The Washington Accord – recognising international engineering qualifications

This Washington Accord recognises accredited engineering education programmes in over 20 countries. It has grown into a series of agreements that recognise professional engineering qualifications and competence.

IRC option: Mutual recognition

Read more about the cooperation options

Policy area/sector: Employment, Qualifications

The Washington Accord is a self-governing, autonomous international agreement that allows countries to recognise each other’s accredited engineering programmes and benchmarks standards of engineering education.

The scheme has grown in scope and use over 30 years. It started with the Washington Accord and has now expanded into a wider set of agreements under the International Engineering Alliance.

The Alliance recognises diverse models of registration, licensing, and regulation of engineering practice across the globe. It has also helped establish a clear pathway to engineering competence and encouraged educators to focus on education outcomes.

These factors have helped:

  • expand membership of the Washington Accord
  • develop parallel agreements for engineering technologist and engineering technician level qualifications
  • develop a suite of mutual recognition-type agreements that cover different levels of engineering professional registration.

Lessons learnt

Similar traditions help

Many countries have similar traditions of engineering education, and national professional bodies already knew each other. This meant that the Washington Accord was able to build on common ground.

Start with a clear objective

The scheme has always had a clear objective:

To make it easy for graduates to move to professional registration or licencing in different countries. This has been an important driver of the expansion and evolution of the Washington Accord into the current series of international agreements.

An agreed pathway helps establish common ground

The scheme has a clear pathway that sets out how and when engineers achieve competence. The pathway gives the scheme a way to:

  • manage many different models of registration, licencing and regulation
  • expand to a wider group of countries.

Complementary agreements work well

The original Washington Accord had some gaps. Signatories decided to plug the gaps by negotiating complementary agreements that covered every aspect of education, training and experience. This was an easier process than expanding the original Accord.

Lessons from the Washington Accord

Engineering is a global, highly mobile occupation. The scheme has given engineering a level of international consistency that makes it easier for engineering professionals to work in different countries.

Employers can be assured that any engineer with an accredited degree or international registration has a benchmark level of knowledge, skill, and competence.

The scheme aligns with key career stages

There are 3 key stages in an engineer’s career:

  • education
  • training
  • experience

The scheme recognises qualifications and licences at each stage.

The Washington Accord started with 6 engineering organisations in 1989

The objective behind the Washington Accord was to ease the path of graduates to professional registration or licensing in different countries.

The Accord was originally signed in 1989 by 6 national engineering organisations. These organisations provide external accreditation to tertiary educational programmes which allows graduates entry into the professional engineering workspace. They had similar traditions of engineering education, had become familiar with each other’s criteria, policies, and procedure and, through experience, accepted that graduates of their respective accredited programmes were substantially equivalent.

A scheme built on agreed principles

The Accord reflects agreement on key principles: signatories accepted that the criteria, policies, and procedures used by fellow signatories were comparable: 

  • accreditation decisions made by 1 signatory were acceptable to the other signatories
  • each signatory would make every reasonable effort to ensure that the bodies responsible for registering or licensing professional engineers to practise in its country or territory accepted the substantial equivalence of engineering academic programmes accredited by signatories to the Accord
  • signatories agreed to exchange information on their respective criteria, policies, and procedures, and to encourage the implementation of best practice.

Signatories agreed to recognise other signatories’ qualifications

Comparability of accreditation systems and mutual recognition of degrees was based on the principle of substantial equivalence. That is, the output of each degree programme rather than its detailed internal structure was considered important.

Mutual recognition means that graduates of another signatory’s accredited programme would be granted the same rights to registration or licencing as graduates of the signatory’s own accredited programme. This was set out in the Washington Accord.

3 phases of expansion and evolution

Below is a summary how the Washington Accord developed. The scheme evolved as a result of interest by other national engineering bodies, changes in the way that qualifications frameworks were designed, and an overall need for more structure.

28 September 1989 – Washington Accord signed by 6 organisations

  • Australia
  • Canada
  • Ireland
  • New Zealand
  • United Kingdom
  • United States

1990s onwards – Development of formal peer review processes

During this period Hong Kong China joined.

1997 to 2002 – New accords and agreements.

During this period South Africa joined.

2001 onwards – Development of graduate attribute exemplars

Since then these countries have joined the accord:

  • Japan
  • Singapore
  • South Korea
  • Chinese Taipei
  • Malaysia
  • Mexico
  • Turkey
  • Pakistan
  • Peru
  • Indonesia
  • Sri Lanka
  • China
  • India
  • Costa Rica
  • Russia

There are 6 organisations that have a provisional status:

  • Bangladesh
  • Philippines
  • Chile
  • Thailand
  • Myanmar
  • Saudi Arabia

The scheme helped educators focus on outcomes

When it was signed, signatories’ criteria for accrediting programmes focused on the process of engineering education, often comparing lists of inputs. But signatories were already questioning these traditional accreditation criteria. The scheme prompted a number of countries to base standards for engineering qualifications on programme outcomes.

These outcomes were consolidated into the ‘graduate attributes’ – a set of assessable components that indicate a graduate’s potential to acquire competence to practice at the appropriate level. The graduate attributes are clear, succinct statements of the expected capability, placing the notions of complex engineering problems and complex problem solving at the centre.

The structured development phase includes provisional members

There are 6 provisional members: Chile, Thailand, Bangladesh, Philippines, Myanmar and Saudi Arabia.

Organisations holding provisional status have been identified as having qualifications accreditation or recognition procedures that are potentially suitable for the purposes of the Accord.

The scheme has expanded to include 7 agreements

There are now 7 international agreements governing mutual recognition of engineering qualifications and professional competence. These agreements are known as the International Engineering Alliance. There are now 7 international agreements governing mutual recognition of engineering qualifications and professional competence. These agreements are known as the International Engineering Alliance.

  1. International Professional Engineer Agreement
  2. APEC Engineer Agreement
  3. International Engineering Technologist Agreement
  4. Agreement International Engineering Technicians
  5. Washington Accord
  6. Sydney Accord
  7. Dublin Accord

The Alliance grew out of the initial Washington Accord, its Graduate Attributes, and general processes. These agreements were developed to provide total cover of the engineering professional life cycle.

3 agreements cover tertiary level engineering qualifications

  1. The Washington Accord (1989)
    Recognises the substantial equivalence in the accreditation of qualifications in professional engineering, normally 4-year courses.

  2. The Sydney Accord (2001)
    Recognises substantial equivalence in the accreditation of qualifications in engineering technology, normally 3-year courses.

  3. The Dublin Accord (2002)
    Recognises substantial equivalence in the accreditation of tertiary qualifications in technician engineering, normally 2-year courses.

4 agreements cover competence standards for practising engineers

These agreements focus on how individual people meet a benchmark standard. If you’re recognised as having reached the agreed international standard in 1 signatory country, you only have to pass a minimal assessment to be registered in another. (The assessment will focus on local knowledge).

These 4 agreements aren’t mutual recognition agreements, but each one establishes an international register, and each signatory can operate a national section.

  1. APEC Engineer Agreement (1999)
    The representative organisation in each economy creates a ‘register’ of those engineers wishing to be recognised as meeting the generic international standard. Other economies should give credit when such an engineer seeks to have their competence recognised.

  2. International Professional Engineers Agreement (IPEA)
    International Professional Engineers Agreement which was previously known as the Engineers Mobility Forum Agreement 1997. It operates the same competence standard as the APEC Engineer Agreement, but any economy may join including non-APEC economies.

  3. International Engineering Technologist Agreement (IETA)
    International Engineering Technologist Agreement. Previously known as the Engineering Technologist Mobility Forum Agreement 2003. Participating countries have agreed to establish a competence benchmark for engineering technologists.

  4. Agreement for International Engineering Technicians (AIET)
    Agreement for International Engineering Technicians signed in 2015. This was modelled on the 3 existing agreements with suitable modifications and establishes a competence benchmark for engineering technicians.

The scheme will continue to evolve

Focus areas

More engineers in more places

The IEA agreements do not cover the European Union (with the exception of the UK and Ireland), Russia, or Turkey.

The agreement doesn’t include the European Union because the jurisdiction’s 2-tier qualification structure doesn’t match the IEA qualification structure.

Help for developing countries

The IEA signatories are working to help smaller developing countries improve their professional engineering qualifications and competence. Engineering New Zealand is currently helping South Pacific countries, and South Africa is helping Namibia and Botswana.

Recognising national competence registers

The IEA is working on ways to recognise national competence registers that meet IEA international standards. This work will:

  • help organisations that want to join the competency agreements
  • give individuals a way to have an internationally recognised level of competence
  • reduce the evaluation burden on individuals and institutions.

References and sources

Washington Accord(external link) — International Engineering Alliance 

Washington Accord (Engineering Programs)(external link) —