Transfer in Canada

Transfer in Canada


In Canada students have the opportunity to explore pathways between various colleges, polytechnics, and universities (“educational institutions”). Different learner experiences are possible through a variety of unstructured and structured arrangements. Through various partnership and policy frameworks, educational institutions, provinces, and territories have established several resources and tools to support students who wish to transfer and gain credit for their studies.

Education is under the exclusive jurisdiction of the country's ten provinces and three territories. A detailed overview of individual provincial and territorial systems is available under the Provinces and Territories section.

Transfer Opportunities

There are different ways to recognize learners' former studies in Canada, including course-specific equivalency assessment, formal pathways, and system-level transfer frameworks. It is also possible for learners to receive transfer recognition for their prior work in specified fields or through alternate learning experiences. There is also growing interest in using micro-credentials to aid transfer assessment as a mechanism to advance scalable assessment of prior learning. Studies of both transfer credit practices and micro-credentialing are provided in the Relevant Links section.

Course-specific equivalency assessment

Course-specific equivalency assessment occurs when an institution compares one course to another course to determine the degree to which the study experiences overlap and complement one another. Typically, educational institutions will request that learners submit detailed course outlines to aid this analysis. A course outline provides a detailed summary of the learning that the course provides, including the textbooks used and the learning outcomes achieved.

A review of individual courses can happen at any point in a learner's studies when they attend more than one college, institute, or university. When and whether this occurs depends on the policy of the receiving institution. It usually involves a detailed course-specific review.

This type of course-level review may also occur when a formal pathway has been established between two educational institutions or if there is a system-level agreement across a set of educational institutions or across an entire province. While circumstances vary by province or territory, course-specific transfer is typically informal and results when a learner applies to an institution for admission. Unless a formal arrangement is in place, this type of review tends to be more ad hoc and depends on the information provided by the learner during or directly following admissions.

Formal transfer pathways

Formally articulated or arranged transfer pathways take many forms and are called many things. Examples include block transfer arrangements; formally articulated college-to-university, university-to-university, or university-to-college transfer; internal “laddering” opportunities; study-abroad programs between two or more educational institutions; and combined or integrated programs. In most instances, these arrangements exist between specific colleges, institutes, and universities. Where formal agreements exist between two or more educational institutions, they typically take the form of articulation agreements, bridging programs, cross-registration arrangements, or other forms of joint arrangements. Sometimes they also result from a formal partnership with an industry partner. These formally articulated arrangements serve as proxy indicators of trust and recognition.

At times, a universal policy approach may apply such as when a specified overall grade performance or program type must be evident within the individual learner's transcript. Such policies may also result in a specified block of transfer credit being awarded for prior studies in a particular course of study from a particular type of program or institution.

In most of these instances, the articulated pathway or partnership may still require a course-by-course assessment of a student's previous studies.

For definitions of the more common forms of transfer in Canada, visit the ARUCC PCCAT Transcript and Transfer Guide.

System-level transfer arrangements

Select provinces have developed a system-wide (e.g., province-wide) transfer system. Typically, these arrangements are supported by shared principles of practice that have been adopted by the postsecondary educational institutions. These are usually supported by policy frameworks, resources, tools, and standards of practice. This level of transfer is usually aided by a sector-level organization such as a council on articulation and transfer and may be incentivized by a funding arrangement from government. Examples of this type of arrangement in Canada are the British Columbia Transfer System, the Alberta Transfer System, and the Ontario approach to transfer.

Recognition of prior learning

In select circumstances, educational institutions in Canada may consider prior work experience or studies conducted outside of formal educational learning experiences for transfer (i.e., informal education). Each institution determines its policies regarding this type of prior learning assessment. Examples of methods used include examining evidence of prior work completed, challenge exams, or as a result of established pathways developed in partnership with industry.

Relevant links

Comprehensive review of this information: August 2021