1 The Diploma Supplement in Australia Iain Watt and Heather Gregory Department of Education, Science and Training, PO Box 9880, Canberra City ACT Abstract Australia will shortly ratify the Lisbon Recognition Convention, the primary purpose of which is to improve the international recognition of higher education qualifications and which sits within the wider context of the Bologna Declaration and the voluntary convergence of higher education systems in Europe. The Diploma Supplement is an important provision of the Lisbon Recognition Convention, and can be used by Australia s higher education institutions to address limitations on the international recognition of Australian higher education qualifications. It will make Australian qualifications more portable and their value more transparent by providing a description of the nature, level, context and status of the studies undertaken by the graduate, as well as information about the education system to which the qualification belongs. The National Office of Overseas Skills Recognition within the Department of Education, Science and Training is currently undertaking a Diploma Supplement Pilot Project with a number of Australian higher education institutions. Key Words Diploma Supplement qualifications recognition mobility transparency Introduction The Diploma Supplement is a document issued to graduates by the awarding institution in addition to the degree or diploma document. Its purpose is to make the qualification more portable and its value more transparent by providing a description of the nature, level, context and status of the studies that were pursued and completed by the graduate, as well as information about the education system to which the qualification belongs. It addresses problems faced by employers and assessing bodies (such as higher education institutions) in the recognition of international higher education qualifications. By including information about the features of the system as a whole it also promotes a broader understanding of the higher education systems in which such qualifications originated. DEST uses the term Diploma Supplement to describe this document because that is the term which is commonly used internationally for documents of this type. It is likely that Australian higher education institutions which decide to issue the Diploma Supplement will choose a name which is likely to have better recognition in the Australian context, as the use of Diploma in its meaning of testamur or degree document is not common in Australia. The Department of Education, Science and Training is developing and contributing funding to a pilot project to investigate the implications for Australia s higher education institutions of issuing the Diploma Supplement. The pilot project will develop examples of Australian Diploma Supplements for graduates from a representative variety of disciplines. The project will also identify the implications of issuing the Diploma Supplement for university administrative systems. We would then propose, with the agreement of the participating institutions, to take the Diploma Supplements generated by the pilot project and have them evaluated by a range of overseas assessing bodies. This would enable us to evaluate how successful they are in assisting international qualifications
2 experts to assess Australia s higher education qualifications. We also propose, in a subsequent project, to explore the way in which Australian higher education institutions use international Diploma Supplements to assist with the evaluation of international qualifications. Together the information we gain from these projects will help the Australian Government to promote the widespread use of this instrument of recognition, as it is obligated to do under the terms of the Lisbon Recognition Convention. The Lisbon Recognition Convention and the Diploma Supplement The Joint Council of Europe/UNESCO Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications concerning Higher Education in the European Region (the Lisbon Recognition Convention) was adopted in 1997 and provides an improved international framework for the assessment and recognition of higher education qualifications. The Convention was originally conceived as a device to prevent the emergence of a twotrack Europe, of which one track would have been economically dynamic, with a mobile workforce equipped with widely accepted higher education qualifications, and the other economically disadvantaged, with a workforce who would have difficulty having their educational qualifications recognised outside their country of origin. While the Convention is centered on Europe, there is a small group of countries which are immediately eligible to become parties to the Convention: Australia, Canada, Israel and the United States. While intended primarily to improve the recognition of higher education qualifications, the Lisbon Recognition Convention sits within the broader context of the Bologna Declaration and the voluntary reform of higher education in Europe. The Bologna Declaration is aimed at developing more convergent European higher education systems, of greater compatibility and comparability. While Europe s higher education systems are moving closer together with, for example, the widespread adoption of a threeplus-two system of Bachelor and Master degrees on the English model, in place of the five or six-year first-cycle programs traditionally offered in several northern European countries considerable diversity is likely to remain. The readability of qualifications and the transparency of the systems within which they are located will remain crucial to the continuing process of the integration of European higher education. The Diploma Supplement is an important provision of the Lisbon Recognition Convention. In June 2001 the Confederation of European Union Rectors Conferences (now the European Universities Association) completed a project to promote and implement the Diploma Supplement. The report provides an update on the progress that various European countries have made with regard to implementing the Diploma Supplement. There are three broad categories: those countries that have legislated (or are about to legislate) the issuing of a Diploma Supplement, either to all students or on request (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Romania, Russian Federation, Slovakia Slovenia and Sweden); those countries that have a widespread use of the Diploma Supplement, without legislation (Germany, Greece, Iceland, Spain, Liechtenstein and the Netherlands); and those countries that have supported the introduction of the Diploma Supplement, but where it is not yet generally used (France, Hungary, Ireland, Spain and the United Kingdom). The Report concludes that although there is a high level of awareness and a high degree of acceptance of the Diploma Supplement among European higher education institutions, it requires ongoing national and European support to lead to its more widespread introduction. Australia s ratification of the Lisbon Recognition Convention Australia signed the Lisbon Recognition Convention, subject to ratification, on 19 September On March the Lisbon Recognition Convention was tabled for ratification in both Houses of Federal
3 Parliament, and in July 2002 the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties of the Australian Parliament recommended that Australia ratify it. Australia is therefore in the final stages of ratifying the Convention, which largely reflects existing recognition principles and practices in this country. It has the potential to enhance arrangements for exchanges of students, provide more flexible arrangements for the recognition of overseas qualifications and improve the recognition of Australian qualifications overseas. By ratifying the Convention, Australia is renewing its commitment to uphold principles of fair practice and non-discrimination in assessment and recognition procedures, while signaling to other countries (and particularly to Europe) that its higher education system is outward looking and well equipped to operate in an internationalised environment. The Lisbon Recognition Convention specifically recognises that in some ratifying countries, higher education institutions have a high degree of autonomy. As a party to the Lisbon Recognition Convention, the Australian Government is bound to promote the use of the Diploma Supplement, but cannot require that higher education institutions implement it. For this reason, once Australia has ratified the Convention, one of the obligations of the Australian Government will be to promote the use of the Diploma Supplement by its higher education institutions. Recognition and mobility The origins of the Diploma Supplement lie in the particular European need for an improvement in the recognition of higher education degrees originating from a relatively large number of quite diverse higher education systems. The problem of recognition is not confined to Europe, however, and is also experienced in Australia by university admissions staff, professional assessing bodies and prospective employers. It is expected that the further internationalisation of higher education will see an increased number of students from less well known overseas institutions seeking to undertake further study in Australia as students become more mobile. In view of the major reforms in higher education in Europe, the use of the Diploma Supplement will improve the recognition of new degrees, and degrees from less well known institutions. While the Diploma Supplement will facilitate greater recognition of overseas qualifications in Australia, there will also be reciprocal benefits for Australian-educated students overseas. One such benefit is that the Diploma Supplement provides more information about Australian qualifications including a description of the qualification, information on its level, the content of the program of study leading to the qualification and the results gained. It also provides an explanation of the function of the qualification. It will record, for example, that a qualification admits the recipient to further study, or comprises the educational qualification required for registration or for admission to a professional association. Other relevant information would include a description of any period of study/training in another institution/company/country) or information sources particular to the qualification (such as the higher education institution website. The Diploma Supplement also provides information on the status of the awarding institution, and if necessary, the status of the institution administering the studies, in those cases where the institution responsible for the delivery of the programme differs from the institution awarding the qualification. Information on the status of the institution may include identifying any franchising arrangements in the delivery of the program of study leading to the qualification, whether the institution is private or public, and the general classification of the awarding institution (such as a university or specialised private institution). The Diploma Supplement places the qualification within the national higher education system. This includes information on the system, its general access requirements, types of institutions and the qualifications structure information which provides a context for the qualification. The Lisbon Recognition Convention obliges national information centres (in Australia s case, this is the National Office of Overseas Skills Recognition - NOOSR) to make this information available. NOOSR, in
4 consultation with the Australian Qualifications Framework Advisory Board, will develop a standard description for the Australian system to be included in Diploma Supplements. We anticipate that the Diploma Supplement will be a comparatively simple document (a Word document in fact), of about four pages in length, printed on security paper. Some universities which issue graduates with a Diploma Supplement may also choose to link this document to their system of attestation of graduate attributes or outcomes, or to roll the two together as part of a suite of documentation provided to graduates. This will be a choice for the individual institution to make. Implications for the labour market In addition to assisting universities to recognise international higher education qualifications, the Diploma Supplement will also be of benefit to potential employers. Increased mobility within the labour market will lead to an increasingly important recognition issue for potential employers. As the labour markets of the world become more internationalised, employers will increasingly need reliable and consistent information on overseas qualifications. The Diploma Supplement will assist this recognition, including the identification of competence gained through relevant work experience or industry training undertaken as part of the higher education qualification. The Diploma Supplement then, has the potential to act as a passport to international mobility for graduates of Australian higher education institutions. Credit transfer The Diploma Supplement, for the most part, represents a tool by which credential assessors (whether higher education institutions, professional assessing bodies or potential employers) evaluate completed higher education qualifications. In addition to this function though, the Diploma Supplement has the potential to provide information on short-term study abroad and exchange programs that were undertaken in the course of the qualification. In particular, the Diploma Supplement will be able to provide information on credit transfer schemes (such as the UMAP Credit Transfer Scheme (UCTS) and mobility programs (such as UMAP) that provide a transparent recognition of their contribution to the attainment of the qualification. It is expected that UCTS transcripts (where applicable) could be incorporated into the Diploma Supplement. Other non-traditional learning Higher education systems are subject to a number of rapid reforms that affect the way in which knowledge and skills are developed, particularly through changes in the method of teaching and learning. The traditional campus is increasingly being challenged by other non-traditional teaching and learning techniques. In addition to the recognition of periods of study abroad, more education is being delivered cross-institutionally (within a country), through the Internet, through transnational arrangements (such as twinning programs), through the recognition of various kinds of prior learning (including advanced standing), and as previously mentioned, through industry work placements. The Diploma Supplement will offer an opportunity to formally record these aspects of non-traditional learning in a way that current degree documents alone cannot, contextualising these elements of learning within the higher education qualification itself. Potential benefits of the Diploma Supplement for Australia The decision to use the Diploma Supplement will depend on the potential benefits that higher education institutions perceive from its implementation. Such benefits are expected to include: improved recognition of Australian higher education qualifications, due to a better understanding of what may seem, in an international context, some of its more unusual characteristics;
5 the increased circulation internationally of information about Australia s higher education system (as this will be incorporated into the Diploma Supplement); improved recognition of periods of study abroad, and an opportunity to develop simplified arrangements for credit transfer for studies undertaken in another country that become a component of the home degree; meeting the expectations of European students studying in Australia, some of whom will increasingly expect to receive a Diploma Supplement with their qualification, as it becomes more common in their home countries; and a reduced number of enquiries (including those from prospective employers) requesting further information about a qualification. The Diploma Supplement will be of particular benefit in describing the unusual features of the Australian higher education system that are not always fully understood internationally. A good example is the Australian Honours Bachelor degree, which is often assumed internationally to be comparable to the English three-year Honours degree and similar degrees in other countries which have systems deriving from the English system. NOOSR has received some information, though mainly of an anecdotal nature, which suggests that some employers in Europe are unfamiliar with Australian qualifications and may be negatively influenced by this lack of familiarity when considering applications for employment from Australian graduates. The Diploma Supplement should assist Australian graduates in this situation, by putting unfamiliar aspects of the Australian higher education system into context, explaining the significance of the grading system used, explaining the professional or career options to which the course undertaken would usually admit, and so on. If Australian institutions do not adopt the Diploma Supplement, on the other hand, there is a risk that Australia will in the future find itself outside the mainstream of international higher education developments. Implications for the Asia Pacific region Apart from the immediate benefits of adopting a uniform system of improved recognition that the Diploma Supplement offers Australia and other parties to the Lisbon Recognition Convention, it is anticipated that Australia s widespread adoption of the Diploma Supplement will enable it to take the lead on developing similar transparent recognition procedures for the Asia Pacific region. The use of a similar instrument in our own region would have long-term benefits for student mobility in Asia and the Pacific. Some countries in the Asia -Pacific region, which are important source countries for Australian universities, issue qualifications documentation which it is sometimes challenging for the admissions officers of Australian universities to process, leading to significant delays and risks in the admissions process. Indonesian academic records and degree documents provide a good example. Indonesia has a very large private higher education sector of mixed quality, and accreditation is programbased rather than institution-based, with accreditation status changing significantly over time. The Philippines is another example of a regional country in which the degree documents presented can be difficult to decipher. The widespread introduction of a Diploma Supplement in our region is a long-term objective which has enormous potential benefits for international education in Australia. This type of leadership on recognition issues is consistent with Australia s obligations under the Regional Convention on the Recognition of Studies, Diplomas and Degrees in Higher Education in Asia and the Pacific. (Australia is at present the Chair of the Regional Convention Committee.)
6 Diploma Supplement costs Costs associated with issuing the Diploma Supplement will be incurred by higher education institutions that choose to do so. These costs are primarily of an administrative nature and include costs associated with ensuring that university information management systems are able to issue the Diploma Supplement, and those associated with developing and issuing it The pilot project will address the costs associated with ensuring that university information management systems are capable of issuing the Diploma Supplement, as it is anticipated that this will represent the most significant cost to institutions. It is expected that the development costs will be of a minor nature, as the various European working groups and pilot projects have developed a structure which it should be possible to adapt readily for use in Australia. The costs associated with issuing the Diploma Supplement are also expected to be minimal, with universities having the option of providing the Diploma Supplements on a fee-for-service basis. Proposed pilot project NOOSR, within International Group of DEST, as the National Information Centre for Australia, has an obligation under the Lisbon Recognition Convention to promote the use of the Diploma Supplement, and is also committed to promote the Supplement as an important way to improve international recognition of qualifications. For this reason NOOSR is currently developing a pilot project with four to five Australian universities, aimed at investigating the capacity of universities to issue the Diploma Supplement. This pilot project will investigate the capabilities of university administrative systems to produce Diploma Supplements, and identify factors affecting the Diploma Supplement s administration. NOOSR will provide the Diploma Supplement model produced by the European Commission, Council of Europe and UNESCO/CEPES, and will prepare the information on the national higher education system in Australia in consultation with the Australian Qualifications Framework Advisory Board. At present we anticipate that the role of the participating universities in the pilot project will involve: identifying a representative sample of qualifications for which it will produce Diploma Supplements; liaising internally with the relevant faculties to provide information on the qualification (to be included in the Diploma Supplement); developing a generic description of the university to be included in all Diploma Supplements; and incorporating an agreed description of the Australian higher education system into the Diploma Supplement (which each institution will use for this section of the Diploma Supplement). We anticipate that these various pieces of information will be merged into a document by each university s administrative system and printed on security paper. The pilot will trial this merging of information, and identify any implications for the production of Diploma Supplements. We have estimated that the pilot project will require approximately a 6 month time frame, but it is not yet clear whether this will be possible, or whether any of the participating institutions will be able to issue Diploma Supplements to 2002 graduates. We will be particularly interested to see whether any of the universities choose to produce Diploma Supplements for graduating international students. Each participating institution will produce a report. This will outline the implications that issuing the Diploma Supplements may have had for the student administration system, the costs that were involved, and the capacity of the university to effectively collate and present this information.
7 Conclusion The Diploma Supplement provides an opportunity to promote the internationalisation of higher education in Australia, by improving the international recognition of Australian higher education qualifications and the transparency of Australia s higher education system. The proposed pilot project will examine the implications that implementing the use of the Diploma Supplement will have for Australia s higher education institutions, while also producing examples of Diploma Supplements across a representative sample of programs of study.
8 Further Reading Convention On The Recognition Of Qualifications Concerning Higher Education In The European Region Regional Convention On The Recognition Of Studies, Diplomas And Degrees In Higher Education In Asia And The Pacific The Bologna Declaration Contributions to the Bologna Process - Recognition Issues in the Bologna Process Final report of the joint European Commission, Council of Europe, UNESCO/CEPES diploma supplement working party European Commission - UNESCO/CEPES - Council of Europe Joint Initiative Diploma Supplement Pilot Project Report The Promotion and Implementation of the Diploma Supplement Project report (follow the publications higher education texts links) Credit Where Credit is Due: Canadian Universities and the European and Asian Credit Transfer Systems Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada Trends in Learning Structures in Higher Education Trends in Learning Structures in Higher Education (II) Diploma Supplement Examples Diploma Supplement Founding Principles and General Guidelines