Recognition going global

The Global Convention on Recognition will provide a strong instrument for higher education institutions in dealing with the increasing global mobility of students. Allan Bruun Pedersen, Vice-President of the Lisbon Recognition Convention Committee Bureau, discusses how it creates a platform for institutions to check if their recognition principles and procedures are compliant with the convention and applied throughout the institution.

The national signing and ratification of recognition conventions is not only a matter for central government authorities or national agencies dealing with recognition of foreign qualifications, most notably the ENIC-NARIC centres. Ratifications of recognition conventions also imply that higher education institutions must follow the principles and procedures set out in the conventions. The global recognition convention thus presents an excellent platform for higher education institutions to secure that recognition decisions in relation to admission and credit transfer decisions are fully compliant with the recognition conventions and that the same principles and procedures are applied for recognition in all corners of the institution.

This month, the General Conference of UNESCO is expected to adopt a new "Global Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications concerning Higher Education". This will be the culmination of more than seven years of work, since UNESCO carried out a feasibility study on implementing a global recognition convention. The background for the global convention is indeed the growing number of globally mobile students, as it is estimated that by 2020 around eight million students will be studying abroad.

In recent years, several projects have been aimed at strengthening institutional recognition procedures, most notably the European Area of Recognition Manual for Higher Education Institutions, the EAR HEI Manual. While there are reasons to believe that institutions have become increasingly aware of implementing fair recognition procedures and principles according to the existing European Lisbon Recognition Convention, the monitoring exercises of the implementation of the convention show that little data is known and available on institutional recognition.

So, what is needed in an institutional check-up of recognition principles and procedures? It is fair to say that the proposed text of the Global Recognition Convention does not constitute a revolution in recognition. The Global Convention, rather, builds on the regional recognition conventions but it also adds some novelties and certainly some new opportunities for gathering information on educational systems in countries outside of Europe.

The Global Convention incorporates the basic principles and procedures of the Lisbon Recognition Convention, as well as the Tokyo Convention for the Asia-Pacific Area and the Addis Convention for the African states: Applicants must have access to fair recognition; recognition decisions/statements should be made within reasonable time; applicants have the right to appeal decisions; foreign qualifications should be fully recognised unless the recognition authority can prove substantial differences between the foreign qualification and a comparable national qualification (reversed proof of burden).

While the Lisbon Recognition Convention as a regional convention only obliges the parties to the convention to apply the recognition principles and procedures for parties to the European convention, the ratification of the Global Convention will imply that competent recognition authorities must apply its principles and procedures to all parties of the Global Convention covering mobile students from all over the world.

Furthermore, the refugee crisis has emphasised the need to respond to the recognition of refugees' qualifications, even in cases in which these cannot be proven through documentary evidence. The Global Convention has the possibility of making up for a rather paradoxical loophole. According to the Lisbon Recognition Convention, European countries and their institutions are currently only obliged to implement measures for the recognition of refugees’ qualifications stemming from parties to the convention. The ratification of the Global Convention will make it a legal requirement to implement measures of recognition of refugees' qualifications from countries worldwide and where the refugees actually come from. It will also oblige recognition authorities from other regions, which currently are not covered by a functioning recognition convention, to implement recognition measures for refugees.

The key principle from which all recognition decisions evolve is, as mentioned above, that foreign qualifications should be fully recognised unless substantial differences can be proved. While the Lisbon Recognition Convention states this as a central principle, no clear definition of what may be considered as substantial differences between qualifications has been established. The Global Convention offers some guidelines for defining substantial differences in its definition of terms: "Significant differences between the foreign qualification and the qualification of the Party that would most likely prevent the applicant from succeeding in the desired activity such as, but not limited to, further study, research activities or employment opportunities." Combined with guidelines from European NARIC-projects stating that substantial differences should only be related to the five elements of a qualification - the level, the learning outcomes, the quality, the workload and profile of a qualification - the definition of substantial difference in the Global Convention sets a clearer direction of what may be defined as substantial differences.

Furthermore, the Lisbon Recognition Convention dating back from 1997 may also in some respects be seen as a reflection of more innocent times, since the Global Convention adds a much needed warning against fraudulent documents: "Parties commit to adopt measures to eradicate all forms of fraudulent practices regarding higher education qualifications by encouraging the use of contemporary technologies and networking activities among Parties."

One of the biggest benefits of a Global Convention is the commitment to establish national information centres on recognition like the European ENIC-NARIC centres. The creation of information centres in regions outside of Europe will make it possible to provide recognition authorities with reliable and transparent information on countries' educational systems, qualifications structures and recognised institutions - even from countries where we today are facing difficulties in collecting information on their qualifications.

Finally, the Global Convention will also act in favour of European students going abroad to countries that currently are not covered by regional recognition conventions. European students will gain the benefit of transparent recognition principles and procedures and the right to appeal decisions in other regions of the world.

In conclusion, the Global Recognition Convention is a strong instrument for higher education institutions considering the increasing global mobility of students. It has great potential to increase the transparency of educational qualifications worldwide, while creating a platform for institutions to check if their recognition principles and procedures are compliant with the convention and applied throughout the institution. ENIC-NARIC centres will definitely be ready and willing to cooperate with institutions implementing the principles and procedures of the Global Recognition Convention.

“Expert Voices” is an online platform featuring original commentary and analysis on the higher education and research sector in Europe. It offers EUA experts, members and partners the opportunity to share their expertise and perspectives in an interactive and flexible exchange on key topics in the field.

All views expressed in these articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of EUA.

Allan Bruun Pedersen

Allan Bruun Pedersen is Senior Adviser at the Danish Ministry of Higher Education and Science and Vice-President of the Lisbon Recognition Convention Committee Bureau. Bruun Pedersen is also former President and Vice-President of the ENIC-Network.


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