The Convention does not establish new rights, but it proclaims one alone that could serve as a general reminder for the procedures of the recognition of academic qualifications: the right of every individual to have his/her qualification assessed and, linked to this, the prohibition of any discrimination based on sex, race, colour, disability, language, religion, political opinions, national or ethnic or social origins, membership of national minorities, ownership, birth or other civil status.
The Convention stipulates four essential rules which must be adhered to by those authorized to carry out recognition procedures, that is to say Higher Education Institutions, specific offices and individuals :
- The recognition of academic qualifications must occur exclusively on the basis of an adequate assessment of the knowledge and competencies acquired, irrespective of factors of a different nature not pertinent to the value of the qualification.
- The procedures and the criteria employed in the assessment of foreign qualifications and for their recognition must be “transparent, coherent and reliable”: the entity that recognizes the qualification must announce its assessment criteria (transparency); such criteria must be fixed and not discretional (coherent); the assessment criteria must be founded on valid principles shared by the international scientific community (reliability).
- The decision to recognise a foreign qualification must be taken on the basis of appropriate information. The information must be appropriate in its description of the kind of institution which has awarded the qualification, the characteristics of the study course followed and the value of the diploma. The information must also be provided “in good faith”.
- Decisions on recognition shall be made within a “reasonable” time limit. The final text approved in Lisbon took into account the worries of numerous nations and avoided fixing a precise limit. It is up to the signatory nations, therefore, to autonomously define the maximum length of a procedure. With regards to transparency, the refusal of recognition of a qualification must be explained and must contain an indication of eventual alternative procedures. In the case that recognition is withheld, or that no decision is forthcoming, the applicant must have the right to appeal to an authority defined by the national legislation.
Access to Higher Education
The Convention identifies seven principle rules :
- If a qualification is valid in a country for access to that higher education system, it will also be accepted by the other countries as meeting the general requirements for access to the respective national higher education systems. Access to a foreign qualification may be withheld if there are substantial and proven differences between the general requirements for access in the two countries.
- If certain secondary school qualifications give access only to specific types of institutions or programmes of higher education, the Convention allows for the foreign country to limit access with that qualification to similar higher education institutions or similar programmes.
- In the case of a country where admission to particular higher education programmes is dependent on the fulfillment of specific requirements in addition to the general requirements for access, the destination country concerned may impose the presentation of the same additional requirements.
- In cases where admission to a given higher education institution (fixed quota), or to a given programme (medicine, for example), may be restricted or selective, the Convention establishes that: (i) where, in the country in which they have been obtained, school leaving certificates give access to higher education only in combination with additional qualifying examinations as a prerequisite for access, the other countries may make access conditional on these requirements (or offer an alternative for satisfying such additional requirements within their own educational systems); (ii) in cases in which admission is fixed quota or selective, it is necessary to guarantee that the assessment of foreign qualifications is carried out according to principles of fairness.
- Someone who comes from abroad to study may be asked to demonstrate sufficient competence in the language (or languages) of instruction of the country concerne.
- In numerous countries it is possible to gain access to Higher Education without the traditional requirement of a final secondary school diploma. This possibility does not oblige countries where such an opportunity is not contemplated to recognize it for access to its own higher education system.
- For the purpose of admission to programmes of Higher Education, each country may make the recognition of qualifications issued by foreign educational institutions operating in its territory contingent upon specific requirements of national legislation or bilateral governmental agreements.
Periods of study completed abroad
The Convention identifies two conditions which facilitate the recognition of study periods completed abroad:
- The existence of a prior agreement of collaboration (learning agreement) between the two institutions, i.e. where the study was completed and where recognition is sought.
- The release, on the part of the foreign institution, of a certificate stating that the student has satisfied the standards requested for said study period.
Final higher education qualifications
Recognition of a foreign higher education qualification issued shall have at least one of the following consequences:
- access to further higher education studies or to preparations for the doctorate, on the same conditions as those applicable to holders of national qualifications;
- the use of an academic title, authorized in the country of origin;
- access to the labour market.
The Convention foresees that the analysis of a foreign qualification takes place under two profiles: on one side the survey of knowledge and on the other the competencies declared in the qualification.
This distinction between the measurement of knowledge and of competencies is obviously preliminary to an accurate and in-depth assessment of professional skills leading to the practice of specific professions.
The guidance of the Convention for foreign academic qualification recognition is however tempered by certain reservations:
- recognition may be withheld where substantial differences – to be adequately documented - can be shown to exist between the educational content of the foreign qualification and that of the corresponding national qualification
- foreign qualification recognition with a view to practising regulated professions – in the absence of a different recognition framework of professional qualifications – may be linked to the request of satisfying further requirements of a usually non-academic nature: a professional internship of predefined length; a state exam authorizing practice of the profession; assessment of competence in the national language
The recognition of academic qualifications issued by universities operating in a specific country but which follow the university system of other countries (a phenomenon known as transnational or cross-border education) is also regulated: the Convention foresees that every country can determine that the recognition of qualifications issued by foreign universities which operate on their territory is subordinate to the conditions provided for in specific national legislation or in bilateral governmental agreement.
Qualifications held by refugees
The Lisbon Convention contains norms of particular social value which regulate qualification recognition for refugees, displaced persons and persons in a refugee-like situation. Each Party shall take all feasible and reasonable steps to develop procedures designed to assess fairly and expeditiously whether refugees fulfill the requirements for access to higher education, to further higher education programmes or to employment activities, even in cases in which the qualifications obtained in one of the countries cannot be proven through documentary evidence.
Quality and quantity of information
The Convention defines the quantity and the quality of information to be circulated to allow the international qualification recognition system to function in an efficient and timely manner.
Each country shall therefore structure and divulge in the most opportune form:
- an overview of the different types of higher education institutions belonging to its higher education system, with the typical characteristics of each type of institution;
- a list of recognised institutions (public and private) belonging to its higher education system, indicating their powers to award different types of qualifications and the requirements for gaining access to each type of institution and programme;
- a list of educational institutions located outside its territory which belong to its own national education system;
- in the case of a system of formal assessment of higher education institutions and programmes having been established: information on the methods and results of this assessment, and of the standards of quality specific to each institution.
Finally, each country is involved in the founding and maintenance of a National information centre equipped with the necessary means to carry out its duties and which has the responsibility to:
- facilitate access to authoritative and accurate information on the higher education system and higher education qualifications;
- facilitate access to information on the higher education systems and qualifications of the other Countries;
- give advice or information on recognition matters and assessment of qualifications, in accordance with national laws and regulations.