Academic recognition

The recognition of competences acquired at higher education institutions is an essential prerequisite for the qualitative and quantitative improvement of mobility and a contribution to flexible learning paths for students.

In practice, recognition means that the recognising higher education institution treats the achievements gained at another higher education institution or in another degree programme as if they had been gained at its own higher education institution or in the same degree programme.

Recognition examination

The decision on recognition is made by comparing the competences acquired elsewhere with those required within one's own degree programme. The comparison focuses on the question of whether there is a significant difference between the competences acquired and those to be acquired. The basis for competence-based recognition is - in addition to the quality of the institution at which the qualification was acquired - the learning outcomes achieved at another higher education institution or in another study programme.

In order for recognition to relate to the learning outcomes, a competence-oriented description of the qualification objectives and modules is necessary. Therefore, in order to improve the quality of recognition procedures, it is important to pay attention to programme development.

Legal foundations

The most important basis for recognition are the regulations in the higher education acts of the Länder (in German). The regulations relevant to recognition are essentially based on the Lisbon Convention. It is the defining document for the academic recognition of competences acquired at higher education institutions. The "Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications concerning Higher Education in the European Region", the so-called Lisbon Convention, was drawn up in 1997 under the auspices of the Council of Europe and UNESCO, ratified in Germany in 2007 and transferred into a federal law on 16 May 2007, the "Law on the Convention of 11 April 1997 on the Recognition of Qualifications concerning Higher Education in the European Region" (in German).

The Lisbon Convention contains binding regulations regarding the recognition of qualifications giving access to higher education, the recognition of periods of study and the recognition of completed higher education qualifications. The main principles of the Lisbon Convention are:

  1. Reversal of the burden of proof: the burden of proof is on the higher education institution to prove that the achievements obtained abroad cannot be recognised due to a substantial difference.
  2. Substantial difference: Recognition can only be refused if substantial differences are identified. The basis of assessment is the competences acquired.
  3. Obligation to state reasons for refusal and right of appeal: A refusal of recognition is subject to the obligation to state reasons. If recognition is refused, the applicant has a right of appeal. In addition, an established appeal procedure must be in place.
  4. Prohibition of discrimination: The assessment of a qualification is carried out without regard to certain characteristics of the applicant.
  5. Transparency requirement: The procedures and criteria for the assessment and recognition of qualifications must be transparent, uniform and reliable.
  6. Availability of adequate information: In order to be able to make an appropriate assessment, sufficient information on the foreign qualification must be available. It is the responsibility of the applicant to provide it. The qualification-issuing institution has a corresponding duty to provide information to the applicant or the institution from which recognition is sought, upon request and within a reasonable period of time.
  7. Reasonable period of time: Recognition decisions must be taken within a reasonable period of time specified in advance.

For states that have not ratified the Lisbon Convention, previous conventions and agreements apply (provided they have been ratified in the state concerned). It should be emphasised that more favourable provisions of other agreements or arrangements (e.g. state bilateral equivalence agreements) are not affected by the Lisbon Convention.

As a rule, the higher education acts of the Länder require higher education institutions to regulate recognition procedures in their (framework) examination regulations. They are therefore of great importance to the individual higher education institution for recognition.


Working aids

Practical advice on the implementation of recognition in higher education institutions can be found in the FAQ (in German) as well as in the following publications, which were produced in the nexus project:



Recognition at higher education institutions refers to competences, qualifications or achievements that have been attained at higher education institutions and are recognised with the aim of continuing studies in another degree programme or at another higher education institution. Recognition can refer to individual modules or entire degrees. The basis for recognition in Germany is the Lisbon Convention, which focuses on the examination with regard to a substantial difference in the acquisition of competences and regards recognition as the rule, as well as the respective state higher education laws.

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