It's the classic Canadian story. Immigrants arrive with impressive international qualifications only to find out they aren't recognized by employers and educational institutions.
That's true for an accounting designation recognized worldwide but little known in Canada. This may be about to change as the London School of Business and Finance opens its first North American campus in Toronto this week offering certification in the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA).
"It's very much like London in terms of its strong diversity and strength as a financial centre," says Yuliya Etingen, director of LSBF's Canadian operation.
Toronto's position as a destination for immigrants gives the program its student base, says Jaimie Robins, ACCA Canada's manager of student and member affairs.
"Our students are not typically Canadian born. They are students who have familiarity with the prominence of the ACCA internationally and who are immigrants or travel here to complete their studies."
Andre Seale is one of these students. As a business graduate from the University of West Indies, he's studying for the ACCA on an international student visa.
"The ACCA is well known in Barbados," he says. "It's probably the most renowned program internationally. It's a well-known designation for accountants in the Caribbean."
Mr. Seale wanted to study at the London school because he says it has an excellent reputation, but he couldn't do so for financial reasons. With LSBF's new Toronto location, he signed up as part of its inaugural group of students.
While LSBF is the only North American school accredited by ACCA, there are 440 tuition providers worldwide. ACCA operates in 170 countries and currently has 140,000 members and 400,000 students.
The Toronto operation is starting with 150 students, some of whom are already well on their way to completion of the 14 required "papers" (exams) from prior study online or with another school.
Each paper costs $900 and there are 14 required, plus three years documented relevant work experience to qualify for ACCA membership. While LSBF students won't qualify for Canadian student aid, they may be able to obtain exemptions for previous education up to a maximum of nine papers.
International students or those residents not yet qualified for health coverage must take out insurance, which LSBF says will cost an average of $500 a year.
Mr. Seale only has five more courses to go because he's been studying for his ACCA with another private school located outside the Toronto area. The school was not an accredited ACCA tuition provider and Mr. Seale failed several of his exams.
He feels confident that won't happen now that he's studying with LSBF because of its student supports and what he believes is a "highly qualified" teaching faculty.
Mr. Seale says he's also buoyed by LSBF's money-back guarantee in the form of what they call a "Pass First Time Guarantee." If a student fails to pass an exam paper after studying with LSBF, they can retake the paper with additional preparatory support, although the school states that "terms and conditions apply." These involve an assessment of the student's previous attendance and effort.
In Britain, the school is what ACCA considers a "Gold" standard tuition provider and the Toronto office intends to attain that status down the road. Ms. Etingen says the school prides itself on its innovation and cites its Facebook-based ACCA Prep Centre as evidence.
Recently given the PQ magazine (for part qualified accountants) award for Study Resource of the Year, the Prep Centre offers video lectures in HD via the InterActive platform, allows peer-to-peer exchanges, tutor access, and social media's instant polling to determine upcoming content topics.
The school is also currently offering a fully funded online MBA in Financial Management or MSc in Finance and Accounting for those who study with LSBF. The Dubai Bank pays the tuition ($22,800).
There are currently 2,000 ACCA members in Canada but both the association and the London school expect this to grow. Canada has now adopted the IFRS (International Financial Reporting Standards). And the Certified General Accountants, a well-known accountant designation in Canada, has an agreement with the ACCA that allows both CGA and ACCA graduates to qualify for cross-membership.
And of utmost importance to students: jobs. "There is a growing worldwide shortages of accountants," says ACCA's Ms. Robins. While she acknowledges that other accountant designations, such as the CA, will attract Canadian students, she says, "I foresee ACCA recognition and popularity becoming greater because of its international recognition."
Ms. Etingen said she hopes that "the ACCA is only the beginning of our offerings in Canada." The U.K.-based LSBF's other programs include international business law, management, marketing and finance.
Special to The Globe and Mail
Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the LSBF was involved with an agreement between the CGA and the ACCA on cross-membership. This version of the story has been corrected.