Convenios regionales / global de reconocimiento de títulos
Marzo 26, 2024

Qualification recognition treaty: A ‘game changer’ for HE

Refugees and students returning to their home country after gaining their higher education qualifications abroad are among those set to benefit from an international programme agreed upon by the first 28 countries to ratify the United Nations’ first global treaty on the recognition of higher education qualifications.

With Senegal being the latest country to sign up, UNESCO’s global convention aims to establish fair, transparent and non-discriminatory recognition of higher education qualifications across borders throughout the world.

The convention marked the first anniversary of coming into force with an extraordinary session of the Intergovernmental Conference of the States Parties to the Global Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications concerning Higher Education held in Paris on 7 March.

The meeting unanimously agreed upon an interim work programme for next year, with Borhene Chakroun, UNESCO’s director of policies and lifelong learning systems, claiming it will be “a game-changer for higher education” by improving the recognition of international qualifications and removing barriers to mobility, particularly for students moving from the Global South to the Global North for their qualifications and then back again.

Chakroun told University World News a key focus will be quality assurance, including for transnational education and the recognition of refugee qualifications to build on initiatives such as the UNESCO Qualifications Passport for Refugees and Vulnerable Migrants.

Down to business

The Global Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications concerning Higher Education was first adopted at a UNESCO general conference back in 2019, but it needed to be ratified by at least 20 countries – a number only reached in December 2022 – before coming into force, which it did on 5 March 2023.

It got down to business last July with a major conference of state parties committed to increasing academic mobility, which attracted over 250 international delegates, at which Stig Arne Skjerven, a Norwegian diplomat with a background in higher education, was elected as chair.

A working group was also set up to develop an interim work plan, as University World News reported, and that has now been adopted, with Skjerven saying: “It lays out the first globally agreed operationalisation on how the convention can assist member states, universities and, most importantly, students with foreign qualifications.”

Regional conventions

Among the first tasks is working out how the global convention can fit with the various regional conventions, such as the Lisbon Recognition Convention to support recognition of higher education qualifications in Europe, which was agreed by the Council of Europe in co-operation with UNESCO in 1997.

“That convention has been ratified by more than 50 states and inspired similar processes in other regions, with the Tokyo Convention covering the Asia-Pacific region, the Addis Convention for Africa, and the Buenos Aires Convention for Latin America and the Caribbean, which all are operational. An Arab Convention is on its way and will soon come into force,” said Skjerven.

“We’re going to look at the relationship between the global and the regional conventions, both with regards to legal and practical aspects in which the texts differ,” he said.

So far only 28 countries have ratified the global convention, with Senegal recently joining Andorra, Armenia, Australia, Cabo Verde, Côte d’Ivoire, Croatia, Cuba, Estonia, Finland, France, Guinea, Holy See, Hungary, Iceland, Japan, Lithuania, Moldova, Nicaragua, Norway, Romania, Slovakia, State of Palestine, Sweden, Tunisia, United Kingdom, Uruguay and Yemen as signatories.

Chakroun claims this represents “a quarter of the world’s internationally mobile student population” and that another 30 countries are at “advanced stages of the ratification process”.

But, he accepted, this still leaves some of the major sending and receiving countries for internationally mobile students, such as the United States, Canada, Germany, China, India, Brazil, South Africa and Turkey, currently outside the global convention – although a number did send observers to the 7 March 2024 extraordinary meeting in Paris.

Support expected to double

Skjerven admitted ratification can be a lengthy process, but he is confident the number of UNESCO member states supporting the global convention will double in the next five years.

He told University World News: “We plan to spend the next year preparing the globally agreed operational guidelines to adopt at our second major conference of the Global Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications concerning Higher Education in June 2025.

“Preliminary studies, which will form bases for globally agreed decisions, will be developed regarding areas such as transnational education quality assurance and recognition of refugees’ qualifications, including pathways.”

HE explained: “With financial support from Japan and Norway, the secretariat is now also enabled to carry out capacity building activities in regions and member states.

“Our goal is to remove, or at least reduce, the barriers to mobility and make it much easier for students to move from one country to another for their higher education, and then to return home again with the qualifications they have obtained from abroad fully recognised.

“This isn’t always the case. There are many situations where students from the Global South obtaining qualifications from the North are facing great hurdles and obstacles having their qualifications recognised in their home country or home region. Unless this is resolved, it will constrain brain circulation which is one of the most important aspects we hope this convention will achieve.”

Support for SDG 4

Skjerven believes the convention’s interim work programme will support the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 4, which is about “ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all”, including the estimated 6.3 million international students, half of whom are studying outside their own region.

“It is paramount to keep in mind that this is about people and not just about the instruments, tools and other activities that we talk about at our meetings and that we need to put in support for those forced into involuntary migration,” said Skjerven.

Chris Lyons, head of external engagement at UK ENIC (the British national agency for recognition and evaluation of international qualifications and skills), agreed. He represented the United Kingdom at the Paris extraordinary session and told University World News that recognition of refugee qualifications would be a key part of the convention’s work programme for 2024-25.

“We want to improve the situation for refugees, and for displaced and under-represented people. UK ENIC already has a heavy focus on refugee recognition and has a developed methodology for evaluating partially completed studies, and can provide supporting guidance for applicants without certificates,” said Lyons.

“It supports initiatives like the European Qualifications Passport for Refugees and subsequent efforts to ensure refugees have access to recognition services. These developments did not emerge by accident but came from within the ENIC-NARIC community and at individual recognition centres. This was one of the benefits to emerge from the Lisbon Recognition Convention and from the evolution of the other regional recognition services around the world,” he explained.

Improved practices

Lyons said while the details of the Global Recognition Convention (GRC) and regional conventions like the Lisbon Convention can appear very technical and detailed, their implementation leads to improved practices that in simple terms make it easier for individuals to work, study and live in other countries.

“It provides a common, shared language and set of guidelines for recognising and evaluating qualifications as part of that process and [more] governments need to indicate intent to sign and provide the impetus and momentum towards being a GRC signatory country,” he said, with a nod towards China and the United States.

That’s a view shared by Chakroun at UNESCO in Paris, who told University World News: “Global recognition of qualifications and promotion of academic mobility can be fully realised only through collective responsibility and collaborative effort.”

Nic Mitchell is a UK-based freelance journalist and PR consultant specialising in European and international higher education. He blogs at www.delacourcommunications.com

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