You are viewing an archived web page, collected at the request of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) using Archive-It. This page was captured on 15:35:54 Dec 06, 2020, and is part of the UNESCO collection. The information on this web page may be out of date. See All versions of this archived page.
Loading media information hide

What you need to know about qualifications recognition


There are over 5,3 million students pursuing higher education outside their home countries today. This rapid growth in international mobility at the university level is likely to continue. A year since the adoption of the Global Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications concerning Higher Education, UNESCO is calling on Member States to ratify it and help make international academic mobility and the recognition of qualifications a reality for millions around the world. But what does qualifications recognition exactly mean? Here’s what you need to know.

  1. What is recognition?

Recognition is a formal acknowledgement by a competent recognition authority regarding the validity and academic level of a foreign education qualification, of partial studies or prior learning.

  1. What is the purpose of the recognition?

Recognition aims to provide an applicant with outcomes, including, but not limited to, the right to apply for admission to higher education and the possibility to seek employment opportunities.

  1. Who seeks recognition?

Individuals who have acquired a qualification, partially completed a higher education programme or gained prior learning in another county.

  1. Why seek recognition?

Individuals seek recognition for many reasons, for instance, to begin or continue studies in higher education, to use an academic title to seek access to a specific profession or to ease transition into the labour market.

  1. What are the benefits of the recognition?

Recognition is a powerful tool to facilitate mobility from one country to another to study, research, teach or work. Through processes of recognition, a qualification from one education system is acknowledged in another education system.

  1. What is the role of the national authorities in recognition matters?

The national authorities are ultimately responsible for the legislation regulating recognition. In many countries, ministries of education also play a role in the assessment and recognition of qualifications, either directly or by delegating authority to another entity, e.g. the National Information Centre or a similar entity.

  1. Who is responsible for recognition?

Recognition is undertaken by a competent recognition authority, which is an entity mandated to assess qualifications and/or make decisions on the recognition of qualifications by laws, regulations, policies or practices of a country. Recognition authorities are often public institutions, such as individual higher education institutions, but they may also be organized as private companies, foundations or non-governmental organizations. In some countries, there will be more than one competent recognition authority, each with a responsibility for different types of recognition.

  1. What is the role of the competent recognition authority?

Recognition authorities serve as door openers and gatekeepers. Their roles must be balanced carefully. Recognition authorities can open the door for mobility and inclusion in the academic world or labour market of another country. They can also provide a public trust service in protecting national education and labour markets from fake diplomas and substandard qualifications.

  1. How should the recognition process be conducted?

Recognition authorities should conduct the recognition assessments in good faith, giving clear reasons for decisions. Their decisions must be based on appropriate, reliable, accessible and up-to-date information on higher-education systems, institutions, programmes and quality assurance mechanisms and with due respect for the diversity of higher-education systems worldwide. Trust, transparency, fairness, timeliness and non-discrimination are principles that must be considered during the recognition process. Information exchange between higher education systems must be encouraged during the recognition process and respect of the global diversity of education systems must also be kept in mind.

  1. What is the role of the higher education institutions in recognition matters?

Higher education institutions often play a central role in recognition matters. In most countries, they have the power to make decisions regarding admission to education programmes, the right to use an academic title and the recognition of entire qualifications or partial studies. Higher education institutions may also be involved in recognition of prior learning.

  1. How can recognition be expressed?

The form of recognition may vary, depending on the purpose of the recognition and the national context. In some contexts, recognition is a formal legal decision, whereas in other contexts recognition is given in the form of an advisory statement.

  1. How can recognition bodies justify the non-recognition of qualifications?

Non-recognition is the exception and must be duly explained and justified. Recognition authorities may do so by demonstrating that the differences between the applicant’s qualification and comparable qualifications in their own system would prevent the applicant from succeeding in the desired activity, e.g. that the differences are so significant that the applicant would be unable to successfully complete a programme of higher education or succeed in work.

  1. How can recognition bodies assess whether the differences of qualifications are significant?

The significant differences or substantial differences are differences that would have a negative impact on the purposes that are being pursued. This differs from an equivalence-based approach, where the aim is to establish that the foreign qualification is essentially similar to a domestic one. It is desirably to phase out the equivalence-based approach as this hinders the advancement of best practices in recognition.


Photo: F8 studio/Shutterstock.com