On 10 July 2013, the Parliament of Flanders (Belgium) amended legislation allowing the government of Flanders wide competences to regulate the recognition of foreign degrees. The government can now draw up regulations to declare either the level of a foreign degree equivalent to the Flemish degrees (Associate, Bachelor, Master and Doctoral Degree) or to fully recognise the foreign degree.
Level equivalency refers to for example the fact that a foreign Bachelor degree is equivalent to a Flemish Bachelor degree, thus without referring to the subject or discipline. The preconditions for level equivalency are:
- A quality assurance system in line with the Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area. This quality assurance system needs to demonstrate in a verifiable way that the learning outcomes are achieved; and
- A higher education degree structure in line with that of the European Higher Education Area and integrated in a (sub)national qualifications framework.
This qualifications framework needs to be (1) in line with the Framework for Qualifications of the European Higher Education Area adopted at the Bergen meeting of ministers responsible for higher education in May 2005 and (2) is required to have been internationally reviewed as compatible.
Full recognition on the other hand covers both the level and the subject, e.g. Master of Science in Engineering. In addition to the preconditions above, an additional precondition for full recognition of the degree is:
- A comparison of the learning outcomes that lead to the award of the degree.
The elements above are in line with the principles ECA members and ENIC-NARICs agreed upon in 2005 when they jointly signed the Joint Declaration regarding the Automatic Recognition of Degrees (aka. Vienna Sententia).
The amendment makes level equivalency and full recognition possible with higher education systems at the level of countries, federated entities and even regions. It includes the possibility to limit the scope to types of institutions. The explanatory note gives the example of level equivalency between Bachelor degrees awarded by the Fachhochschule in Germany and the Flemish Bachelor degree with a professional orientation.
Another type of equivalence
In addition, the amendment stipulates that the Associate, Bachelor and Master degrees (not doctoral degrees) awarded after successful completion of a programme accredited by an accreditation agency included in the European Quality Assurance Register are automatically equivalent to Flemish Associate, Bachelor and Master degrees. This refers to academic recognition, thus mainly for further studies. This automatic recognition can also become full recognition if the awarded qualifications include the same core concepts as the corresponding Flemish qualifications.
This amendment will only come into effect once the Flemish government has regulated and operationalised the above stipulations. That will mean the Flemish government will need to receive information on all awarded degrees in higher education systems that are eligible to be included. This information will then need to be made publicly available to all stakeholders. ECA here proposes that Flanders uses its platform to publish information on accredited programmes: Qrossroads.