Global Recognition Convention boosts global mobility

The UNESCO General Conference recently adopted the Global Convention on the Recognition of Higher Education Qualifications. This has the potential to bring about substantial change in international academic mobility.

Until now, students who have studied outside their home region have faced a lot of uncertainty regarding the recognition of received qualifications when returning home or when moving to another region. Once the global recognition convention enters into force, students will receive the right to receive fair, transparent and non-discriminatory evaluations of their qualifications.

Right to a fair assessment

Qualifications will be recognised, unless there are substantial differences with corresponding domestic qualifications. Hence, the burden of proof has shifted from the applicant to the recognition authority. In addition, recognition procedures must comply with a shared set of principles, recommendations, practices and legal provisions.

Altogether, students can be confident that their qualifications will receive fair and equal treatment when seeking recognition in a country in a new region. Recognition of foreign qualifications will not in itself be guaranteed, but the holder knows they will be granted a right to an assessment of their qualifications based on fair, transparent and non-discriminatory criteria.

Interregional mobility as a benefit and a necessity

Students who choose to study abroad access theoretical and methodological approaches they might not find in their home countries. They must adapt to another way of life, interact with new cultures, maybe learn a new language and gain friends from multiple other countries. This equips them with skills, knowledge and networks that are of great value in globally interconnected societies that require international cooperation in trade and in solving shared challenges.

Other students are being forced to study outside their home countries and regions. Military conflicts, natural disasters, systemic discrimination and other atrocities leave them with no other option than to migrate. Thus, the establishment of the UNESCO Qualifications Passport, modelled on a methodology developed by NOKUT in Norway, is a most welcome decision. The methodology is already introduced in Europe by Council of Europe in the successful European Qualifications Passport for Refugees scheme. The Qualifications Passport specifically addresses the challenges faced by refugees who often lack the required documentation of their qualifications needed for recognition.

Providing opportunities

More than 2.5 million students study outside their region – a number that is likely to grow in the coming years, according to UNESCO’s estimates. However, the labour market is also increasingly international. Many end up using their studies to find work outside the region in which the qualification was received.

The higher education community should encourage and support unconventional mobility choices. Taking away barriers to recognition contributes to this goal. There are therefore reasons to assume the global convention may enable more students to opt for academic institutions in countries which have comparatively low numbers of students from outside the region.

The global recognition convention also has the potential to benefit students from less developed countries. Loss of highly skilled students is a challenge for many developing economies. Improving recognition procedures globally, by the implementation of this convention, can potentially counter some of the causes of brain drain and instead incentivise brain circulation.

A collaborative effort

Cooperation and collective efforts have been key to establishing the Global Recognition Convention and they will be vital when it comes to implementing the convention. In its text the convention is normative, but its principles and recommendations are clear. Fair, transparent and non-discriminatory recognition practices must become a reality on the ground.

Commitments by all signatory countries towards building capacity, putting in place suited procedures and collaborating closely to share information are also important on the road ahead. For example, in Europe, existing practices in the ENIC and NARIC Networks and in other mechanisms, as described in a recent article in University World News, will be important sources of inspiration.

Under the auspices of UNESCO, the global recognition convention will continue to bring the international education community together to share practices, to provide recommendations on good practice and to establish concrete guidelines. This adds value beyond the legal provisions of the text, by improving capacity and by connecting recognition expertise globally more closely together.

Terje Mørland is chief executive of NOKUT (Norwegian Agency for Quality Assurance in Education – Norwegian ENIC-NARIC). E-mail: Stig Arne Skjerven is director of foreign education at the Norwegian Agency for Quality Assurance in Education or NOKUT (Norwegian ENIC-NARIC) and president of the ENIC bureau – European Network of Information Centres. E-mail: