23 Nov 2012

Learning how to overcome the challenges of foreign credential evaluation

credential-evaluationAfter a very intensive two and a half days, the course (‘How to Overcome the Challenges of Credential Evaluation’) offered by my co-presenter Duncan Hamshere and myself at the EAIE Academy in Porto came to a successful end on Wednesday afternoon. What type of people sign up for this course, and what exactly do they hope to learn? Most of the participants work in admissions at higher education institutions, and are responsible for evaluating the educational files of students from all over the world who are seeking admission to bachelor’s or master’s programmes.

This year, we had 15 participants working in six different countries. Several of the participants had a limited amount of experience in credential evaluation, while others have been involved in the field for several years.

Our goal as trainers was to provide participants with a thorough impression of the specific issues they will be confronted with when looking at foreign educational documents, and how to address these issues in a way that is considered to be fair and consistent. That may sound simple, but in a field which is not an exact science, where credential evaluators are required to make judgment calls on a daily basis, it is one of the major challenges we face. The good news is, we are not alone. We not only have the guidelines for good practice described in the Lisbon Recognition Convention and the European Area of Recognition Manual, but the real advantage of a training course is that we can benefit from the face-to-face exchange of information and experiences with colleagues in the same field.

On day one of the training course we covered most of the nuts and bolts of credential recognition, such as how differences among educational systems can be the source of error and confusion, (does a German Diplom-Kauffrau prepare the student for a job in a kiosk selling magazines or a career as corporate manager?), how to apply the criteria and procedures of the Lisbon Recognition Convention in daily practice, and the importance of accreditation and recognition to the field. During the afternoon, participants discussed in small groups various ways they could streamline the evaluation process in their offices, to help them cope with working in a pressurised environment. To encourage them to set priorities, they were asked to identify the most essential information about an applicant and his or her educational system that was needed to do an evaluation, and what resources they used most often to find this information.

During the morning of the second day, participants worked in small groups on a number of practice files from a variety of countries, requiring them to look up information, to discuss among themselves how they would evaluate the credential and, most importantly, why they came to a specific decision. For each case study, we discussed if the credential would be given full recognition (no ‘substantial differences’), partial recognition, or no recognition at all (the bachelor’s degree from a diploma mill was the only one that received no recognition at all). During the afternoon, our colleague from the Swedish National Agency for Higher Education, Cecilia George, gave a very informative presentation on evaluating credentials from Cameroon, Nigeria and Ethiopia. In her presentation, Cecilia also included useful information on how to fight fraud, mentioning from which countries and institutions we can receive official transcripts as well as some linguistic features to look out for (Tip: a Nigerian transcript should be signed for the registrar and not by the registrar).

On the last day of the workshop, Duncan gave an illuminating presentation on fraudulent documents, which is of course a subject of great interest and concern to everyone involved in international recognition. While introducing the topic with the announcement that “crime does pay”, based on the billions of dollars earned in the production of false documents of various kinds, in the course of the morning we were also presented with numerous tips and concrete examples on how to detect and combat fraud. The most important weapon we have at our disposal is our familiarity with standard educational documents from individual countries, and knowing what to expect regarding the right signatures, proper seals, coats of arms, layout and terminology. A great deal of fraud can fortunately be discovered with just a little bit of extra effort.

Based on the reactions of the participants both during as well as at the end of the training course, Duncan and I have no doubts it will prove to be a valuable learning experience. As with many intensive, hands-on courses, the usefulness of the information presented will become especially obvious when participants are back at their desks, confronted with credentials and possible evaluation issues discussed during our workshop. Hopefully the guidelines presented will prove beneficial when they are deciding how to proceed.

Jessica Stannard, Credential evaluation Consultant at Nuffic, the Netherlands

 
Sign up for the upcoming EAIE Academy to learn more about the topic.