« Why is CPP funded, but OAS is Pay As You Go? | Main | Three questions on the transmission of business cycles »


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Good post, Frances, and I very much agree with your points. I spent a few years trying to figure out transfer credits for undergrad courses, and found it very frustrating. In many cases, after much digging, i was able to obtain a syllabus...only to find that it consisted of the table of contents of a credible text; I did not find that informative. It's getting better, but slowly.

I've had exactly the same problem - although the hard-to-evaluate files we receive are from West and North Africa. We've managed to to identify a few universities that have produced students who have gone on to do well here, but it's very much a crapshoot when we take someone from a place we don't know.

A lot of the problems faced by those who don't have Canadian schooling / experience may come down to social / communication skills. For many (most?) jobs, being able to communicate is very important. So, employers rightly choose based on this.

However, we often communicate best with those whom we have the most in common.

Drawing the line between 'racism' and 'easy communication' is very hard, at times.

I remember when Phil presented his immigration paper at UBC, there was an idea floated to try out his experiment comparing jobs with low communication content (computer coding?) to those with high (sales person?), and seeing how much Canadian schooling / experience mattered across those types of jobs.

Linda, Stephen, thanks for the comments.

Kevin - Phil's let me see his raw data and your guesses are correct. GTG, late for class.

They're not as lax about such things in Engineering circles, where the stakes are much higher. Local organisations accredit qualifications e.g. Engineers Canada accredits certain degrees from Carleton and other Canadian universities. EC has signed up to the International Engineering Alliance (http://www.washingtonaccord.org/), which manages "accords" covering international recognition of qualifications e.g. the Washington Accord covers the qualifications required to be a Chartered (Certified) Engineer. So, CE will recognise the ME qualification I hope to gain in Ireland, because that is accredited by the local body (Engineers Ireland). (I may find myself moving to Canada, because there's almost no Engineering happening in this country - for reasons which have been in the financial press headlines.)

I don't think it matters whether the transcript is foreign or domestic. Two individuals who successfully complete exactly the same undergraduate program with exactly the same marks, will *still* be two different individuals. I know both geniuses and dolts who have completed PhD programs, and I know both geniuses and dolts who have failed out of PhD programs.

In the end, what do these transcripts really mean? We can try to be objective about their interpretation, but at the end of the day it is basically an arbitrary judgement call. Worse yet, it's an arbitrary judgement call that doesn't even tell us which student will complete the program, and it *certainly* doesn't tell us which student will make a more important contribution to the field in the long run.

I honestly think it would be better for everyone if we all just admitted that these things are mostly arbitrary judgement calls, regardless of what kind of veneer of objectivity we hope to lend to them. I think anyone who can afford the tuition cost should be admitted. We live in a world where a large and growing number of people telecommute to work, and as every university's distance education program proves, class space is not really an issue because students can access lectures, notes, test, quizzes, and grades electronically.

Kill admissions requirements and replace them with tuition. It is the only truly objective means of determining entry.

Communication is important, but it does turn into racism when we make decisions based on our expectations of someone's communication skills, rather than actual communication skills (as assessed from a cover letter or interview). Given that there's well-publicized research (http://mbc.metropolis.net/assets/uploads/files/wp/2011/WP11-13.pdf) showing that having an English-sounding name vastly increases callbacks on otherwise identical resumes, it seems like we're well over that line as a society, and need to tone down our prejudice.

I have worked in IT in both the United States and Canada. And I will say, flatly, that U.S. employers are much, much more open to foreign qualifications than Canadian ones. This despite the fact that Canada has the much easier immigration system.

The IT employer is, of course, facing a fundamentally easier task than the university graduate program. Specific courses don't matter, general aptitude does. There, the usual signal is simply the name of the university the individual studied at.

Studied at IIT? You're in. Studied at Sri Sai? Out. There are plenty of online and offline sources recruiters use (eg. Times Higher Education World Ranking). Or even web sites like this one: http://www.4icu.org/in/

Canadian employers do not bother with this. If the individual didn't study in Canada, they're considered for junior positions only. End of story. Having an accent will drop your salary offer by $20,000, and forget about ever advancing into management.

It's not a coincidence that the Canadian IT sector has never been good at retaining top talent - they turn it down when it's offered.

Ryan: if there were no value added to classroom interaction, or small group interaction, I might agree with your suggestion. However, I do believe there is some value to interaction between students, and that can become problematic if the students' backgrounds are very divergent. This is one reason why we have prerequisites for some courses: however faulty a mechanism, it provides a floor on the level of knowledge from which the course material can build.

I think we (at universities) have a long way to go before we can successfully promote that interaction, but we are trying.

Linda, good point about the contribution of the classroom experience. My follow-up question would be, assuming all the classroom slots are filled, is there any good reason to refuse admissions to a student who is willing and able to pay for a virtual-only learning experience?

Seems sort of unfair to blame employers, they aren't at all equipped to determine whether someone's credentials are meaningful or not. And, unfortunately, not all university programs are quite as rigorous as they should be (I can't find a link now, but I recently read a story about an otherwise respectible US university that was issuing some kind of joint degree with Chinese and Russian universities. They've subsequently learned that many of the degrees were never properly earned and they rescinded the various degrees that they'd issued).

That said, it's somewhat surprising that someone hasn't filled this niche by providing professional degree verification services. It sems sort of silly for Frances to be spending her time assessing a degree from the University of Northern Siberia, when you can have a team of professional degree assessors assessing those degrees on behalf of every university in Canada/North America. That allows you to (a) shift the cost to applicants and (b) better assess those degrees.

In fact, I recently learned about an organization in the US whose primary business is to verify professional degrees in a very narrow field in order for the holders of those degrees to be accredited by the applicable governing bodies. So, if you want to be accredited as a professional in that field, you go to this organization, pay them $X dollars and they produce a report on whether your credentials are meaningful or not, which they provide to the governing body.

It's actually a pretty clever business model. Because they specialize in assessing profesional degrees, they can probably do it at a lower cost than an employer or a professional body. Moreover, there's economies of scale here. While the costs of determining whether a degree from a particular university is meaningful may be prohibitive for a particular state regulatory body (or university department), if you're an organization that's processing 4 or 5 degrees from that university a year, every year, the average cost plummets. Furthermore, the service provider has an incentive to maintain standards in determining whether or not a degree is valid (since, if they get slack, the governing body may no longer accept their reports).

I'm sort of surprised that North American universities haven't teamed together to have someone provide these sorts of services. Given that someone will typically apply to more than one department when they're applying to grad/professional schools, it seems silly to duplicate all that effort.

They're not as lax about such things in Engineering circles, where the stakes are much higher. Local organisations accredit qualifications e.g. Engineers Canada accredits certain degrees from Carleton and other Canadian universities. EC has signed up to the International Engineering Alliance (http://www.washingtonaccord.org/), which manages "accords" covering international recognition of qualifications e.g. the Washington Accord covers the qualifications required to be a Chartered (Certified) Engineer. So, CE will recognise the ME qualification I hope to gain in Ireland, because that is accredited by the local body (Engineers Ireland). (I may find myself moving to Canada, because there's almost no Engineering happening in this country - for reasons which have been in the financial press headlines.)

This is wrong, dangerously so. Let me tell you the truth. All professions in Canada are provincially regulated. Engineers Canada is a lobby and co-ordination group, it has no regulatory power whatsoever. Its signature to an agreement means nothing at all.

In Ontario the provincial engineering regulator is the Professional Engineers of Ontario. They themselves have a list of countries that they will accept credentials from, the PEO has Ireland on the list but the PEO has repudiated the actions of EC in the past. Further a P.Eng in Canada requires four years of work experience with verifiable and demonstrated experience in design, application of theory, etc. I have a friend who sits on the Education Committee of the PEO to assess foreign graduates. They hate being questioned like that over work experience but they need to demonstrate it, everybody does.

If you come here your work experience will be examined just like everyone else's as will your education. You would likely be ineligible to practice in Quebec because the Ordre des Ingenieurs requires demonstrated French fluency.

Actually, this is the hidden nasty underbelly of Canada's immigration policy. We don't have an immigration problem in this country, we have an integration problem. We're very good at cultural integration and very experienced at it by world standards but we're terrible at economic integration.

Immigration Canada has favoured professional degrees. For these people to have any chance in Canada their credentials need to be recognized here both by regulators and employers. As I said above, different standards and expectations mean that that isn't a straightforward process. Curriculum differences all add to the mix. There is also the preservation of the professional monopoly, engineers are terrible at it, doctors are great. All of this means that professional immigration is a disaster in Canada.

A person comes here, wants to work, has experience but it isn't enough or is discounted and winds up underemployed. They are cheated and Canada loses get the maximum value from immigration. It is a waste of everyone's time.

Engineering is bad for people who work semi-legitimately as engineers, they are rife. I know immigrant engineers who have no respect for provincial engineering regulators at all, it's common.

Employer's cries for more people, especially professionals are not borne out by their hiring decisions. As Patrick noted in a previous thread, job descriptions have become so specialized and so focused on pilfering from the competition that training, the method of integrating outsiders and turning them into insiders is neglected. Employers want insiders but get outsiders and then won't hire them. It is employers who have the power here, it is their attitudes that need to change, not employees.

BntO ""accords" covering international recognition of qualifications"

This is extremely important. Right now, as Linda points out, we don't even have accords allowing undergraduate credits to be transferred across universities within the same province, let alone other parts of Canada or elsewhere. So, for example, a Carleton student going back home to Toronto for the summer couldn't unproblematically pick up a key required course (intermediate micro II, for example, or 2nd year stats) at U of T and have it recognized for the undergrad program here.

Neil: "having an English-sounding name vastly increases callbacks on otherwise identical resumes"

This is the Phil Oreopoulos study that Kevin was mentioning earlier. Phil has been kind of enough to share the raw data with me, and I've run some occupation-by-occupation regressions. In computer techy type jobs, a person with a foreign name and a decent amount of Canadian experience /training basically faces no penalty, whereas for a sales/admin type job, the Chinese/Indian/Pakistani name effect is fairly persistent.

tyronen: "U.S. employers are much, much more open to foreign qualifications than Canadian ones. This despite the fact that Canada has the much easier immigration system."

This *because of* the fact that Canada has the much easier immigration system. An employer has in front of him/her 200 resumes. That pile has to be narrowed down to a short list of 3 to 5 resumes, using defensible criteria. So: chuck out everyone without a university degree. Chuck out everyone with typos in their cover letters. Chuck out everyone without Canadian education or experience.

Bob Smith: "it's somewhat surprising that someone hasn't filled this niche by providing professional degree verification services"

It's tricky. The information requirements for program-by-program, degree-by-degree verification, taking into account of changes in programs over time, are huge. It would seem to be a place where the Canadian Economics Association could add value, and you're right about the potential for collaboration across universities, but economists aren't necessarily good at these kinds of coordination.

"Having an accent will drop your salary offer by $20,000"

I think that depends on the accent and the job. When I was in the university sector, I got the distinct impression that a UK accent was a plus when searching for an academic position. Or perhaps I am just bitter.

In the past I have had numerous people from China apply for R&D positions in my department (commercial company), most of them with advanced degrees.

I have no way of knowing how they're going to work out. None. It's a complete crap shoot. A few have worked out splendidly, but most have been duds for various reasons.

The best -- perhaps the only truly effective -- means of assessing how well a potential employee will do is to check how well they have done in previous similar jobs. With foreign applicants, that door is usually close to me.

rabbit - if instead of advanced degrees from China, they had had advanced degrees from a similarly ranked Canadian university, do you think the likelihood of the individual working out would be higher?

Frances Woolley:

do you think the likelihood of the individual working out would be higher?

I think so because I would have more information on that individual. If he or she had a graduate degree I could read their thesis and may even have attended their presentations. I could also talk to the thesis supervisor, who can be surprizingly candid (professors - gotta love 'em). I can usually figure out from this if the student was a good researcher with drive and initiative, or if the thesis supervisor had to tell the student what to "discover". Also, the student may already have had work experience in Canada, which is again a source of information.

This applies to students studying in Canada and the U.S., even if they are foreign students.


Students from Canadian universities also usually have better English, even if they are foreign students, which means I can quiz them in depth, which is again more information.

rabbit - thanks, that's what I would have guessed, but it's good to hear it from the employer side.

How does the Federal Government/Public Service go about recognising credentials. I only bring this up because I have always thought in a field such as Economics there is much more prestige in in working for the Canadian Department of Finance than the US Treasury or US Office of Management of Budget. Thus if your a Canadian economist wherever you went to school the requirements for working for the government are more important than they would be for a US economist who is more likely to work in academia or industry.

Tim - Bank of Canada hires internationally, otherwise you pretty much need to be a Canadian citizen with a Canadian, US or perhaps European degree. Almost everyone I know who works for the federal government has a Canadian degree - this is why the big pile of applications to Canadian MA in Econ programs from people with degrees from elsewhere.


As I have conducted a lengthy job search to get a Public Service position with many colourful and interesting experience, I'm a relative expert.

The Bank of Canada is a Separate Employer, it has its own policies and practices. It's a Crown Corporation and has nothing to do with the actual Public Service.

The Department of Finance is part of the Public Service of Canada and the Treasury Board is the Employer (a Schedule I Department, the Public Service proper, under the Financial Administration Act). It is governed by the Public Service Employment Act which turns on the concept of "Merit". A proper Public Service job start with a Statement of Merit criteria. This will say "a PhD in economics from a recognized Canadian university or recognized alternative" There is always an easy way to meet the criteria. Harvard, MIT, University of Chicago and London School of Economics are equivalent, others not so much.

They will likely want a publication record, summary of research or to look at your thesis too. It's all about actual demonstration with documentation. In order to satisfy Merit, all of the Statement of Merit criteria have to be tested and the tests recorded in your file. The Public Service Commission has to be able to audit the entire process.

In the Public Service gratuitous claims without proof will get you nowhere. On the other hand certificates get you quite far. French gets you really far in that by regulation every position in the National Capital Region is BBB (mid-level, where I am) French ability. There are lots of schools set up to deliver BBB French ability to Public Service aspirers in Ottawa in short order. It's a great little industry. Takeaway Lesson: To get into the Public Service, learn French.

There is one twist, in an External Process (one which is open to External Candidates) by law once you meet the Essential Merit Qualifications for a position, Canadian Citizens have to be hired before Landed Immigrants. Given the highly desirable nature of Finance positions and long line for them, don't hold out hope if you aren't a citizen.

This is why Frances has a pile of Canadian MA applications from elsewhere. Otherwise Canadian citizens are very likely to go to an American, British or French university anyway so the list of foreign schools isn't that long actually.

Query: Why is the Department of Finance so much more prestigious than the US Treasury or the OMB? Is it that Canada is a small pond and the government is a bigger fish, or something else? Structure could play a role, the Public Service has a stronger advisory role in Westminster systems than it does in the US.

One would think the parent operation, HM Treasury in the UK would be as prestigious as the Department of Finance, the offspring.

"Why is the Department of Finance so much more prestigious than the US Treasury or the OMB?"

It's only a guess, but I wonder if it isn't because the
Department of Finance is infinitely more powerful, in practice, than its US (and probably UK) equivalent.

My exposure to finance has generally been on the legislative side, but generally if the tax policy guys think (or can be persuaded) that a particular change is a good idea (provided it isn't politically sensitive, or is complicated enough to be beyond the ken of your typical MP - which doesn't take much), they can get it implemented into law without too much difficulty (plop it into a 500 page technical bill, and ta da, parliament won't even read it before they vote it through). Whereas in the US you'd have some jack-ass senator kicking up a fuss or threatening to add a 10-page "funding for the perverted arts" rider. This isn't necessarily a good thing, and the quality of legislation that has come out of Finance over the past decade has been decidedly uneven (in one prominent case it was killed in its tracks by our senate, which tells you how bad it was), but I could see the appeal of working for a body where you have that kind of influence.

Bay St recruits from Finance.

I hear what your saying. When I applied for grad school my transcripts were a mess. I had a theatre degree from U of A where in my 3rd year they switched from a 9 pt. system to the standard 4.0, I also had two years at UVic which had a different type of 9pt system and I did a semester in Italy which, being Italy, had a 31 pt system (This last was great for my GPA bringing it up to an impressive 11.3, which is way more than 4.0).

I don't have much time to post but we need a new WCI thread on this article from Simon Johnson.



Tim: I read that article this morning. I thought "I really should do a post on this". But on further thought I recognised I just didn't know much at all about the subject, and couldn't think of anything useful to say. So I decided to resist temptation, and say nothing.

I also resisted the temptation to go on CBC radio this morning to talk about very recent developments in Greece. Which I think is a very important subject, but again not one on which I have much useful to say (I don't know which way this cat will jump in the next day or two).

The set of things I want to say something about, and the set of things I think I can say something useful about, have a much smaller intersection than I would like.

Nick: "things I think I can say something useful about" - I suspect your standards for "useful" may be much higher than the average talking head's standard of usefulness...

I would add: (1) Pure math courses are a useful signal, I believe quality is more homogeneous internationally, maybe part of why Econ PhD programs value such courses greatly as increasingly more grad students in North American programs are foreign; (2) GRE or GMAT test scores are useful, at least as a proxy for general knowledge, (3) As Prof. Gordon writes, the importance of finding a reliable feeder program and growing it. I believe some years ago Penn State Econ cultivated close relationships with a few Russian schools to create quality-controlled feeder programs.

"Harvard, MIT, University of Chicago and London School of Economics are equivalent, others not so much."

Thats hilarious! So they are saying the above are just as good as any Canadian PhD program, rather than far, far better? They don't even mention the other probably 20 or so US programs that are better than any Canadian program.

Anyway, pretty much everyone I know in the core federal public service has degrees from Carleton and Ottawa U. A few years ago I had a friend applying to the federal public service (though not finance) with a degree from Dartmouth College, and he actually had to argue with the HR idiot that he had a university degree. True story.

One important tool to better assess and recognize foreign credentials are Credential Assessment Services. Credential Assessment Services evaluate formal academic credentials by establishing the legitimacy of the institution, the authenticity of the academic documents, and the comparable level of credentials in Canadian standards. Canada has five Credential Assessment Services (http://www.cicic.ca/415/credential-assessment-services.canada) adhering to standards and practices set forth in the 1997 Lisbon Convention.

The reports that come from the use of Credential Assessment Services are used for many purposes, including employment, further education and licensure and help individuals make an informed decision about their pathways as well as supporting informed decisions about foreign credential recognition by institutions, employers and regulators. Indeed, due to the complexity of evaluating foreign credentials, there is growing use of these services by universities and colleges, licensing bodies, and employers.

Credential Assessment Services help employers, and institutions understand the Canadian value of foreign credentials and provide assurance that supporting documents are legitimate. Each year in Ontario, approximately 18,000 newcomers apply for a formal evaluation of their credentials through these agencies. World Education Services (WES: www.wes.org/ca) is Ontario’s provincially mandated credential evaluation service and provides rigorous and reliable evaluations of academic credentials earned outside of Canada.

WES requires that academic documents being assessed for Canadian equivalency are sent directly from the issuing institution in a sealed envelope to WES. If this is not possible, WES contacts the issuing institution directly. WES will also forward copies of the verified transcripts...

While Credential Assessment Services are a valuable tool to indicate the Canadian equivalency of foreign credentials, in a survey of employers conducted by the Public Policy Forum (2004), only 46% had ever verified international credentials and 80% could not name a credential assessment agency. For colleges and universities, this knowledge gap is also clearly prevalent and it appears that many institutions, departments and faculty are left to decipher foreign academic credentials on their own, with little support and resources. Without proper information on immigrant source countries, the quality of foreign institutions and programs, the authenticity of documents and the details of the courses taken, those placed with the task of assessing foreign credentials will inevitably struggle – and some may end up making poor hiring or admissions decisions.

Sophia - these Credential Assessment Services play a valuable function is weeding out fraudulent applications, and degrees from non-accredited institutions. However a credential assessment service- unless it employs a team of multi-lingual PhDs in economics - is not going to be able to provide the kind of finely detailed appraisal I need. Also - sadly - over the years I have encountered one or two unscrupulous individuals involved in the immigration business, and those few taint the entire immigration consultant industry.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Search this site

  • Google

Blog powered by Typepad