This section gives preliminary notions and information around the complex issue of learning mobility and the international readability of qualifications.
The European context on automatic qualification recognition
Although one of the key efforts in European reforms in the EHEA has been to create a positive environment to support student mobility and automatic recognition of qualifications, this is still only a partial reality:
- ‘ …there is neither an automatic or straightforward process for the recognition of qualifications in most European education systems. Given the autonomy of higher education institutions and the blurring of boundaries between qualification recognition and admissions systems, the situation in many countries is not clear-cut. Only a handful of education systems report that they operate an automatic recognition system by taking the qualifications issued in other EHEA countries at face value. In the large majority of education systems, there is no automatic recognition of qualifications at system level, which means that recognition procedures are required for holders of qualifications from all EHEA countries.’ (European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice, 2019. Structural Indicators for Monitoring Education and Training Systems in Europe – 2019: Overview of major reforms since 2015. Eurydice Report. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union (p. 27).
- In 2018, for example, there were no automatic recognition of qualifications in Bulgaria, Germany, Estonia, Ireland, Greece, Spain, France, Croatia, Italy, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Austria, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, United Kingdom, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Liechtenstein, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia or Turkey. (ibid, 28).
The situation is further complicated by the differences in who the top-level authorities are who are recognising qualifications.
- The highest level of authority with responsibility for education in a given country is usually located at national (state) level. However, for Belgium, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom, the Communautés, Länder, Comunidades Autónomas and devolved administrations respectively are responsible for all or most areas relating to education. Therefore, these administrations are considered as the top-level authority for the areas where they hold the responsibility, and for the areas of responsibility shared with the national (state) level both are considered to be top-level authorities (European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice, 2019. Structural Indicators for Monitoring Education and Training Systems in Europe – 2019: Overview of major reforms since 2015. Eurydice Report. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union (p. 30).
When it comes to qualifications in theological education accredited by the ECTE, automatic recognition of qualifications must deal with two additional factors:
- The dimension of national recognition of a qualification vs. cross-border, subject-specific recognition. Although the historical trend so far has been in favour of nationally recognised universities negotiating to accept each other’s qualifications, there is a growing call to recognise qualifications of the same level and quality that are accredited by cross-border, subject-specific accreditation agencies such as the ECTE.
- The difference in the status of institutions offering learning opportunities at higher education level adds a layer of complexity, as registrars in receiving institutions need to understand the differences and similarities between higher education institutions (HEIs) and alternative providers of higher education (APs) that are providing graduates with the same level of qualification. See more on Accreditation and institutional status
All this means that it very difficult for any form of accreditation, ECTE or otherwise, to guarantee that a qualification will be always recognised automatically everywhere.
Student mobility toward higher learning opportunities is always a process of negotiation and dialogue between the student, the ‘receiving’ institution, the ‘sending institution’ and the accreditation agency.
The international context on qualification readability
Once we move outside of Europe, it is understandable that registrars in institutions of higher education abroad find it increasingly difficult to recognise the qualifications of applicants from other parts of the world and then confidently grant admission to higher degrees. Often students only have a graduation certificate with the words ‘Bachelor of Theology’ written on it, but this may mean innumerable different things in different contexts. Transcripts can be of help, but these are also often not easy to decipher, especially when credit counting systems are different and degrees have not been studied in English (meaning that both qualifications and the transcripts need translation).
To assist both ECTE graduates and international institutions receiving them, the ECTE offers the following services:
- All ECTE institutions are required to provide a Diploma Supplement. This is a formal document that is similar to a detailed passport, in English, describing the qualification to an international audience.
- The ECTE Review Directory includes comparability statements to international frameworks such as the UNESCO International Standard Classification of Education and the ICETE Qualification Comparability Framework . The latter is particularly useful in comparing levels and common nomenclatures for qualifications that are used across the world.
- This website also features a page on Understanding the ECTE Accreditation Directory page to further enhance readability of qualifications by those that may not be completely familiar with the European higher education levels.
- ECTE staff is available to international registrars and ECTE graduates to provide further explanations relating to the nature, level and quality of the qualifications and their recognition. Please contact us.
As the possibilities of online study grow, student mobility of this kind is due to increase and the ECTE is committed to serve within these new realities.