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Speeding up the international recognition process

Jun 12, 2021 | NEOLAiA Journal

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Since international mobility in higher education started, and especially since the establishment of the Erasmus programme in 1987, there have been a number of international initiatives, many of them focused on the European framework, which aim to improve the processes of full and partial recognition of study carried out in partner (or non-partner) universities.

More than 30 years of managing international mobility in official programmes, such as Erasmus, have allowed us to make great progress in the reinforcement of academic recognition, especially partial recognition as a result of international exchanges and study abroad.

The experience accumulated at the international level, which has enabled more than 10 million people to participate in Erasmus+ and its predecessors, has served as a guide for the academic recognition programmes that have subsequently emerged on other continents. However, more than 30 years into the modern era of academic exchange, there are still a number of challenges that need to be studied and addressed.

Overall, academic recognition is divided into three main areas:

  • first, partial recognition of studies resulting from international mobility;
  • second, partial recognition as a consequence of students transferring from one institution to another;
  • and third, recognition of a complete academic cycle (bachelor, masters or doctoral degree) in a country other than the one where the studies were completed.

Although work is obviously still going on to improve the conditions under which partial recognition takes place, such as the harmonisation of legal frameworks and the consolidation or construction of internationally standardised IT tools, most efforts should focus, in our opinion, on the recognition of complete studies.

The reason for this is that this type of recognition is a fundamental part of the Bologna Process and is also one of the pillars underpinning the European Higher Education Area.

Full degree recognition is also more complex than recognition through mobility programmes, raises more legal and even political dilemmas and, if properly managed, can provide a series of positive externalities, from an economic and social point of view, that transcend the short term and can positively affect thousands of people every year.

From the point of view of a European-level analysis, academic recognition systems continue to be based on the provisions of the 1997 Lisbon Treaty and also on further developments that were established after the final implementation of the Bologna Process.

The recommendation of the Council of Europe of 26 November 2018 also delves into this analysis of recognition, encouraging the well-known suggestion that, by 2025, the processes of automatic recognition of learning outcomes within the Union should be implemented.

Quick wins

Until this scenario occurs, there are relatively quick, but above all effective, ways of moving towards full recognition of higher education learning outcomes in the European Union. These ways could be summarised as follows:

  • To recognise as bachelor/masters/doctoral degrees all those degrees that are accredited in their country of origin by agencies that are part of recognised quality networks (particularly the ENQA, the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education).
  • To recognise as bachelor degrees leading to a regulated profession – this question is especially relevant in certain Southern European countries – those degrees recognised as such in the country of origin and which are subject to national quality assurance agencies, whenever they also belong to ENQA.
  • To recognise as bachelor/masters degrees of non-ENQA systems those degrees that are accredited by internationally recognised quality labels (for example, EUR-ACE, Euro-Inf or ABET in engineering, EQUIS, AMBA or AACSB in the case of business studies).

The Spanish example

While these actions are being definitively implemented, it is necessary to keep moving forward in the reform of the current legal frameworks that contribute to the recognition of learning outcomes within higher education.

A laudable and ambitious recent initiative in this regard is the proposed modification of the regulations applicable to the recognition of completed degrees by the Spanish government announced in March 2021, which could serve as a model for both other European and non-European countries. Through this reform, the aim is to tackle the backlog of thousands of degree recognition files that have accumulated in Spain, mainly from 2018 onwards. There are currently more than 15,000 applications on the waiting list, mostly from students from Latin America and North Africa.

This announced reform is intended to facilitate the attraction of international talent and the hiring of qualified personnel to the Spanish labour market, and is similar to what has been done in at least six other European countries. This reform includes an abbreviated route for the recognition of degrees from the European Higher Education Area.

Fast-track recognition will also apply to degrees obtained from non-European institutions where there is evidence that, in the past, at least 100 files from a given higher education institution have been favourably resolved.

In the remaining cases, non-European institutions where there is no proven experience of recognition will be submitted to an accreditation commission, which will also have to respect pre-established deadlines.

The challenges that have existed regarding academic recognition have not been overcome as rapidly as we would have wished. It is therefore necessary, and to some extent urgent, to implement effective national and coordinated European policies. These practices should definitely support international recognition policies, ease the inflow of talent into our economies and at the same time provide transparency and confidence in our administration processes, which should support the genuine integration of a world-class higher education system.

Sebastian Bruque is vice president for internationalisation, University of Jaén, Spain; professor in management (POM and international management); author or co-author of more than 50 papers in internationally recognised journals; a visiting scholar in universities in the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Slovenia, United States and India, and commissioner at the European Council for Business Education.

Juan-Manuel Rosas is vice president for strategy and change management at the University of Jaén, Spain. He is also professor of experimental psychology; author or co-author of more than 80 WoS international publications and adviser of 10 PhD theses. He holds a PhD in experimental psychology from the University of the Basque Country, and has been a research assistant professor at the University of Vermont and a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, US.

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