CHAPTER 10

SUBSTANTIAL DIFFERENCES

RECOMMENDATION

Comparing outcomes of qualifications

The competent recognition authority should recognise a qualification, unless it can prove that there is a substantial difference that could be a major obstacle for successfully pursuing the desired activity. The essential question to answer is: does the qualification that the applicant has obtained enable him to follow a given study programme or take up a given employment?

The competent authority should compare the foreign qualification to the relevant national qualification (or set of qualifications) that is required for the desired activity. This national qualification spans a wide range of outcomes, from purely theoretical knowledge to practical skills. In virtually all cases, the foreign qualification covers a different range of outcomes.

The competent recognition authority should determine whether the main requirements for the desired activity are sufficiently covered by the outcomes of the foreign qualification. This implies that not all of the outcomes of the relevant national qualification need to be matched by those of the foreign qualification, but only those that are essential to successfully pursue the desired activity.

Example 1: Relevant outcomes should match

No substantial differences identified

If the competent recognition authority has found that there are no substantial differences, full recognition should be granted. Both the competent recognition authority and the applicant can be confident that the applicant is well prepared for the task ahead and has a good chance of succeeding.

Example 2: Accept (non-substantial) differences in contents

Example 3: Accept (non-substantial) differences in orientation

Example 4: Accept (non-substantial) differences in workload

Substantial differences found

In practice, usually no direct information on learning outcomes is found in the accompanying documentation of the qualification, such as the list of subjects or transcript. Even section 4.2 (programme requirements) of the Diploma Supplement, which is intended to provide “details of learning outcomes, knowledge, skills, competences”, does not always contain a clear list of learning outcomes.

In the absence of information on learning outcomes, the competent recognition authority should try to infer the output of a qualification from other pieces of more readily available information, such as the place of the qualification in the national education system or qualifications framework, the purpose of the programme, the contents of the programme, compulsory elements (such as a thesis or dissertation), the rights attached to the qualification and workload of the programme.

If the competent recognition authority has identified substantial differences that form a major obstacle for successfully pursuing the activity, full recognition should not be granted. This will presumably save the applicant from struggling through a study programme or employment without the required competences.

The competent recognition authority has an obligation to inform the applicant of the nature of these substantial differences. This provides the applicant with a chance to compensate for these differences, or to file an appeal against the evaluation of his qualification.

Based on the substantial differences identified and reported to the applicant, the competent recognition authority should try to offer alternative, partial or conditional recognition of the qualification (see topic 11: “Alternative recognition and the right to appeal” on page 49).

Example 5: Substantial difference found

What may be defined as "substantial differences" (which may lead to alternative, partial, conditional recognition or to non-recognition), will to a large extent depend on the purpose(s) for which recognition is sought. In some contexts, a broadly based education may be desirable, whereas, in other contexts, a considerable degree of specialisation may be required.