Last week around 500 participants from 42 countries exchanged views on student mobility and lifelong learning at the "International Conference on Recognition", organised by the HRK project MODUS. They discussed in parallel workshops and panels the challenges and opportunities of fair, transparent and quality-assured procedures for the recognition of competences and qualifications at universities. HRK President Peter-André Alt addressed to the global "academic family" to find solutions to the many challenges in the spirit of mutual trust. The need to build trust was also reflected in many other contributions, key notes and presentations. For example, EUA President Michael Murphy stated that the formal legal framework in Europe was in accordance with the Lisbon Convention, but now the real obstacles had to be tackled, especially within universities. The students spoke in a pre-conference" the day before and effectively contributed to the conference with one voice. Liv Muthfrom the German Coordination Committee of the Student Accreditation Pool (KASAP), emphasised that in the meantime a lot has been achieved with regard to recognition practices in universities, but they should better communicate it to their target groups, mainly students and teachers (video). Among many other topics handled by the conference, the focus was on project experiences with the digitalisation and internationalisation of recognition processes as well as their quality assurance.
Opening panel on the Global Convention
In the opening panel, HRK President Peter-André Alt, Prof. Ernest Aryeetey from the African Research Universities Alliance, Katia Dolgova Dreyer from the Council of Europe, Dr. Michaela Martin from the UNESCO International Institute for Educational Planning, and Prof. Dr. Martin Paul from the Ruhr University Bochum discussed the consequences of the UNESCO "Global Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications concerning Higher Education", which was be adopted in Paris in 2019. The convention simplifies the recognition of higher education qualifications worldwide by extending the previous recognition logic of the Lisbon Agreement for the intra-European recognition of higher education qualifications to the signatory states. This means that in future qualifications from higher education institutions in non-European signatory states can easier be recognised in a quality-assured manner if no significant difference can be proven. The Global Convention is based on existing regional conventions and is the first UN treaty on higher education with a global scope based on the UN Sustainable Development Goals. It complements the five regional recognition conventions to place cooperation between regions on a common legal and contractual frame of reference. It also facilitates inclusion, as well as the recognition of refugees' qualifications.
Prof. Alt highlighted three reasons why the Global Convention further promotes the internationalisation of universities: From the students' perspective, fair and transparent recognition processes facilitate international academic mobility and exchange between higher education institutions worldwide, bringing students and teachers closer together. In this way, university members also learn more about the actual problems of their partner institutions abroad. From the higher education institutions' point of view, recognition offers the opportunity to review and improve their own study programmes and institutional quality assurance. The ability to recognise quality-assured learning outcomes from other higher education institutions contributes to building mutual trust between domestic and foreign higher education institutions. Through the recognition of digitally acquired qualifications through e.g. distance learning and online learning, virtual exchange will continue to increase alongside physical exchange. This offers universities new potential for the organisation and implementation of joint digital courses and modules worldwide. In this respect, the path is set to more flexible learning paths, learning outcome orientation and student-centred learning. Finally from a global perspective, recognition supports the appreciation of diversity and heterogeneity in higher education worldwide. It also paves the way for more comparability and transparency of recognition decisions.
The keynotes provided a fundamental intro to the four thematic areas of the conference. Prof. Patrick Werquin Ph.D. (CNAM) presented examples of how successful recognition of prior learning can support lifelong learning (video). Mariá José Lemaitre (CINDA) reported on the status of recognition and quality assurance in Latin America (video), while Irina Ferencz (ACA) presented figures on student mobility before and during the pandemic (video). Finally, EUA President Michael Murphy commented from the perspective of European higher education networks and alliances (video).
At the end of the first day, Tilman Dörr (HRK-MODUS); Joachim Gümüş Kallevig (NOKUT), Jenneke Lokhoff (NUFFIC), and Nathanaël Poli (CICIC) discussed the implementation of digital technologies in establishing and improving transparent and fair recognition procedures. After looking at the current state in different European countries, the challenges in the digitalisation of recognition were debated and a fresh look into the future was given. The importance of digital, database-driven processes were highlighted, especially in the area of student mobility, and it was concluded that there is a need for further digital exchange of student data (video).
Following on from the contributions of Prof. Ernest Aryeetey, the relevance of recognition for regional and global socio-economic integration processes was a key topic in the discussions with Aurelija Valeikienė (Lithuania), Prof. Alyssa Peleo-Alampay (Philippines) and Dr. Fabrizio Trifirò (UK) under the chair of Dr. Peter A. Zervakis (MODUS/HRK). Here, the concrete challenges in creating an international culture of trust were addressed and possible solutions deliberatively considered from different perspectives. It was critically reviewed on how the Global Recognition Convention can contribute to overcoming these hurdles. Moreover, the roundtable highlighted the role of ENIC-NARICs and ENIC-NARIC networks in improving understanding of different education and quality assurance systems and their approaches to recognition.
The four basic conference themes were further explored in a solution-oriented approach in more than 25 presentations and workshops. As a result, the higher education institutions seem to accept their responsibility to further develop new ways in their recognition processes in accordance with what Michael Murphy had called for. This was evident, for example, in a panel discussion that dealt with a successfully used peer-to-peer approach for the further development of transatlantic student and teacher exchanges within the framework of an international project funded by the EU.