Higher education qualification: recognition issues world-wide and in Europe

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All countries in present multi-national world need some common rules and procedures to a reciprocal recognition of graduate certificates. Millions of students are presently studying outside their native countries and they need a world-wide recognition of their achievements. At the end of 2019, a global convention has been concluded to assist in official recognition of students’ mobility and of acquired diplomas and certificates.    

    Presently, there are about 235 million students worldwide; not much to the global population of close to eight billion. However, about 6 million are studying abroad, which is an increase by four million from 2 million in the beginning of this century. Besides, more than half of the 6 million “students abroad” are studying outside their region and/or native countries.

Global coordination efforts
In November 2019, the Global Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications concerning Higher Education was adopted by the 40th session of the UNESCO General Conference. The “quality pact” has become the first United Nations treaty on higher education having a world-wide coverage. Main source of information on the issue is the UNESCO Higher Education Global Data Report, published at the UNESCO World Higher Education Conference which took place in Barcelona in May 2022.
European Union countries, in line with the global convention, are striving to facilitate and enable student mobility; these efforts complement global and regional conventions, in the form of the Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications concerning Higher Education in the European Region, known as the Lisbon Recognition Convention, adopted in 1997.
The 2019-Global Convention establishes universal principles for fair, transparent and non-discriminatory recognition of higher education qualifications and qualifications giving access to higher education and offering avenues for further study and employment. With provisions on non-traditional learning modes, the Global Convention also facilitates the recognition of qualifications, prior learning and study periods earned remotely. In addition, it promotes the recognition of refugees’ qualifications, even in cases where documentary evidence is lacking.
By ratifying the Global Convention, countries commit to strengthening international cooperation in higher education, raising its quality at home and worldwide, and helping make academic mobility and the recognition of qualifications a reality for millions around the world.
On global convention in: https://www.unesco.org/en/higher-education/global-convention
A practical guide to recognition in: https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000374905/PDF/374905eng.pdf.multi

Recognition issues for displaced people
Access to higher education for those displaced still remains a challenge for a number of reasons, such as financial insecurity, language barriers, but also difficulties in having their qualifications recognised, especially if they fled without their educational documentation.
The Global Convention has a specific article addressing the recognition of qualifications held by refugees, even in the case of partial or missing documentation, that is a sibling article of the one contained in the Lisbon Recognition Convention.
From a European perspective, recognition of qualifications held by refugees has been a long-standing goal, as witnessed by the 2017 Recommendation on Recognition of Qualifications Held by Refugees, Displaced Persons and Persons in a Refugee-like Situation.
The implementation of the European Qualifications Passport for Refugees, among other tools, has made it possible to recognise the qualifications of refugees even in the case of missing educational documentation. This makes it possible to overcome one of the challenges to accessing higher education; the use of UNESCO Qualifications Passport at a global scale is serving the same purpose.

Flexibility through digital transition
Another dimension is the growing flexibility of higher education, which refers to the trend to offer stand-alone modular education and to the use of micro-credentials to allow learners of all ages to ‘upskill’ and re-skill work-wise and academic-wise.
Recognition is key for micro-credentials to keep their promise of supporting lifelong learning, as indicated in reference documents such as: – the Rome Ministerial Communiqué signed in 2020 by the ministers in charge of higher education in the European Higher Education Area (EHEA); – Recommendation of the Council of the European Union on a European approach to micro-credentials for lifelong learning and employability, and – the MICROBOL common framework for micro-credentials in the EHEA.
The Global Convention in this sense is aimed at “widening” the concept of recognition, explicitly including, for instance, such vital issue as a prior learning.
Proof of completion of micro-credentials (on top of the traditional qualifications) or additionally to other credentials offered in a digital format is becoming too complicated. In general, digitalisation is increasingly seen as a means of supporting the recognition of academic qualifications as quickly and ‘automatically’ as possible as well as verifying their authenticity.
However, experts assume that the emergence of artificial intelligence and its impact on the exchange of digital student data and on the recognition of qualifications is still to be investigated.
Reference to: https://www.universityworldnews.com/post.php?

    The 2022 monitoring report on the Lisbon Recognition Convention has shown that the majority of signatory countries have implemented digital systems or solutions when it comes to recognition and the Global Convention explicitly refers to the use of technology as a way to eradicate all forms of fraudulent practices regarding higher education qualifications.
Source and reference to: “In qualifications recognition, a milestone has been reached”, by Chiara Finocchietti and Jenneke Lokhoff, 6 May 2023. More in: https://www.universityworldnews.com/post.php?story=20230503152918481&utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=GLNL0739.

Quality education – SDG 4
The Global Convention stresses the importance of robust quality assurance in education systems as a pillar to create trust, which is the basis of mutual recognition of qualifications between systems. This is connected to the concept of a quality education, in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 4, i.e. education that is free from fraud and corruption.
From a European perspective, a step forward has been made with the adoption of the Council of Europe recommendation on countering education fraud, which contains a number of provisions that are relevant for the recognition authorities in order to prevent all sorts of fraudulent qualifications and diplomas.
This is in line with the UNESCO vision as described in the paper “Beyond Limits: New ways to reinvent higher education” that looks into ethics and integrity as one of the six principles that will shape the future of higher education on the move towards 2030.
In addition, recognition in itself contributes to quality education, given that it is a starting point to assess whether a student is likely to succeed. To do so, students need to access their program at the correct level, both for them as well as for the education institution.

Hungarian example
Six Hungarian universities have decided to lodge legal complaints against the EU for freezing funds for the Erasmus program. Over €12 billion of EU funds for Hungary were frozen back in December 2022, including €6.3 billion under the rules of law mechanism and €5.8 billion in post-coronavirus recovery funding. Taking into account the decision of the EU to freeze funds and not allow new grants to be awarded to universities, the assets of which were transferred to board-led foundations, the six universities (including the Semmelweis University and the University of Debrecen), decided to take legal action.
Semmelweis University asked the Court of Justice of the European Union to require the EU to no longer apply strict rules for it or overturn the decision to freeze the funds completely. The university further claimed that the use of EU funding was independent and did not include any members of the government or other related people. The University of Debrecen also said that the decision to freeze the funding for Hungarian universities was in conflict with the core values that the EU has and stressed that none of its board members has political roles leading to conflicts of interest.
Full report can be seen on the website in SchengenVisaInfo.com. In: https://www.schengenvisainfo.com/news/6-hungarian-universities-sue-eu-for-freezing-funds/
General source: https://www.universityworldnews.com/post.php?story=20230512085623522&utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=GLNL0739

Useful sources and links to vital documents:
    Global resources: = Global Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications concerning Higher Education’s webpage: https://en.unesco.org/themes/higher-education/recognition-qualifications/global-convention; = Global Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications concerning Higher Education’s Text: http://portal.unesco.org/en/ev.php-URL_ID=49557&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html; = What is the Global Convention?, in: https://en.unesco.org/news/what-global-convention-higher-education; = Why do we need a Global Convention?, in: https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000372970; = Regional Conventions and Recommendations in higher education: https://en.unesco.org/themes/higher-education/recognition-qualifications/conventions-recommendations.
Europe and North America: = European Recognition Manual for Higher Education Institutions: https://www.nuffic.nl/en/publications/european-recognition-manual-higher-education-institutions. = TACIEP Guide to Credential Evaluation: https://www.taicep.org/taiceporgwp/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Guide-to-Credential-Evaluation-5.pdf. = NOKUT et al., 2018, Toolkit for Recognition of Refugees’ Qualifications: https://www.nokut.no/globalassets/nokut/artikkelbibliotek/utenlandsk_utdanning/veiledere/toolkit_for_recognition_of_refugees_qualifications.pdf. = European Network of Information Centers: www.enic-naric.net. = European Higher Education Area and Bologna Process: www.ehea.info.

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