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What is this diploma?!

Diploma equivalencies is a delicate subject to address, because higher education is largely affected by internationalization. Efforts have been made for national diplomas to be recognized, but it seems that diplomas are tending to be standardized based on the Anglo-Saxon model.

Questions related to diplomas date back through the history of the countries that award them and for many they represent part of national heritage. For example, in France the baccalauréat is the diploma that finalizes secondary education and has done so for almost two centuries. Each attempt to reform this diploma inevitably causes a general outcry of the entire teaching body and the politicians. Till this day the passing of this exam corresponds to an ensemble of rituals and traditions that would be sacrilege to modify. The "baccalauréat" is therefore part of French culture. It is the same for the A Levels in Great Britain, the Bachillerato in Spain and a number of other diplomas from around the world which have a long history.

However, aside from the purely sentimental questions, more technical problems develop everytime a question arises regarding the recognition of a diploma from another country. For example, in Quebec the baccalaureate is similar to the one in France which is called a diploma, but in this case it is equivalent to a "Bachelor Degree" which is awarded after three to four years of studies at university! In this case, the problem is not insurmountable: the employers and the universities of the two countries know the value of the two diplomas and can find equivalencies. If need be there are services that are offered at the consulates that deal with any queries or doubts. The problem becomes more complex when it envolves diplomas awarded by small countries that are often difficult to recognize unless one is present in their administrative offices.

Two strategies for the same objective

For about the last twenty years during which education and the job market for graduates at the international level has opened up more and more, the governments of the leading countries of the world have looked into this delicate subject, notably under the aegis of large international organizations such as Unesco, the European Union and the Council of Europe. These organizations share a common objective which is to facilitate the recognition of diplomas making mobility for students and graduates easier, strengthening exchanges, participating in the advancement and sharing of knowledge and thus promoting peace and cooperation among people. There are two coexisting approaches to this problem. Unesco encourages bilateral and multilateral agreements between nations, while the EU is pushing with a certain amount of success within these last year, for a uniformity following the Anglo-Saxon model.

The European Union on the go

Two large European summits at the Sorbonne have already layed down the basis of a "common European framework for higher education" and more recently in Bologna and Lisbon a convention for the recognition of diplomas was proposed. In addition to these summits, Italy, France, Great Britain and Germany have engaged in a process aimed at converging their higher education systems. In Prague on the 19th of May of last year, thirty countries of the Old Continent engaged in the same topic. These nations are the fifteen countries of the European Union, plus the member-states of EFTA (European Free-Trade Association), plus the countries which are candidates for the enlargement of the EU and Turkey, Cyprus, and Croatia. Hence, almost all of Europe is participating in this movement.

The objective from now until 2010 is to arrive to a system which will permit a fluid mobility of students and graduates who will see their diplomas recognized by the thirty countries at universities and employment market levels. It should be possible in the end to validate a part of ones diploma in one country and to finish ones studies in another university within the zone.

A number of tools have been put in place to attain these objectives. First is the setting up of a single university diploma system which is structured around the Bachelor, Master and Doctorate (according to the Anglo-Saxon terminology). This will not signify the death of the former national diplomas, at least not in name. The three principal university diplomas in all the countries will respectively be acquired after 3, 5 and 8 years of university studies, just like Anglo-Saxon diplomas. This is a way of simplifying the equivalencies between countries, especially since a large majority of countries around the world have already adopted these three principal stages, to structure their university studies, especially the American model. Eventually this will signify that countries will award more or less the same diplomas.

In addition, the signatory countries of the declaration created in Prague are committed to create a system of credits called the ECTS (European Credit Transfer System) which will allow a student to get credits for each completed university course. The credits will accumulate until a certain threshold which will automatically lead to the awarding of a diploma valid throughout Europe: the Bachelor will require 180 to 240 credits, Master 90 to 120 additional credits.

In order for this system to function, the credits must have nearly the same value everywhere. The nations will in fact be responsible of the control of the teaching that is delivered and will have confidence in the system regarding the seriousness of the regulations and standards required. In order for this confidence to be created, the European Ministry of Education created in March 2000 a "European evaluation network for the quality of higher education".

ECTS (European Credit Transfer System)

This system which concerns the member-sates of the EU and EFTA, was launched at the same time as the Erasmus program.

This system is particularly appreciated by students and professionals working in education.

It permits a student to obtain a diploma in his/her country after having followed courses and passed exams in another country. One year of studies counts for about 60 credits, which can be accumulated until qualification of a diploma.

This system has also harmonized work load of each corresponding year in all the countries participating in this system.

To find out more, consult the European Union website:

The system is well underway and by 2010 it should be widely respected, but this does not resolve all the problems because the three diplomas represent only a small part of the entirety of diplomas and certificates that are awarded each year in European countries.

One can see, Europe is an exceptional zone with a common administration that permits it to put in place important reforms in view of a better recognition of diplomas. Meanwhile this is not the case for all the countries, notably those that have not adopted a system similar to that of the American one.

For more information regarding equivalencies between diplomas awarded around the world and those of the North American system ( USA and Canada), refer to the following website: This website offers a service which must be paid for and is for the "conversion" of diplomas awarded around the world. It will cost between US $80-125. A form must be filled and must be sent along with the diplomas to the World Education Services. These "conversions" are recognized by a majority of universities and employers.

On the practical level

For students and graduates intending to study or work in a country other than their own, the equivalencies are generally assigned by the university of their choice or by the authorities that are in charge of higher education in the country. Since 1974 following the signature of a number of regional conventions for the recognition of diplomas, the recognition of equivalencies has been ensured under the aegis of Unesco. In the framework of these conventions, the majority of nations from around the world are involved to do all that needs to be done to permit a student who has a foreign diploma to continue their studies in their country and to look for employment.

In concrete terms, the procedure is as follows: have an official translations of awarded diplomas in the language of the destination country - so that this translation be recognized it must in general be done at the services offered at the embassy of the country or by accredited agencies - ; send photocopies of these translations with a photocopy of the corresponding diploma to the service of equivalencies of the university or to the appropriate authorities. This procedure rarely ends with the awarding of a diploma from the destination country, but in general an attribution of a part of the courses or credits necessary for awarding the desired diploma.

Network of National Academic Recognition Information Center (NARIC)

At the European level, and the envolvement of a number of partner nations throughout the world, the NARIC, offers services to all persons who desire to come to study or work in Europe. These centers are not entitled to attribute equivalencies but they are in charge of informing and orienting people regarding the value of their diplomas abroad, in Europe and elsewhere. The network of NARIC centers intervene mainly as an advisor working with the university personnel in charge of equivalencies. For more information, consult the European Union website:

Diplomas becoming more and more international

Fortunately, the aforementioned administrative procedures are in the process of disappearing: as the majority of destination countries (USA, Canada, Great Britain, France and Germany) are progressively adopting a similar academic architecture moulded on the Bachelors, Masters, and Doctorates degrees and are therefore easily identifiable in other countries. The worldwide success of MBA programs is a good example: the majority of destination countries offer an infinite variety of training programs of this type, programs that are today de facto, but not yet officially, recognized all over the world. Maybe this is just a taste of a worldwide diploma system?


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