Towards a Global Convention on the Recognition of Studies, Diplomas and Degrees in Higher Education

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1 Towards a Global Convention on the Recognition of Studies, Diplomas and Degrees in Higher Education Final Experts Meeting Report July 2014 UNESCO Headquarters, Fontenoy Building Purpose The meeting convened experts to advance work towards a global convention for the recognition of studies, diplomas and degrees in higher education. The experts were tasked with providing input to UNESCO on: current and future trends in the field of recognition of higher education qualifications; aims, basic principles and key issues of a global normative instrument; articulation between the global and regional conventions; and implementation mechanisms. Participants Ms Elizabeth Campbell-Dorning, Chair of the Bureau of the Asia-Pacific Regional Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications in Higher Education Ms Eva Egron-Polak, International Association of Universities Mr Fernando Galan Palomares, European Students Union Mr Kevin Guillaume, Chair of the European Network of Information Centres Dr Ahmad Jammal, Ministry of Education and Higher Education, Lebanon Ms Maria Jose Lemaitre, CINDA, Chile Mr Zakari Lire, Conseil Africain et Malgache pour l Enseignement Superieur Ms Yoshiko Matsunaga Hayashi, Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, Japan Mr Georges Stanley Njoroge, Commonwealth Students Association Mr Jean-Philippe Restoueix, Council of Europe Mr Joe Samuels, South African Qualifications Authority Dr Paulo Speller, Ministry of Education, Brazil Mr Gunnar Vaht, Chair of the Bureau of the Lisbon Recognition Convention Committee Ms Ethel Agnes P. Valenzuela, SEAMEO INNOTECH 7, place de Fontenoy Paris 07 SP, France Tél. : +33 (0) Fax : +33 (0)

2 - 2 - Summary of discussion Introduction The experts group was asked to start the conversations needed to inform UNESCO s development of a normative instrument to support global mobility through qualifications recognition. Existing regional conventions do not necessarily reflect recent expansion, diversification, harmonisation and internationalisation of higher education or changing trends in quality assurance, cross-border education and qualifications frameworks. The input of a wide range of stakeholder groups including students, academics, education providers, employers, professions and governments was identified as essential in ensuring a global instrument is meaningful and is practical rather than theoretical in its relevance and application. The support of all regions was acknowledged as an essential precondition for a strong and meaningful global instrument. A global convention that is driven by one or two regions, especially those with revised and active regional conventions, without the concomitant investment of the other regions would not result in a useful instrument. A global instrument will support recognition internationally, not just at a regional level. It will reflect that student mobility, internationalisation and harmonisation go beyond regions. Recognition conventions enhance internationalisation and mobility by introducing and improving recognition processes, fostering mutual trust between member states, and building capacity for qualifications recognition. The broader context of UNESCO work was flagged as important to the experts group s considerations. In particular, it was noted that UNESCO is progressing TVET recognition through the world reference levels and, more broadly, ISCED. The Concept Note for the Preliminary Report to be submitted to the 38 th session of the General Conference was tabled for the experts consideration. Current and future trends in the field of recognition of higher education qualifications To ensure the longevity of a global instrument the experts group was asked to consider the current environment for recognition and to anticipate future developments. This was identified as especially relevant given the prolonged timeframe for developing normative instruments. Trust and ethics A key theme discussed was the role of trust in recognition and the roles recognition authorities, higher education institutions, students and employers have to play in this. Existing systems build trust at the regional level, but there is no mechanism that builds trust beyond regions in a way that reflects current and future mobility patterns. Key points included: mobility relies on trust in the quality of education diversity of educational models affects levels of trust; more information about different systems would facilitate flexibility in recognition practice the need to focus on ethical practices in higher education and recognition, including equity, transparency and non-discrimination in the provision of information

3 - 3 - Roles and responsibilities It was noted that there would be particular value in establishing formal relationships between quality assurance, qualifications frameworks and qualifications recognition in a global convention. Other points included: more coherence between quality assurance, qualifications frameworks and qualifications recognition improving recognition practices while respecting the autonomy of higher education institutions to make recognition decisions the role of employers in recognition and the importance of building trust and engaging with employers Innovation In the future, there will be a broader definition of what a qualification is. A global convention could support stakeholders in repositioning their thinking on traditional concepts of students, modes of study and institutions and facilitate better recognition of innovative higher education. Key points included: the challenge for recognition policy to keep pace with higher education practices, especially in terms of internationalisation and diversification of pathways and modes of learning increasing access to higher education brings more diversity in students and institutions which presents challenges for recognition policy necessity of recognition authorities broadening their awareness of, and trust in, higher education innovation more demand for recognition of periods of study and partial study the concept of tertiary education (that is, post-secondary academic, professional and vocational education) and flexible pathways (i.e. transition from TVET to higher education and vice versa) Political and economic context Although less definitive on likely trends, a number of political and economic factors were raised as important considerations for the future of recognition: decrease in public funding for higher education may influence the behaviour of higher education institutions and result in more competitive/protectionist practices in recognition rather than collaboration and cooperation current political will for higher education reform and harmonisation may not continue higher education as a public good and the commercialisation of higher education affecting access importance of engaging more countries in existing regional conventions, especially in terms of ratification and implementation Aims, basic principles and key issues of a global normative instrument Aims A global normative instrument should have similar goals to the regional conventions in terms of supporting mobility, participation, integration and productivity. It could facilitate equity in recognition by ensuring all regions have common recognition principles while addressing the challenges of inter-regional mobility through capacity-building, development of shared tools and

4 - 4 - establishment of a network of recognition practitioners. It could raise the profile of good recognition practices among stakeholder groups and highlight the inefficiencies caused by barriers to recognition. It could establish a framework for information provision, which is the basis of building mutual trust, an issue that is amplified at the global level. A global convention should complement regional conventions and motivate revision and monitoring of regional conventions. Basic principles The experts group broadly accepted the basic principles outlined in the Concept Note. In addition to these, the experts group considered the principles of: diversity in recognition procedures and practices responsibility, in terms of higher education being a public good and public responsibility, and also in terms of acknowledging not just the autonomy but the responsibilities of higher education institutions mutual trust and cooperation between stakeholders higher education as a tool for personal, social and national development the right to appeal the right to non-discrimination A topic of discussion was whether the Concept Note should address the commodification of higher education, especially in terms of trade in goods and services and whether this conflicts with higher education as a public good and public responsibility. Key issues Discussion centred on regional conventions and the limited information about why some regional conventions are functional and others are not, successes and failures in regional conventions, differences in principles and concepts of regional conventions, and differences in implementation of regional conventions. Clarity on these matters is seen as an essential prerequisite for development of a global convention that builds on but does not duplicate regional conventions. As regional conventions are ineffective mechanisms in some regions, a global convention that builds on these may lack the support of all regions, which is necessary for a meaningful instrument. The experts group identified that a critical objective was articulating the relationships between quality assurance, qualifications frameworks and qualifications recognition rather than the global convention focusing on improving quality assurance and qualifications frameworks. Considerations included: optimal mobility outcomes are achieved when recognition is supported by quality assurance and qualifications frameworks, but that they are not mandatory the role of quality assurance and qualifications recognition at a global level the feasibility of a global convention that emphasises quality assurance and qualifications framework principles rather than recognition principles Other issues raised concerned the scope and coverage of the global convention in terms of: qualification types the Concept Note covers a far broader range of qualification types than is generally accepted to be higher education. In

5 - 5 - particular, it was deemed problematic to include qualifications which are not recognised at a national level (e.g. badges, corporate certificates). Additionally, the ISCED references were not seen as useful. However, it was noted that the list should be expanded to include periods of study, training and lifelong learning. recognition types including professional recognition in addition to academic recognition may be problematic, due to the politicisation of labour mobility and the purpose of higher education being broader than employability. In terms of these issues, the experts group identified that UNESCO may need to develop tools to support member states in developing policies to manage these new concepts. Articulation between the global and regional conventions Regional conventions are a valuable means of addressing recognition and mobility issues specific to higher education in each region. Significant advances have been made in regional collaboration and information-sharing through participation in these regional conventions. Many member states have invested time and resources in meeting obligations under the regional conventions. For these reasons, the experts group considered the following options for articulation between the global and regional conventions: articulation between regional and global conventions should incentivise participation in both the global convention could reference concepts common to the regional conventions and summarise additional principles of newer regional conventions, such as national information centres, networks and substantial difference ratification of a regional convention could be a prerequisite for engagement in the development and implementation mechanism of a global convention if the global convention references regional conventions it will be very difficult for member states to implement it if they have not ratified an underpinning regional convention the global convention could monitor what is effective and ineffective in regional conventions and work with the bureaus to build capacity and improve implementation The discussion on articulation raised the issue of resourcing, especially in terms of the capacity of member states to participate in both regional and global processes. It was emphasised that the global and regional conventions would need to have clearly defined, parallel purposes to ensure the sustainability and strength of both. Implementation mechanisms The experts group did not agree on the necessity of a legal framework and questioned what it could achieve that a non-binding instrument could not. A legal framework was likely to be a disincentive to participation, and it was noted that despite regional conventions being legal instruments there are no sanctions and the focus is on implementing best-practice rather than monitoring adherence to obligations. However, UNESCO clarified that the resolution adopted at the 38 th session of the UNESCO General Conference agreed that the process of elaborating a global convention be initiated.

6 - 6 - A global convention, as a legal instrument, would require lengthy legislative processes in member states. For this reason, stakeholders would need to be realistic about timeframes for implementation, and that some member states could not pursue ratification of an instrument that does not have a clear purpose and identity compared to the regional conventions. Due to the need for wide participation, implementation will need to be simple, flexible and remove barriers to participation. It was noted that in the European experience, implementation of the regional convention has been through the national information centres and its network, meetings and tools. Such interaction builds mutual understanding and mutual trust while stimulating discussion, capacity-building and reform. Obstacles to implementation were noted in terms of differences in quality at the global level, coverage of recognition for refugees and professionals, lack of recognition infrastructure (such as national information centres) and the resources that may be required by member states to implement. The experts group considered that there is a risk of over-engineering a solution through a global normative instrument, when a basic low-resource solution may improve inter-regional cooperation, information-sharing and trust. The Guidelines for Cross-Border Education were noted as a potential alternative model for a global agreement that promotes best-practice. A global convention should be pursued only if it will demonstrably improve recognition practices in a way that no other instrument could. Next steps To manage risks, the experts group recommended that UNESCO pursue a comparative analysis of regional conventions in terms of similarities, differences, strengths, weaknesses, ratification and implementation (including subsidiary texts and supplementary tools). It was also recommended that UNESCO undertake a survey on the impact and value of regional conventions. This would inform how a global convention could differ from a regional convention and address the shortfalls of existing legal instruments as well as supporting a clearer understanding of challenges in each region, including why certain regional processes do not appear to be functional. The comparative analysis and survey could be undertaken in parallel. It was deemed important to be realistic by focusing on goals of practical value. The experts group considered the purpose of a global convention in terms of trust (information provision), equity and ethics (transparency and non-discrimination), flexibility (minimising prescriptiveness) and outlook (rethinking traditional higher education). While tools and mechanisms that support recognition such as quality assurance and qualifications frameworks are an important consideration in the development of a global convention, it must have a clear focus on recognition and build on achievements made in the regional conventions. * * *

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