Recognition of foreign qualifications: How it works

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Published 2020-01-22 09:00

Looking to work abroad? But what about your qualifications? To find the best bet to boost your career overseas, obtaining the recognition of your diplomas is an essential step. But is the recognition system similar in every country around the world? Let's find out.

Europe and the “ETCS” system

The European Credits Transfer System (ETCS) allows more transparency along with greater mobility for international students looking to study in Europe. This system guarantees the continuity and equivalence of diplomas between the different European countries. However, it only applies to Europe. The ETCS is based on a credit system corresponding to a given period of study. For instance, one year of study makes you eligible for 60 credits, which means 30 credits per semester.

In fact, these credits are distributed between Degree-Master-Doctorate courses in order to harmonise European university courses. This system also contributes to enhancing student mobility.

A Degree course that runs over six semesters grants 180 credits. For a Master, you will need 300 credits (two years of Master courses delivering 120 credits) while the Doctorate corresponds to 480 credits.

However, there is a limit to this harmonisation system. In Finland, one credit corresponds to 27 hours of courses. In Portugal and the Netherlands, count one hour more. In Belgium, Germany, Hungary and Romania, one credit accounts for 30 hours of courses, while in Italy, Spain and Austria, the same accounts for 25 hours of courses.

Besides, foreign professionals are often required to provide a certificate of recognition of their diploma, issued by an international centre for educational studies. Every country has its own, attached to the Ministry of National Education, like France, which has the ENIC-NARIC. Note that fees apply (70 euros in France, for example).

What about non-European countries?

While the ETCS is only valid in Europe, the American Academic Credits System is the other major harmonisation system.

In the United States, the number of credits required to graduate also depends on the duration of the university program. However, while the ETCS insists on the duration of the course, the American Academic Credits System seems to give significant importance to the time taken by the professor for each course.

A certain number of credits is granted each semester. Here, we are no longer talking about semester credit hours.

Full-time degrees courses requiring a student attendance rate that is higher or equal to 75% usually grant 15 credit hours per semester, that is 30 credit hours per year.

In general, an undergraduate course grants 1 or 2 credits. For Masters courses (including MBA), you get 3 to 4 credits. A Bachelor's degree can earn you 120 to 130 credit hours while the Master's degree on its own grants 30 to 64 credits.

Besides harmonising the university system, the Academic Credits System also calculates the rank of each student. This is known as the Grade Point Average (GPA), obtained through the credit hours. Results converted into grades in the form of letters (from A to F) are then given in figures. "A" means that the student has proved 90 to 100% of their skills. With a “B”, the rate drops significantly: 80 to 89%. "C" represents another 10% drop, and it goes on with the "D" and "E". With an "F", expect grades below 50%.

Universities usually select students through the GPA, which implies extra pressure as they struggle to get the highest possible score.

Similar to the ETCS, which is only valid within Europe, the Academic Credits System only applies to the United States. To obtain a recognition certificate, you should turn to a credit evaluation centre. Whether you are looking to work or study in the US, your credits will be compared with American standards. Note that fees apply.

In other non-European countries, applications are processed individually. Qualifications are not automatically transferable or valid from one country to another. Potential students or workers can seek more information from their home country's embassy ​​, which can refer them to an appropriate organisation.