In order to facilitate student mobility, faster and more transparent procedures for the recognition of foreign qualifications are needed. A recently emerged concept is ‘automatic recognition’ of comparable degrees. The ‘Focus on Automatic Institutional Recognition’ (FAIR) project explores the practical implementation of the concept, formulating concrete recommendations on how to implement it within Europe.
Towards automatic recognition
Where does automatic recognition come from? ‘The Pathfinder Group on automatic recognition’, a special working group, was first to explore the concept. The group was established upon recommendation of the Ministers of Education in the European Higher Education Area (EHEA), as communicated in the Bucharest Ministerial Communique 2012.
The basic idea behind automatic recognition is that the harmonisation effort of the Bologna Process, that resulted in the Bachelor – Master structure, should result in faster and more consistent recognition practices. The Pathfinder Group report was recently published and approved during the Yerevan Ministerial Conference in May 2015. Moreover, in Yerevan, the Ministers committed “to ensure that qualifications from other EHEA countries are automatically recognised at the same level as relevant domestic qualifications”. The ultimate goal is for automatic recognition to become a reality in the EHEA by 2020.
“No way to control it, it’s totally automatic?”
The Pathfinder Group used the slogan ‘a Bachelor is a Bachelor is a Bachelor’ to illustrate that automatic recognition of degrees makes the degree holder eligible for a follow-up study programme in any EHEA country. Automatic recognition standardises recognition decisions at the system level. At the programme level, however, it will still be necessary to evaluate whether an applicant is likely to succeed at the goal for which recognition is sought.
Automatic recognition is not uncontrollable and totally automatic, as the Pointer Sisters would say. It leads to faster and more consistent recognition decisions at the system level, while at the same time taking into account the individual context of the degree holder.
After the Pathfinder Group’s recommendations were formulated, one big question remained: how to implement automatic recognition in practice. Until now, it had mostly been a theoretical concept that was never implemented in practice. To explore practical implications, the FAIR project was founded under a new type of action line within the Erasmus+ programme: Key Action 3, Policy Experimentation.
Under FAIR, 23 Higher Education Institutions from six countries (Flanders in Belgium, Croatia, Germany, Italy, Spain and The Netherlands) will experiment with implementing automatic recognition in their institutional recognition procedure. Using pre-established indicators, participating institutions will first map out their current procedure in a baseline assessment. Under guidance of the European Network of Information Centres in the European Region and National Academic Recognition Information Centres in the European Union (ENIC-NARICs), tailor-made recommendations will be provided to each institution on how to include elements of automatic recognition. A second step will measure to what extent the recognition procedures improved, utilising the same indicators used in the baseline assessment.
In addition to that, the European Consortium of Accreditation (ECA) will provide quality assurance input. The ECA’s involvement is especially relevant given the new European Standards & Guidelines for accreditation – in particular standard 1.4, which recommends including recognition as part of institutional procedures.
Another aspect explored is possible obstacles in national legislation. Here, participating Ministries of Education play a crucial role.
Upon completion of the project, recommendations will be formulated for all six participating countries and at the European level. The project runs from January 2015 until March 2017. For more information about the FAIR project, including a full list of participating partners, you can visit the website of the project.
Bas Wegewijs and Jenneke Lokhoff are Coordinators of the FAIR project