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Science of Recognition

Irina I. Gaydel

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Science of Recognition: interview by Evgeny Vassilievich Shevchenko, Head of the International Education Management Department // Internet: web-site of the Poisk newspaper (


One can hear a lot of stories about Russian qualifications denied recognition in the West or recognised only by court orders. Particular courses are not recognised when a person wants to continue education, employment is denied to holders of Russian university diplomas... Why so? Is it a discrimination of the Russian education (which many believe to be "the best in the world") or an attempt of other states to protect their labour markets? Or perhaps something else?
At the International Education Management Department of the Institute of International Educational Programmes (St. Petersburg State Polytechnic University) problems of assessment of qualifications are discussed in student papers and candidate's dissertations. In the opinion of the Department Head Evgeny SHEVCHENKO, today such investigations constitute an independent research area.

- Having moved to Germany, our former compatriot wanted to continue her education in a German university, but only two subjects of several years of study in Russia were recognised "there". She explains it by the absence of a respective agreement on mutual recognition of qualifications between Russia and Germany. Is she right?

- Such agreement was signed and published in 1999. However, there is lack of understanding of the situation with the recognition of qualifications on the so-called common level. Most people think that if to have her diploma recognised a graduate of St. Petersburg University had to go to law, it means that our higher education is not recognised in Germany! Who does not recognise it? At what level? People fail to find specialists with the relevant expertise. There is a special body for the recognition of qualifications in Bonn. An ordinary professor may not know all the details of the recognition procedure. Unfortunately, many believe that they do know and act according to the principle "I do not understand your education and therefore I cannot recognise it". Again, in such cases one should apply to professional people.
Russian diplomas are recognised in any country subject to three conditions. First, they should be legally issued - not false nor forged nor bought in an underground passage; second, the awarding institution should be accredited under the national laws, and third, the recognition procedure shall be in accordance with the rules applicable in the country in question. And such rules considerably differ from country to country...
In her diploma paper, Maria Sergeeva de Sandoval, a graduate of our department, studied the procedures and problems of recognition of Russian qualifications in Hispanic countries. She sent 600 letters by e-mail and received 250 answers - from ministers, associations of graduates etc. She collected the documents, classified the problems and obtained interesting results. In some countries diplomas are easily recognised. Others require a document confirming the university's authority to award a respective qualification, that is, actually, a copy of the institution's accreditation certificate. Still others require the translation of all programmes studied by the applicant during the years of study in the higher education institution. There are unique cases. Thus, a former graduate of a Russian university wrote that for 10 years he had been unable to have his qualification recognised in Ecuador. Under the laws of Ecuador, before the diploma is recognised, its holder is to be interviewed by a special commission composed of professors of the designated university. But they do not have such field of study and such professors in Ecuador.
Nearly all respondents point out that Russian universities do not reply to requests from foreign recognition bodies! "Please confirm that such-and-such studied at your university", "please send a copy of the certificate of accreditation", "please explain ...". No answer! Evidently, the truth is that personnel of curriculum and instruction departments the requests are forwarded to do not know foreign languages. So, sometimes Russian qualifications are not recognised because of such technical trifles.

- But there are aspects that are neither technical nor trifling, aren't there?

- Yes, there are. For example, in Jordan, irrespective of a technical university you graduated from, to have your higher education diploma recognised you will have to be interviewed or pass an examination in the Engineers Association. This professional association unites practicing engineers. You may be asked to design, say, a frame or draw a diagram... That is, to solve a practical problem. I learned an interesting fact when I visited Jordan: practically one hundred percent of graduates from the USSR higher education institutions had been scrutinised in this way, and only fifty percent of US university graduates.
Sometimes, a diploma is not recognised just because its holder fails to pass a respective examination. This is not discrimination of Russia. In the Netherlands, a Harvard graduate seeking employment will have to pass through the same procedures as a graduate of, say, the Urals University. And if you fail, you should not resent and cry "They don't want to recognise us!" It is your knowledge that was not recognised, not the Russian system of education in general.
Laws of many countries provide for various recognition procedures. Diplomas issued by really reputable universities with high rating, such as Moscow State University, for example, are, as a rule, easily recognised. If a university is not well known, information about it is collected. And this takes much time, as we are not willing to provide information about us. Hence, applicants may be required to pass additional examinations or take an additional course of study or on-the-job training to show their knowledge and experience.
It should be noted that there is recognition at another level. Many countries are reluctant to recognise qualifications concerning first-level education: kindergarten teacher, primary school teacher... Under laws of many countries, foreigners shall not have access to upbringing of the young generation. This refers to all foreigners, not just Russians. Again, there is no discrimination here.
The European Council defined the list of protected titles for which it is very difficult to obtain recognition abroad. This list primarily includes professions related to the life support and protection of citizens of European countries. For example, if an architect makes an incorrect design of a house, it will collapse and its inhabitants will suffer. The list of protected professions includes bridge builders, air traffic controllers, ship masters, doctors, priests and even firemen! If a fireman does not know the national language or mentality, how can he save people?
There are also recommendations of another nature. Correspondence, distance education of any type as well as evening studies are not, more often than not, recognised in foreign countries. They quite fairly believe that this is inferior education involving less disciplines and not so strict requirements to students...

- Let us return to the beginning of our interview... Do you believe it is fair that the courses already studied by a graduate of our university have not been recognised? Or should she have also applied to specialists to assert her rights?

- German universities are autonomous and they take such decisions independently. However, in the US, for example, many universities strictly adhere to the rule which could be formulated as follows: if you want to obtain a diploma of our university, you must study certain, principal, disciplines here: the mathematics course read by professor Smith, and the physics course read by professor Riesling, whoever's student you have been and wherever you have studied before - at Oxford, a Nobel Prize winner... It does not matter. There are lists of compulsory subjects which will not be recognised in any case.
For example, you won't be issued a Harvard University diploma if you've spent in the campus less than two and a half years, though you can go to study to any country for several semesters.
Figuratively speaking, if you want to design aircraft, you may study wings in one university, landing gear in another one, but the fuselage should be studied only here, as we are responsible for your basic training. And this is quite fair.
In my opinion, Russia's key problem is that we do not take a university's reputation seriously and willingly recognise any courses studied by foreign students, just to have them come here to study. What is the outcome? Let me cite just one indicative example. Today, graduates from six Russian universities find it very difficult to have their diplomas recognised in Germany. No, they are not officially rejected, the agreement between the two counties is not violated, but the applied recognition procedure is the most protracted one. The bureaucratic delays take so much time, that more often than not applicants give up and seek other, less qualified employment. What is the reason behind it? The universities in question had once admitted for postgraduate studies graduates of German Fachhochschule, education institutions of the level slightly higher than Russian secondary technical schools. Under German laws (and under Russian laws, too, for that matter) they were not allowed to do it. When, having defended their theses, newly-qualified candidates of science returned to Germany, their qualifications were not recognised, and the universities that had disregarded the rules of the recognition of qualifications were blacklisted.
Unfortunately, many similar mistakes are made in Russia, which later cost dear university graduates, universities and the country in general. But this is a subject for another discussion.

(To be continued in one of the next issues of "Practicum")

Rreformatting by
Е.V. Shevchenko,
Head of the International Education Management Department
Institute of International Educational Programmes,
St. Petersburg State Polytechnic University

Source: Science of Recognition: interview by Evgeny Vassilievich Shevchenko, Head of the International Education Management Department // Internet: web-site of the Poisk newspaper (

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