The Method, Possibility and Significance of the Recognition of Degrees

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The Method, Possibility and Significance of the Recognition of Degrees

    Pál Michelberger

    Gabriella Homonnay

    Recognition of Degrees Hungarian Accreditation Committee

    Sub-theme 4: Recognition of Standards

     Methods, Possibilities and Significance

    INQAAHE Conference

    Bangalore March 19-22, 2001

1. Introduction: The Significance of the Issue in Central Europe

    The present analysis narrows the otherwise incredibly large topic of the recognition of degrees

    through two considerations. First, the issue is going to be discussed from the perspective of a

    small Central European country, namely that of Hungary. Second, one particular scientific

    discipline, i.e. technical science, has been selected from the vast list of different scientific

    disciplines. The reason for these limitations is twofold: the authors’ commitments on the one

    hand, and that the limitations provide a good illustration for the substantiation of their thesis

    on the other.

    The geographical location, the historical turmoil in much of the past one and a half

    centuries, together with the present geopolitical and economical situation necessitate urgent

    changes in Hungary. In the past, within the large and uniform market of the Austro-Hungarian

    Monarchy, the exchange of commodities, the spread of technical innovations and the mobility

    of the work force were very dynamic. The boom came to an end in the 1920`s, as one of the

    sad results of the Peace Treaty of Trianon. The flow of capital was now impeded by the many

    different customs systems, and the incompatibility of the railways and other infrastructure.

    The international quality of higher education and the free mobility of the work force

    disappeared later because of the totalitarian system.

    One has to conclude from these historical experiences that it is necessary to break out

    from the psychosis of the ―small country syndrome‖, and to overcome linguistic isolation. To

    achieve these aims the first thing to do is to understand the methodology of the recognition of


2. Fundamental Systems of Recognition

    As a result of the research into higher education, the question is increasingly voiced that it

    differs from one field of knowledge to the next whether college and university leveli.e.

    Bachelor’s and Master’s level—education should exist side by side or the latter build on the former.

    The necessity for making such distinctions is best illustrated by looking at three major

    fields of study.

    ? First, in technical and economic fields, the bachelor’s degree is useful for a wide range of

    occupations. As a result, in some countries one can, with some work experience and under

    certain conditions, obtain a high position even with a bachelor’s degree.

    ? Second, and in contrast with the previous fields, the situation is completely different for

    medicine and experimental laboratories where the occupations and the positions are

    clearly different for those who have a BS degree and for those who have an MS degree.


    ? Third, a further field covers disciplines in the humanities such as philosophy where there

    is no point in educating at the BA level.

    In this paper, we will concentrate on the first field, and here the recognition of degrees or studies plays a significant role. The different types of recognition can be classified into three

    categories: ―Official‖, ―Professional‖ and ―Academic‖ Recognition. Let us consider the

    ―Official‖ Recognition first [1].

2.1. “Official” Recognition

    An ―Official‖ Recognition of degrees means that countries recognize degrees that have been

    obtained in a country with which a recognition agreement has been concluded. The

    recognition can be bilateral or multilateral according to the contract. In Central Europe during

    the Soviet dominance and the dictatorship within the territories of the Comecon or CMEA

    (Council for Mutual Economic Assistance), the recognition of degrees was dictated by the

    Party. In other words recognition was based upon political decisions.

    Today equivalence is the issue of exhaustive investigations and bilateral or multilateral agreements preceded by thoroughgoing preparatory work. The latest bilateral agreement in

    Hungary, the one between Hungary and the Slovak Republic, serves as a good example to

    demonstrate how much energy is invested into the procedure leading to an agreement of this


    The preparation of the agreement needed a rather long and exhaustive period of discussion before the views and interests were harmonized. The period leading to the

    agreement consists of two parts. The discussions started in 1989 between Hungary and the

    Czech-Slovak Republic without definitive aims. This first period came to an end in 1997

    when the first proposal for the agreement was issued. Experts and officials of the ministries of

    both Hungary and the Slovakian Republic started to analyze the proposal. The first official

    meeting of the committees of the countries took place two years later in 1999. The views

    could not be harmonized there, so there was a further year needed to arrive at a contract that

    could be signed by both parties. This took place in February 2000. During the three years

    between 1997 and 2000 there were six drafts exchanged between the parties and each draft

    was preceded by several draft versions of the text.

    The relationship between equivalence and national accreditation is a question of future. Theoretically, a convergence between equivalence and national accreditation, in line with the

    principles of the Bologna Declaration convened on the 19

    th of June 1999 [2], is expected. The

    way they will be related, however, is not yet clear. Still, threenot necessarily mutually

    exclusivecourses seem to be emerging. ? One is that an accreditation committee recognizes whatever another has accredited. ? Another is that accredited institutions form associations and recognize the degrees issued

    in the partner institutions.

    ? A third possibility is that accredited programs form associations and recognize the degrees

    issued in the partner programs.

2.2. “Professional” Recognition

    Professional Recognition is the duty and right of civil organizations, such as Chambers,

    Societies, Associations and Federations. In numerous countries it is exclusively Professional

    Recognition that allows one to use the engineer designation. So in these countries Official

    Recognition is not enough, because one may have a degree that is officially recognized,

    without being allowed to work as an engineer. This means that the degree is a necessary but


not a sufficient requirement. Take as an example the Fédération Européenne d'Associations

    Nationales d'Ingénieurs (the European Federation of National Engineering Associations) [3].

    The FEANI issues the Euro-Engineer designation after a thorough investigation about the candidate. The investigation is thorough because it assesses the individual’s professional

    career meticulously and conducts the assessment at two levels: first at a national, and then at

    an international level.

    The qualification of the professional career consists of two major elements. First the candidate’s education is assessed, which is closely linked to accreditation. Education,

    however, is not enough for the qualification. Professional experience is also a constituent

    element of the investigation.

    After a secondary education at a high level validated by one or more official UR ING certificates, normally awarded at about the age of 18 years, a minimum total period of seven designation.‖ The investigation of the formation period focuses on two major issues: years' formationeducation, training and experienceis required by FEANI for the Eengineering education and valid professional experience.

    The criteria for an acceptable engineering education include reference to the number of years spent at an approved institution and to the curriculum. The candidate must have spent a minimum of three years at a university or other recognized body at university level admitted by FEANI. ―During these years he had to be provided a thorough knowledge of the principles

    of engineering, based on mathematics, physics and computer science appropriate to his or her

    discipline. Any engineer listed in the FEANI Register is guaranteed to have had such an


    Appropriate engineering education is not sufficient in itself though. The candidate is supposed to have a minimum of two years of valid professional experience. Professional

    experience is not only a formal requirement, meaning that one must have spent two years in

    the profession, but it must assure that the candidate has reached a high standard in his

    profession. This way the investigation of the professional experience includes the following

    areas. The candidate has to prove that he has ―solved problems requiring the application of

    engineering science in the fields such as research, development, design, production,

    construction, installation, maintenance, engineering sales and marketing.‖ The candidate has

    also to demonstrate that he or she has had ―success in management or guiding of technical

    staff or the financial, economical, statutory or legal aspects of engineering tasks, or in solving industrial and/or environmental problems.‖ Naturally, the individual’s mastery of a foreign

    language is also part of the investigation.

    To guarantee high standards, FEANI applies a system of evaluation of an individual consisting of two levels: a national and an international level. The National Monitoring

    Committee examines the application first. After approval the National Monitoring Committee

    submits the application to the European Monitoring Committee (EMC). Finally, it is the latter Committee that awards the designation in accord with the criteria that have been approved by

    the FEANI General Assembly.

    In contrast with ―Official‖ Recognition, ―Professional‖ Recognition thus concentrates on

    the individual’s mastery of certain skills that are necessary for the profession. As discussed above, the ―Official‖ type of Recognition means an agreement between countries without

    specific reference to the individuals’ performance. The ―Professional‖ type of recognition, on the other hand, focuses on the individual’s professional achievements, although it does take

    into account the quality of the institutions responsible for the education of the individual.


2.3. “Academic” Recognition

    A third type of Recognition, neither on the national nor the individual level, concentrates on

    institutions that are responsible for the professional formation of the individual. Universities

    of two or more countries recognize each other’s degrees, or, alternately, issue a double degree

    in accordance with mutual agreements. Degrees or parts of studies are recognized as

    equivalent based on the professors’ individual experiences, on the curricula, and numerous

    other factors. This type of recognition serves professor or student mobility for a short term,

    say one or two semesters, and consequently effects curriculum development.

    An example for Academic Recognition is the Conference of European Schools for

    Advanced Engineering Education and Research (CESAER) [4]. CESAER is an association of

    leading European universities engaged in advanced engineering education and research and

    dedicated to research-lead teaching. It was established in 1990 and now has a membership of

    about fifty universities in Western and Central European countries.

    According to Article 2a of the Statutes of CESAER, the Conference aims at

    developing cross-European and international higher engineering education at four levels.

    These levels include student mobility, the diversity of engineering cultures, recognition of

    degrees, and cooperation of educational institutions. The Conference thus encourages ―the

    training of engineers with broader educational experience, including linguistic abilities,

    developed by attendance at two or more leading engineering institutions in Europe‖. It also

    deems important and consequently maintains ―the advantageous diversity and the standards of

    the highest levels of engineering education in Europe‖. The diversity of the educational

    institutions in itself would hinder the mobility of engineers with university degrees, so the

    Conference also takes measures to ―secure international validation and acceptance of the

    qualifications of university educated engineers‖. A fourth means to raise the standard of

    education is to encourage the exchange of information between the leading educational

    institutions themselves. As a consequence the Conference promotes ―further collaboration in

    engineering education, research and development between leading European universities‖.

    The realization of these objectives depends almost exclusively on the meaning of the phrase ―leading university‖. To define it, CESAER has worked out some criteria that set

    standards for the potential members of the association. Member institutions must run active

    research and education programs in a wide variety of engineering disciplines. According to

    Article 3a of the Statutes of the Conference ―potential members of the Conference are

    European Institutions which have a legal status and which meet all following three criteria‖.

    First and foremost the conference believes that the high standard of education is founded upon

    the research carried out at the institution. Thus the potential member is supposed to ―provide

    high-level scientific engineering educationas full time teachingbased on internationally

    recognized research carried out jointly by the teaching staff, the students, doctoral and post-

    doctoral researchers in the same geographic location‖. The high standard of instruction cannot,

    however, be founded solely upon the high standards of research, because the quality of the

    appropriation is limited by the abilities of the students. So the Conference wants its potential

    members to ―use selective admission criteria conforming with legal provisions and/or national

    practices‖. The high standard of engineering education is also corroborated through its interaction with industry: the educational institution cannot stay within the walls of academic

    activity, but has to promote the social application of what has been taught there. As a

    consequence the potential member is supposed to ―have a firmly established tradition of

    relations with industry in the fields of education and research‖.

    Beyond these criteria the Conference further limits the meaning of the phrase ―leading university‖ with reference to the potential member’s position in the national and international market of universities. According to the expectations of the Conference the potential member

    should play a leading role in their own country and in several fields in the international


    scientific community. As a consequence, the potential member should be proposed to the

    Management Committee by at least 3 members, each of whom belongs to a different country

    and one of whom normally belongs to the country of the potential member. The Management

    Committee acts as the Selection Committee, examining the proposal and then sends its report

    to the Board of CESAER for the final decision. The examination of the internal qualities

    together with the position of the potential member institution in the national and international

    market at different institutional levels of CESAER guarantee the high standards of education

    of engineers at a European level.

    Both ―Professional‖ and ―Academic‖ Recognition have two major advantages

    compared to the ―Official‖ one. The first advantage lies in their laying emphasis on the

    mastery of at least one foreign language. This way both types of recognition foster education

    on a higher and more international level. The other advantage of ―Professional‖ and

    ―Academic‖ Recognition concerns a larger issue. Both require deeper and more substantial

    knowledge than what a simple accreditation can provide, because they presuppose

    professional and personal relationships as well. Within the framework of ―Official‖

    Recognition one does not have to have professional and personal relationships with engineers

    from the target country. Thus, the ―Professional‖ and the ―Academic‖ Recognition foster the

    international quality of a profession.

    Nevertheless at one point the ―Official‖ and ―Professional‖ ways of recognition seem

    more advantageous than ―Academic‖ Recognition. As a rule, ―Academic‖ Recognition

    ignores the issue of employment. In contrast with this shortcoming of ―Academic‖

    Recognition, both the ―Official‖ and ―Professional‖ ways of recognition help graduated

    engineers find jobs.

    3. Conclusion: Utilization of the Results of Recognition

    What is the conclusion of our analysis of the different types of Recognition? More than

    anything else that the fruits of Recognition must be reaped in those small Central European

    countries where the psychological pressure of the ―small country syndrome‖ must be done

    away with. Linguistic isolation can only be overcome by teaching foreign languages on a high

    level, by multilingual education both for foreign and Hungarian students and by inviting guest

    professors. In Hungary, beyond Hungarian one has to know English, French, German and

    Russian to some extent, and one has to master the vocabulary of one’s profession in these

    languages if one wants to learn one’s profession on a high level.

    This appears as the path for the development of higher education to meet the

    objectives of the 21

    st century. It would be a great pleasure to listen to the international experts of the conference discussing the present issue from the perspectives of their own regions, and

    thus we could promote the improvement and development of the methods and systems of


    We have started our discussion with the issue of equivalence, but we have to note

    there is more in ―Professional‖ and especially in ―Academic‖ Recognition than solely equivalence. What is far more than sheer equivalence is the personal relationship between the

    people of different nations.

[1] For a similar classification with different terminology consult Jack Levy. ―International Recognition of

    Engineering Qualifications‖ esp. pp. 8-9 in Ideas for Better Education & Training for Engineer, No. 6, October

    1999, ed. Prof. János Ginsztler, pp. 7-12. [2] [3] All the ensuing information about FEANI is from their home-page:

    [4] All the ensuing information about CESAER is from their home-page:


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