Recognition of qualifications Glossary

In the Countries which signed the Hague Convention on 5 October, 1961 relative to the abolition of the legalisation of foreign public documents, the necessity to legalise documents and records released by foreign authorites has been substituted by another formality: the application of the “apostille”. Therefore, a person coming from a Country that has adhered to this Convention has no need to visit the Consular mission and ask for legalization, but can visit the relevant national authority indicated by each State – which is indicated for each country in the act of adherence of the Convention itself (it is usually the Foreign Ministry) – to obtain the application of the apostille on the document. Once this is done, the document cand be recognised in Italy. An updated list of the Countries that have ratified the Hague Convention and of the competent authorities for the application of the Apostille for each Country is available on the Hague Convention of international private law website:

In the sector of qualification evaluation and recognition, a qualification is defined as comparable to another when both, awarded by official institutions and officially constituting part of the relevant national system, belong to the same level of education (in consideration of the international qualification classifications) and are of the same nature (academic, professional or research-based). The comparability between two qualifications does not infer any formal recognition and does not determine any expression of legal impact, indeed all the other elements of the two qualifications may be different (subject, length, academic rights, etc.). The qualification recognized as comparable will always remain a foreign qualification in Italy without carrying any legal impact, merely having a comparative purpose as regards the generic qualification of reference. Comparability therefore is the result of a comparative opinion and not an evaluation linked to a specific recognition procedure.

European Countries that have adhered to the so-called “Bologna Process” have also committed to produce, alongside their own higher education qualifications, an extra document known as the Diploma Supplement (DS). The DS is not a further qualification, but a particular certification produced following a template which was agreed upon by the three principal international organizations of European breadth (The Council of Europe, UNESCO – Europe region, European Union). The European DS model envisages that it be drafted in two or more languages (the national language of the Country in question and at least one commonly-spoken foreign language, such as English), and that it provide a whole list of very detailed information. The information is grouped into 8 categories, which run from the personal details of the qualification holder, to the level of the qualification itself, the curriculum (list of subjects and, if possible, their principal contents), the rights it bestows (utilization for further studies or in the workplace), to the type of issuing institution, and to an abbreviated description of the higher education system it belongs to. Inasmuch as it reconstructs in an analytical, precise and transparent way the educational itinerary that led to a specific qualification, the DS is very useful tool and of great help for a correct evaluation of the course and qualification it refers to. It is therefore believed that the DS can facilitate the procedures of academic and professional qualification recognition.

In the qualification evaluation and recognition sector, a qualification is defined as equivalent to another when both, awarded by official institutions and being officially part of the relevant national system, belong to the same level of education (taking into consideration international qualification classifications), have the same nature (academic, professional or research-based) belong to the same faculty sector and in the system of reference carry the same academic rights (such as the possibility of entry to the same courses at a higher level). The equivalency between two courses is used in certain recognition procedures in place in Italy and carries legal impact only as refers the specific evaluative aim (access to a specific course, access to a specific public competition). Equivalency does not determine the recognition of all the legal rights of the qualification, and indeed certain specific elements of the two qualifications may differ (length, specific exam curriculum, number of credits, etc.), therefore the qualification recognized as equivalent will always remain a foreign qualification in Italy, but will produce only a partial impact linked to the scope for which the evaluation was requested (access to “that” course, access to “that” public competition). The concept of equivalency is also defined as “eligibility” in academic recognition procedures.

The expression “Italian diplomatic authorities” indicates the Embassies, the Consulates, the Permanent Representatives at International Organisations, the Cultural Institutes, and the Offices of Scientific Experts which the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation – MAECI has officially located in the territory of single foreign Countries. In terms of qualifications, the competent diplomatic authority is usually the Embassy or Consulate closest to the site of the institution that has awarded a given qualification; that is if the said qualification belongs to the education system of the country in which the institution is located. When the institution that has awarded a certain qualification belongs to a third country education system (and not of the country where it is located), the competent diplomatic authority is the Italian Embassy/Italian Consulate General of the Country of the relevant education system, that is in the third Country in question. The addresses of Italian Embassies and Consulates can be found on the following webpage:

The legislation of certain countries dictates that all official documents, including those that declare the possession of a qualification, must be legalized in order to guarantee their authenticity. In Italy this task is performed by the Prefecture of geographical reference. If this norm is in place in the foreign country from where the qualification was obtained, the authority responsible for the legalization must be verified. If the country where the qualification was obtained has adhered to the Hague Convention (5 October, 1961), the so-called Hague Apostille should be applied to the qualification itself. It is not obligatory either to legalise the qualification or to apply the Hague Apostille if:
  • the qualification has been awarded by one of the signatory Countries of the European Convention of Brussels of 25 May, 1987 – Law 106/1990 (Belgium, Denmark, France, Ireland, Italy);
  • the qualification has been awarded by a German institution, following the Italo-German Convention on the exemption from legalization of public documents – Law 176/1973.

The abbreviated form “Lisbon Recognition Convention” usually stands for the international agreement whose full title is “Convention on the recognition of qualifications concerning higher education in the European Region”. It is a multilateral agreement, elaborated through a joint initiative of the Council of Europe (CoE) and UNESCO - Europe Region, which is intended to facilitate the reciprocal recognition of higher education qualifications between the signatory countries, who have to ratify the said Convention. The agreement is commonly called the “Lisbon Recognition Convention”, inasmuch as it was signed in the Portuguese capital, Lisbon, on 11 April, 1997.

In the sector of evaluation and recognition of qualification, a qualification is defined as equal to another when both, awarded by official institutions and being officially part of the relevant national system, carry all the legal impact and have the same “legal value”. Therefore, a foreign qualification recognised as equal will always carry the same legal impact as the corresponding Italian one. In these cases all the elements of the official foreign qualification (level, nature, length, credits, academic and professional rights, curriculum of studies, etc.) must correspond to those of the Italian qualification in order to qualify as equal via the current procedures.

“Official” institutions in a given education system, at whatever level (primary, secondary, higher education whether in the university or non-university sector) are defined as those institutions which the competent authorities of the education system in question consider legitimate. According to the various countries, “official institutions” are listed in the following categories of Universities/Higher Schools/ Academies etc.:
  • public, inasmuch as they were founded by the State;
  • non-public, inasmuch as they were founded by alternative bodies to the State, but are legally recognized by the governing public authority;
  • accredited by the governing authority of the education system of reference.
In every country’s education system only official institutions are allowed to award qualifications which the system presents as official national qualifications; therefore only such “official qualifications” can be accepted by other countries for recognition purposes.

“Official” degree/qualifications of a given education system refer to those that the competent authorities of the relevant education system announce as belonging to that Country inasmuch as they are awarded in conformity with the current national legislation in the educational field. The definition of “official degree/qualification” as explained above is applied to qualifications of all levels: primary, secondary, higher education(whether in the university or non-university sector). It should be remembered that in many systems official institutions may also award qualifications that are not official, that is not belonging directly to the national system, therefore it is worth to verify both the official character of the institution and the qualification.

The Statement of validity is a document of transparency, written in Italian, that gives information on a specific qualification earned abroad and on its value in the issuing Country (the official character or otherwise of the issuing institution, requirements for access to the relevant study course, length of course, etc.). Such a Statement is produced by the foreign Italian diplomatic authorities (Embassies, Consulates) of territorial reference: territorial reference is defined as the Italian diplomatic authority closest to the city where the institution that awarded the qualification is located. All the documents to be presented in order to obtain the Statement of Validity must be requested at the relevant Italian diplomatic authority for the release of the same (Embassies/Consulates). The release of the Statement of Validity does not mean that the foreign qualification will be recognised in Italy, and indeed the Italian diplomatic representations have no authority as regards the recognition of Italian qualifications, therefore any comparison/equalizationmade inside the document is not binding in any way on the legally authorized institutions which perform recognition procedures. Indeed, it should be remembered that “the request for the Statement of Validity, all things considered, is equivalent to a mere established procedure, which does not exclude the authority-duty of the Administration to perform its own autonomous evaluations even when the relevant diplomatic authority has not produced the requested statement or has produced it in generic or insufficient terms” (consult Council of State Sentence n. 4613 of 4/9/07).

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