article XI.1 reads: “Where admission to particular higher-education programmes is dependent on the fulfilment of specific requirements in addition to the general requirements for access, the competent authorities of the State Party concerned may impose the same specific requirements on holders of qualifications obtained in other States Parties or assess whether applicants with qualifications obtained in other States Parties fulfil the equivalent requirements.”

Taken together, these articles clearly establish the principle of autonomy of educational institutions and professional regulatory bodies, in their role as competent recognition bodies. Consequently, postsecondary institutions in Canada determine what qualifications they will accept for typical entry to various programs of study. Therefore, although there are no legal obligations for educational institutions to apply the 2019 Global Convention, 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 such cases, applicants must have the right to appeal the outcome of this decision.

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 2019 Global Convention.

In Canada, about 20 percent 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. Such professional qualifications are specifically excluded from the 2019 Global Convention. Only academic credentials issued by educational institutions are targeted by principles of the 2019 Global Convention.

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.

Articles in the 2019 Global Convention clearly establish the principle of autonomy of educational institutions and professional regulatory bodies, in their role as competent recognition bodies. Consequently, legislation confers some autonomy on professional governing bodies in setting the content of regulations under which earned credentials, competencies, and training are recognized. Professional governing bodies therefore enjoy broad autonomy in recognizing credentials, whether obtained in Canada or abroad, for the purposes of registration or permission to practise a profession in Canada. Therefore, although there are no legal obligations for professional regulatory authorities and associations to apply the 2019 Global Convention, 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 such cases, applicants must have the right to appeal the outcome of this decision.

Five provinces in Canada have established legislation on fair registration by regulating bodies. Ontario and Manitoba have both appointed Fairness Commissioners, while Alberta and Nova Scotia each appointed a Fair Registration Review Officer. In 2009, Quebec appointed a Commissioner for Complaints Concerning the Recognition of Professional Competence (now known as the Commissioner for Admission to Professions), whose role is similar to the commissioners in these other provinces. In Alberta, the Fair Registration Practices Act and the Fair Registration Practices Regulation came into force March 1, 2020. The Fairness for Newcomers Office officially opened March 2, 2020, and its purpose, intent, and future planned work is similar to the offices of the other provincial commissioners, but may not be exactly as generally stated below. Additional information is available on the Fairness for Newcomers Office website.

These offices provide advice and guidance to regulatory authorities (and, to a certain extent, to individuals) to ensure transparent, objective, impartial, and fair access to regulated occupations. Principles outlined in their guiding legislation are based largely on those of the 1997 Lisbon Convention and 2019 Global Convention. These bodies conduct audits and receive and assess complaints. Specifically, they require that holders of qualifications issued outside Canada have fair access to regulated professions in their respective provinces.

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

  • 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 2019 Global Convention 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 competent 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—Assessor.CICIC.ca—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—Individual.CICIC.ca—is the digital hub to help those looking for comprehensive information on the credential recognition process and referral to appropriate competent recognition bodies and assessment services. Please visit the following directories for more information:

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

An automated phone service—(+1) 416-962-9725—enables individuals to get a quick overview of the various processes that may apply to their particular circumstance.

If individuals require additional guidance beyond the tools offered above, CICIC staff are able to field inquiries by phone or email. Contact information is available on the CICIC website.

The Education portal—Education.CICIC.ca—provides detailed information on education systems, educational institutions, academic credentials, and quality-assurance mechanisms in Canada's 13 provinces and territories. It is maintained in collaboration with the ministries/departments responsible for education in Canada.

The Mobility portal—Mobility.CICIC.ca—provides detailed information on the 2019 Global Convention, the 1997 Lisbon Convention, as well as other education- and profession-related international-collaboration agreements.

The list of parties to the 2019 Global Convention is accessible on the UNESCO website.

The text of the convention is available in six languages: English, French, Arabic, Russian, Chinese, and Spanish. Get an overview of the 2019 Global Convention on CICIC's website or consult the full text on UNESCO's website.