What is this 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
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
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
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
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
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
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: http://europa.eu.int/comm/education/socrates/agenar-fr.html
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?