Framework for Fair Recognition of Joint Degrees

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Front page of the Framework for Fair Recognition of Joint Degrees.
Front page of the publication

Full title
Framework for Fair Recognition of Joint Degrees

Abstract
The elements that play a role when evaluating a degree (such as the status of the institutions, the awarding of the degree, the quality, etc.) are the same for both regular and joint degrees. The context of these elements is however quite different. This makes the recognition of joint degrees not always as straightforward as the recognition of regular degrees. The Framework for Fair Recognition of Joint Degrees presents a substantiation of the elements that might influence how credential evaluators look at an awarded joint degree. All these issues are then dealt with separately through examples. Each issue or example presents a conclusion for recognising the joint degree discussed. This publication is the result of a cooperation between ECA, credential evaluators and ENIC-NARICs.


Authors: Axel Aerden & Jenneke Lokhoff.

Cite:
Aerden, A., Lokhoff, J. (2013). Framework for Fair Recognition of Joint Degrees. ECA Occasional Paper. The Hague. Download




The elements that play a role when evaluating a degree (such as the status of the institutions, the awarding of the degree, the quality, etc.) are of course the same for both regular and joint degrees. The context of these elements is however quite different. This makes the recognition of joint degrees not always as straightforward as the recognition of regular degrees. The Framework for Fair Recognition of Joint Degrees presents a substantiation of the elements that might influence how credential evaluators look at an awarded joint degree. All these issues are then dealt with separately through examples. Each issue or example presents a conclusion for recognising the joint degree discussed. This publication is the result of a cooperation between ECA and ENIC-NARICs.

Recognising joint degrees

 
The elements that play a role when evaluating a degree (such as the status of the institutions, the awarding of the degree, the quality, etc.) are the same for both regular and joint degrees. The context of these elements is however quite different. This makes the recognition of joint degrees not always as straightforward as the recognition of regular degrees.
 

 

This chapter provides a dissection of distinctive elements that can play a role when dealing with the recognition of joint degrees. It presents a substantiation of the elements that might influence how credential evaluators look at an awarded joint degree. All these issues are then dealt with separately through examples. Each issue or example presents a conclusion for recognising the joint degree discussed. The rationale behind the presented issues is that joint degrees should be treated at least as favourable as foreign national ones. In addition, the underlying principle is to be fair and to be flexible. We therefore encourage gathering evidence for recognition and recognising or recommending recognition when sufficient relevant evidence is available. This means that it is not always necessary to comprehend every single detail if you already have sufficient relevant evidence. The following elements are dealt with: the joint programme consortium, the awarding institutions, the joint programme and the joint degree itself. Each issue is analysed and then summarised in a corresponding example. To facilitate dealing with all these issues, each subchapter concludes with instruments that could facilitate answering the issue raised.

The joint programme consortium

The consortium traditionally refers to the group of higher education institutions who offer the joint programme, irrespective of whether they are involved in awarding the joint degree. When solely looking at this consortium, the following issues come into play: the recognition and/or accreditation as a higher education institution of the consortium partners and the (legal) competence to offer the joint programme.

Issue: Institutional recognition

This issue refers to the concern that education providers which are not nationally recognised or accredited take part in joint programme consortia in order to gain de facto recognition. Even without taking part in awarding any degree, this institution would be able to advertise a recognised but foreign degree. This facilitates the operation of unrecognised providers.

Example
A joint programme consortium consists of an English, a Swedish and a Belgian institution. The English and Belgian institutions are recognised higher education institutions. The Swedish institution is however not. The joint degree is awarded by the English and the Belgian institution. A significant part of the joint programme is offered by the Swedish institution.
Example
A joint programme consortium consists of institutions from France, Italy, The Netherlands and Slovenia. All institutions are well-established research universities except the consortium partner from The Netherlands. This is in fact a training provider with facilities for the joint programme offered but without recognition as a higher education institution. The joint degree is awarded by all the institutions involved.


Recognition practice
In both examples, the information gathered demonstrates that all but one of the institutions involved are recognised. To avoid the operation of unrecognised providers, the status of that institution is further investigated. The aim is to check whether this institution is a legitimate but non-recognised provider and thus not a degree mill, a bogus institution or a rogue provider. The EAR Manual refers to non-recognised but legitimate institutions as “institutions which are not formally recognised by the authorities officially responsible for the accreditation and recognition of institutions in a given system, but which may offer study programmes of comparable level to other formally recognised programmes. Such institutions may include government or military institutions, adult education centres or religious seminaries.” To conclude, if this institution is a legitimate provider, the joint programme consortium should not be an issue in the further recognition procedure. The credential evaluator can then decide to start the evaluation of the degree and the learning outcomes obtained by the applicant. The rationale for this approach is that in this case the other recognised (and degree-awarding) institutions are responsible for the joint programme provided. This means they are responsible for the quality of the programme and for the achievement of the learning outcomes of the joint programme. It also means that these institutions are responsible for awarding a joint degree that is nationally acknowledged as the recognised award of the joint programme. In the second example you might even say that you do not need to gather all the details regarding the recognition of all the institutions involved. Once a credential evaluator has sufficient evidence of the quality of the consortium and of the relevant national recognition of the institution, the recognition procedure can continue.


Conclusion regarding institutional recognition
The participation of a legitimate but non-recognised provider can be accepted if the other recognised and degree-awarding institutions have assumed full responsibility for the joint programme provided.


Issue: Legal entitlement

This issue refers to the concern that according to the legal framework a higher education institution cannot offer a certain programme. This refers to the competence to offer a programme at a certain level (e.g. master’s programme), in a certain field of study (e.g. Engineering) or award a certain degree (e.g. Master of Science). An institution without such competence could use a joint programme to offer a programme anyway. This institution becomes a consortium partner but does not take part in awarding the joint degree. As long as the joint programme and its joint degree are recognised elsewhere, such an institution could then offer its students a recognised (“foreign”) degree. Joint programmes could then provide an unacceptable escape route out of the national legal framework and the awarded joint degree would raise recognition concerns in the higher education system of the institution that uses this escape route.

Example
A joint programme (in this case, an Erasmus Mundus Master) is offered by an English, a Dutch and a Czech institution. The programme is 90 credits and each institution offers one full semester of the curriculum (30 credits). Graduates receive a joint degree. Programme accreditation is mandatory for recognition in the Netherlands; in this case that would mean joint programme accreditation. The programme does not need accreditation in the other countries. The joint programme is not accredited in the Netherlands and the institution from The Netherlands awards a certificate, thus not a degree. The joint degree is awarded by the English and Czech institutions.
Example
A joint programme consortium consists of institutions from Austria, Belgium, Ireland, Norway, the UK, Spain and Switzerland. All institutions are recognised universities. All students start their curriculum in Switzerland, then have to choose between the Norwegian and Belgian partner and finally do their thesis research at any one of the seven partner institutions. The consortium partner from Spain does not have the appropriate accreditation to offer this programme and does not take part in awarding the joint degree.


Recognition practice
In both examples, the information gathered demonstrates that all but one of the institutions involved have the legal entitlement to offer the joint programme. To avoid this institution operating out of its national legal framework, it is further investigated whether the awarded joint degree would raise recognition concerns in that legal framework. The aim is to check whether this institution is taking part in the joint programme consortium without the intent to break the law and thus not exploiting an unacceptable escape route. If the participation of this institution is justifiable, the fact that it does not have the appropriate legal entitlement should not be an issue in the further recognition procedure. The credential evaluator can then proceed with the assessment of the degree. The rationale for this approach is the same as above: the other recognised, legally entitled and degree-awarding institutions are responsible for the joint programme provided.


Conclusion regarding legal entitlement
The participation of an institution without the legal entitlement to offer certain types of (joint) programmes can be accepted if this institution operates in compliance with its legal framework.


The joint programme

Most higher education systems have specific requirements in their regulatory framework regarding joint programmes or joint degrees. It is important to distinguish both issues since not all legal frameworks equate the right to offer the joint programme with the right to award a joint degree. In some countries joint programmes might need to be accredited as a joint programme, while in other countries joint programmes might need to be explicitly registered as a joint programme.

Issue: Joint programme recognition

This issue refers to the concern that joint degrees might be awarded for joint programmes which are not (nationally) recognised as a joint programme. Where the accreditation and/or recognition of a joint programme is explicitly included in the regulatory framework, a joint programme should be offered accordingly. If this is not the case, credential evaluators might however still grant recognition to joint degrees awarded for joint programmes which are not nationally recognised as such.

Example
An institution offers a programme with two distinct specialisations. These specialisations are in fact a regular curriculum and a joint curriculum. The joint curriculum is a joint programme half of which is offered at a partner university abroad. According to the regulatory framework, such programmes can issue joint degrees to graduates of the joint curriculum but the joint curriculum needs to be accredited as a joint programme. The programme is indeed accredited but only the regular curriculum is. The joint curriculum is not included in the accreditation decision.
Example
A German institution offers a joint programme without any national accreditation. The higher education system has mandatory accreditation. The German Accreditation Council additionally states that institutions can offer programmes without accreditation and an academic title granted by these programmes can be legitimate if that title has been granted by a state or state certified private higher education institution. In that case “you are naturally entitled to use the title bestowed on you - irrespective of, whether the study programme completed by you bears the quality seal of the Accreditation Council or not”.


Recognition practice
The information gathered demonstrates that the joint programme is provided by recognised institutions and that one part of the joint programme is offered without satisfying certain requirements regarding joint programmes included in the relevant regulatory framework. To avoid undermining these requirements in the regulatory framework, the overall organisation of the joint programme needs to be legitimate and bona fide. This means the joint programme is offered in good faith and without the intent to deceive. In the first example above there might be a number of legitimate reasons why the specialisation, which is part of the joint programme, is not accredited. It might for example be scheduled for an accreditation procedure in the future. In some cases, this specialisation is deemed accredited if the curriculum is identical to the accredited specialisation. Here, the only difference is the degree awarded. Even if the joint programme is not (yet) recognised as a joint programme in all the relevant regulatory frameworks, the awarded joint degree can be further considered in the recognition procedure. The second example demonstrates that legal frameworks are not always as straightforward as they seem to be. The information available can be out-dated or comes with many exceptions and exclusions. The circumstances in which the joint programme is organised might overrule the lack of specific joint programme recognition in one of the relevant regulatory frameworks. In the first example above, the fact that the joint programme satisfies all requirements in at least one of the regulatory frameworks and the fact that the regular specialisation is indeed accredited can serve as sufficient evidence of joint programme recognition and overrule other specific requirements.


Conclusion regarding joint programme recognition
It can be accepted that a part of the joint programme’s curriculum does not yet satisfy certain requirements in the corresponding regulatory framework, if the overall organisation of the joint programme is legitimate and bona fide.


Awarding the joint degree

The institutions that award the joint degree are not necessarily the same as the institutions in the joint programme consortium. Some legal frameworks do not allow their higher education institutions to award joint degrees, while other legal frameworks limit the award of a degree to those students that have actually studied at that institution. In such cases, one group of institutions can award the joint degree while the other group respectively awards their national degrees or does not award any degree.

Issue: Multiple degrees

This issue refers to the concern that the submitted joint degree is in fact not the only document “attesting the successful completion of this joint programme” and that there are other recognised degrees awarded. If these degrees are awarded by the institutions not involved in awarding the joint degree, we are in fact dealing with a multiple degree. In case of a multiple degree separate documents are awarded after successful completion of the joint programme. These separate documents can be national degrees but can also be, for example, a combination of a joint degree with one or more national degrees.

Example
A joint programme is offered by five institutions from Belgium (one from the Flemish Community and one from the French Community), France, Germany and The Netherlands. Each offer courses included in the curriculum but graduates do not necessarily visit each institution. Graduates receive a joint degree awarded by the institutions from Flanders, France and Germany. In addition they receive a national degree from either The Netherlands or Belgium (French Community) depending on where they have studied their last semester.
Example
A joint programme is offered by four institutions from Finland, Hungary, Portugal and the UK. Each offer courses included in the curriculum but graduates do not necessarily visit each institution. Graduates receive a multiple degree. The multiple degree consists of one joint degree of two institutions and two national degrees (from Finland and the UK). The awarded joint degree is a Master of Science, a degree which the Hungarian institution is not allowed to offer.


Recognition practice
In both examples, the information gathered demonstrates that there are additional degrees awarded alongside the joint degree. If these other degrees are legitimate, nationally recognised degrees, we are dealing with a multiple degree. The joint degree is just one of the legitimate degrees awarded. In case the joint degree cannot be immediately recognised, the nationally recognised degree(s) awarded alongside the joint degree can be used to continue the recognition procedure. The rationale for this approach is that even individual degrees which are part of a multiple degree arrangement can on its own merits be regarded as attesting the successful completion of the joint programme in question.


Conclusion regarding multiple degrees
If a joint degree presents difficulties for recognition and this joint degree is part of a multiple degree arrangement, the additional degree(s) awarded can be used to continue the recognition procedure.


Issue: Cover certificates

This issue refers to the concern that the submitted joint degree is in fact not the document “attesting the successful completion of this joint programme” and that there are other recognised degrees awarded. If these other degrees are awarded by the same institutions that award the alleged joint degree, we are in fact dealing with a cover certificate. We refer to a cover certificate when the institutions in the joint programme award their own nationally recognised degrees and in addition award a joint certificate. The cover certificate is however not a recognised award, the underlying national degrees are.

Example
An Erasmus Mundus programme is offered by a consortium of five institutions from respectively France, Germany, Hungary, Spain and the UK. A joint degree is awarded. The degree specifies explicitly that it is a joint degree. It includes the names, logos and signatories of the awarding institutions. The joint degree is however not in line with the regulatory framework in France and the Spanish signatory is not the competent authority to sign this degree. This document is apparently not a valid joint degree. It is in fact a cover certificate awarded in addition to the national degrees. All institutions award national degrees to the students that studied at their institution.


Recognition practice
The information gathered demonstrates that there are degrees awarded in addition to what appears to be a joint degree. If all institutions award both a regular degree and a joint degree, we are normally dealing with a cover certificate. The cover certificate can be disregarded and the other degrees can be used to continue the recognition procedure. The rationale for this approach is that even if an invalid joint degree is awarded, the other awarded degrees should be regarded as the attestation of the successful completion of the joint programme in question.


Conclusion regarding cover certificates
If a joint degree is in fact a cover certificate and thus not recognised as the only attestation of the successful completion of the joint programme in question, this degree can be disregarded. The other awarded degrees are used to continue the recognition procedure.


The joint degree

As with any degree, a joint degree should be awarded in accordance with the legal frameworks governing the awarding institutions. Legal frameworks can actually include specific requirements. These requirements can relate to the recognition of the joint degree but also to other more regular elements part of awarding degrees. Joint degrees might for example be required to register as a joint degree in national legislation or in a higher education register, to use a joint degree template or to publish the joint degree programme agreement. More regular features of an awarded (joint) degree might be the orientation (of the programme provided) and the access to further studies.

Issue: joint degree recognition

This issue refers to the concern that a joint degree might have been awarded without fulfilling all the national requirements. This might mean that the joint degree is not formally recognised as such in one (or more) of the concerned higher education systems. Where national requirements regarding the joint degree are explicitly included in the regulatory framework, a joint degree should be awarded accordingly. If this is not the case, credential evaluators might however still grant recognition to these joint degrees.

Example
A joint programme is offered by a consortium of six institutions. These six institutions award a joint degree. One of the participating institutions should use a specific joint degree template and in a specific language. This template is used for the joint degree but not in the stipulated language.


Recognition practice
The information gathered demonstrates that the joint degree is awarded by recognised institutions but that one of the awarding institutions has failed to fully comply with requirements regarding joint degrees included in the relevant regulatory framework. To avoid undermining these requirements in the regulatory framework, the overall award of the joint degree needs to be legitimate and bona fide. This means the joint degree is awarded in good faith and without the intent to deceive. The rationale for this approach is the fact that the other institutions awarding the joint degree legitimately facilitate the acceptance of a discrepancy in one of the relevant regulatory frameworks. In the example above, the fact that the joint degree satisfies all requirements in all but one of the regulatory frameworks can serve as sufficient evidence of joint degree recognition and overrule other specific requirements.


Conclusion regarding joint degree recognition
Failure to fully satisfy requirements regarding the award of a joint degree included in the corresponding regulatory framework can be accepted if the overall joint degree awarding is legitimate and bona fide.


Issue: Further studies

This issue refers to the concern that a joint degree might grant graduates different rights to further studies in different institutions and higher education systems.

Example
A joint master’s programme is offered by a consortium of six institutions. The underlying national components and regular national degrees grant students different rights to further studies. In four countries, the awarded joint degree would give access to further studies at doctoral level, while in two countries the awarded joint degree is regarded as a specialised degree. Here, this degree would normally not be considered sufficient to access a PhD programme.


Recognition practice
The information gathered demonstrates that the joint degree is awarded by recognised institutions but that it consists of components granting different rights to further studies. If the joint degree does indeed give access to further studies in any of the institutions involved in the joint programme, the degree holder can be granted the corresponding rights. The rationale for this approach is the fact that if any of the institutions indeed assume the responsibility for the degree and grants the graduates the corresponding right to access further studies at their institutions, this overrules the lack of these rights in other components that make up the joint programme. In the example above, the fact that the joint degree indeed gives access in four institutions (and – most probably – in four corresponding higher education systems) can serve as sufficient evidence to grant access to further studies, to recognise the degree as giving access or to recommend the degree for appropriate recognition.


Conclusion regarding joint degree recognition
If a joint degree grants graduates different rights to further studies, the joint degree can be recognised with all the corresponding rights if these are authentic rights in the corresponding institutions.


Information and evidence

The elements that play a role when evaluating a joint degree can require information and evidence not always readily available. The issues dealt with in this publication are therefore corresponded to sources of information. These sources are not exhaustive but should facilitate gathering sufficient relevant evidence. In case of doubt, or when having difficulty finding or confirming information, we highly recommend to contact the relevant ENIC-NARIC centre(s), via www.enic-naric.net.

The relevant (sub)national higher education systems

  • The joint programme (cooperation) agreement, often available on the joint programme’s official website or the website of the coordinating higher education institution;
  • The joint degree, which should include reference to all relevant (sub)national legal frameworks in accordance to which the degree was awarded;
  • If the Diploma supplement is issued, Section 2.1. of the Diploma Supplement, which should include the qualification’s original full name(s) with reference to all relevant (sub)national legal frameworks;
  • The ECApedia (www.ecapedia.net);
  • The relevant national information centre (e.g. via www.enic-naric.net);

The recognition of higher education institutions

  • If the Diploma supplement is issued, Section 2.3. and 2.4. of the Diploma Supplement, which should include the name and status of the awarding institutions and (if different from these awarding institutions) the name and status of the institutions where the joint programme is actually offered;
  • Official (sub)national register of recognised higher education (institutions and/or programmes);
  • Qrossroads (www.qrossroads.eu);
  • The relevant national information centre (such as an ENIC-NARIC, via www.enic-naric.net);

The entitlement to offer a joint programme

  • Official (sub)national register of recognised higher education institutions and/or programmes;
  • The website of the higher education institution offering the joint programme can be used as a source of referral to the regulation in question, thus not as an original source;

Other degrees awarded for a joint programme

  • The joint programme (cooperation) agreement, often available on the joint programme’s official website or the website of the coordinating higher education institution;
  • If a Diploma Supplement is issued:
    • Section 6.1 of the Diploma Supplement should specify whether there are other members in the joint programme consortium which are not involved in awarding the joint degree;
    • Section 2.1. of the Diploma Supplement should state whether a graduate receives other national degrees alongside the joint degree (i.e. the joint degree is part of a multiple degree arrangement);
  • If other explanatory documentation is issued, information whether a graduate receives other national degrees alongside this joint degree should be included under the headline where the awarded qualification is identified.

Specific requirements regarding joint programmes

  • Information regarding the legal framework can be provided by the relevant national information centre (via www.enic-naric.net);
  • The ECApedia (www.ecapedia.net);

Quality assurance of joint programmes

  • If a Diploma Supplement is issued, section 6.1 of the Diploma Supplement should outline whether the joint programme was quality assured and/or accredited as such, with reference to the responsible quality assurance and accreditation agencies;
  • The websites of quality assurance and accreditation agencies, via ECApedia (www.ecapedia.net);
  • Qrossroads (www.qrossroads.eu).

Specific requirements regarding the award of joint degrees

  • Information regarding the legal framework can be provided by the relevant national information centre (i.e. ENIC-NARIC), via www.enic-naric.net;
  • The ECApedia (www.ecapedia.net);


Conclusion

In the chapters above, we have explored the elements that play a role when evaluating a joint degree and introduced the issues that might occur. This is not an exhaustive list. The recognition of joint degrees can indeed be a complex endeavour. Fortunately, joint degrees are increasingly awarded with recognition in mind. The Guidelines for Good Practice for Awarding Joint Degrees should further contribute to reducing the complexity of joint degrees and their recognition. As with any degree, joint degrees should be assessed in a flexible manner. Here, the Lisbon Recognition Convention’s basic rule applies: a degree should be recognised unless there is a substantial difference. Joint degrees are no exception to this rule. The issues presented in this publication are intended to provide more substantiation to
Recognition practice
s regarding joint degrees. Since not all information and/or evidence regarding a joint degree will always be readily available, and since not all information is always relevant, it is recommended to only identify those substantial differences which are relevant to the purpose for which recognition is sought. The best way to deal with joint degrees is therefore (a) to accept you do not need to know everything, and (b) to know when the information and/or evidence gathered is sufficient to recognise or recommend recognition.


Source

See also