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What Is Your Diploma Worth?

          By Elena Kuznetsova, Nikolai Fedyanin and Andrei Bukhovtsev

           This September, RF MFA deposited with the Secretary General of the Council of Europe instruments of ratification of three European conventions: on the equivalence of diplomas leading to admission to universities; on the equivalence of periods of university study and on academic recognition of university qualifications. Now they have taken effect. What does it mean for Russian school leavers, university students and graduates?
          First, a few words about the conventions. Altogether, there are six conventions operative in Europe concerning education. The first three, and most important ones, to which Russia has now acceded, were developed back in the 1950s: 1953 European Convention on the Equivalence of Diplomas leading to Admission to Universities, 1956 European Convention on the Equivalence of Periods of University Study and 1959 European Convention on the Academic Recognition of University Qualifications.
          Three other conventions adopted much later are the 1979 Convention on the Recognition of Studies, Diplomas and Degrees concerning Higher Education in the States belonging to the Europe Region; 1990 European Convention on the General Equivalence of Periods of University Study and 1997 Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications concerning Higher Education in the European Region.
          The adoption of the latter convention was caused by considerable changes in the system of European education. For example, education institutions appeared that are hybrids of higher education institutions and professional courses, such as German Fachhochschulen or Norwegian statlige hegskoler. Further diversification and professionalism of education also had its impact (for example, many French higher education institutions have adopted non-traditional programmes, of less duration, with more focus on professional education).
          The bodies that are to implement the convention are the European Network of National Information Centres on academic mobility and recognition (ENIC) and the Committee of the Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications. Each Party shall establish or maintain a national information centre which shall "give advice or information on recognition matters and assessment of qualifications, in accordance with national laws and regulations ". In Russia, the functions of such centre are performed by the department of recognition and establishment of equivalence at the Ministry of Education.

           Consequence number one

          The need to accede to the Convention on the Equivalence of Diplomas leading to Admission to Universities in the Old World was caused by the fact that the period of Russian secondary education is less than that in West European countries (10-11 years as against 12-13 years). Generally, it is less homogeneous in terms of quality. It is obvious that special schools in big cities (especially in Moscow and St. Petersburg) and small rural schools mean different level of teachers and, respectively, requirements to students. So, while there may be the same excellent marks in pupils' mark-books, the levels of knowledge drastically differ.
          In Russia, difference between marks and knowledge is revealed at entrance examinations to higher education institutions. But many European countries do not have such examinations and admission is based on competition of applications and the results of the finals at schools. Therefore, they preferred not to admit "pigs in a poke" from snow-covered Russia. To be admitted to a foreign higher education institution, Russian school leavers had to spend a year studying at preparatory courses or to study for a year or two in a Russian institution wasting time and money.
          While Russia was very loyal to the recognition of foreign diplomas, Europe took a parochial view of Russian school leaving certificates. Quality of education in Russian schools was assessed there on the basis of their own criteria, in particular, the established period of secondary education. According to Irina Mochalova, Director of the "Parta" International Contacts Centre, "our school leaving certificates were not trusted even in the countries with which we had long and stable relations. And that was understandable, considering that in one school a pupil may get only excellent marks, while in another one his/her knowledge would only be assessed as satisfactory ".
          The ratification of the first convention suggests that now our secondary school leavers may be admitted to universities in Europe on equal terms with applicants from other countries who studied for 12-13 years. That is, theoretically, one will not have to study under Foundation programmes or spend a year or two in a Russian higher education institution or in the last grades of a western school.
          According to Yuri Akimov, head of the department of recognition of establishment of equivalence at the Ministry of Education of Russia, earlier, too, in some cases foreign universities made concessions and admitted applicants from Russia right after leaving the school. But such occasions are rare. "We think it is unfair and have always argued that our school leavers must have the same opportunities as other applicants ", says Mr. Akimov.
          Now, the situation is expected to change for the better, but not at once and not radically. Despite Russia's accession to the above conventions, the ministry fears that Russian applicants will still face the same difficulties upon admission. For example, some European universities openly expressed their disagreement with the equivalence of Russian 10-11-year education with their 12-13 years. They can introduce additional "protection" mechanisms, for example, insist on maintaining age qualification for applicants (not less than 18 years) or simply require that our school leavers take examinations.
          In the opinion of Alexei Surin, President of the National Association of Educational Youth and Student Tourist Organisations, admission to the best universities such as Cambridge or Harvard right after school leaving remains doubtful. "Though the period of our education is considered to be eleven years, in practice, a pupil just goes from the third grade to the fifth grade, i.е, the period of study is still ten years. Naturally, MGU, Bauman Technical University, MAI or First Medical Institute are known abroad. But I don't believe that a third- or fourth-year student of the First Medical Institute will be admitted to the Harvard Medical School even if he or she is an A-student ", he says.
          Ms Mochalova believes that each applicant will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. "I think that in a particular case, of, say, golden medal winner, the school leaving certificate may be recognised by a university, provided, however, that the procedure will be undertaken by the state rather than by private bodies. This will hardly be the case if a student applies to a foreign higher education institution directly or through a firm ".
          The possibility of rejection of our applicants follows from reservations in the texts of the conventions. Thus, Article IV. 1 of Section "Recognition of Qualifications Giving Access to Higher Education" reads, in particular: "Each Party shall recognize the qualifications issued by other Parties meeting the general requirements for access to higher education in those Parties for the purpose of access to programmes belonging to its higher education system… "
          And further - "unless a substantial difference can be shown between the general requirements for access in the Party in which the qualification was obtained and in the Party in which recognition of the qualification is sought ". Therefore, to reject an applicant, a brief statement would suffice: "University does not consider that the obtained diploma meets the standards of education in our country ".
          Nevertheless, Yuri Akimov is positive. "I think we will be able to solve the age qualification problem ", he says. However, he admits that additional examinations will be a more difficult problem, since foreign institutions have more autonomy and can indeed introduce any examinations at their discretion.
          The point is that the equivalence of education shall be assessed by competent bodies. Far from every country in Europe have such bodies. Therefore, one should be prepared that any matter related to admission to a higher education institution will be decided at a university level. Alexei Surin also pointed to the fact that each western university is "a state within a state". "Its decision is final and without appeal ", says Mr. Surin about European universities' authority.
          Irina Mochalova fairly notes that in the UK and other European countries preparatory programmes for foreign applicants mean jobs and enormous money: "They will hardly agree to curtail this overnight ".
          Anyway, the problem is to disappear in 2010, when Russia is planning to introduce 12-year school education. Now we may only hope that our ministry's appeals to their foreign counterparts will take effect. "Before, we did not have official possibilities to apply to our colleagues. Now they are in place and we will seek admission of our secondary school leavers directly to the first year of study ", says Yuri Akimov.
          He recommends, whenever difficulties with admission to western universities arise, to apply to the two instances: ministry of education of the country in question or special education organizations like DAAD, British Council and French Cultural Centre. Those who know the selected education institution fairly well are advised to apply directly to the department for work with foreign students of the institution in question. The ministry, in its turn, will address the governments and governmental agencies of the countries that obstruct admission.

           Consequence number two

          Ratification of the Convention on the General Equivalence of Periods of University Study guarantees that if you have studied in a foreign higher education institution for a year or two under an exchange programme, that period will be credited in Russia.
          According to Yuri Akimov, this promotes the process of international exchange of students, which so far is slow in Russia. Upon return to Russia, students who had undergone a one- or two-year traineeship abroad would be able to have such period credited in their "native" university. For example, now most students go for language training. Upon return foreign language is credited automatically. Other subjects may be credited only after their comparison, as more fundamental education is provided in Russia in many disciplines.
          As for the recognition of the equivalence of periods of university study, similar problems are also encountered in the West. Mr. Surin cited the following example: a student completed two years of study at the business department in a US university and then decided to transfer to a similar department in an Australian university. He was admitted only to the first course, as the subjects he had studied were not credited.
          It seems that the two western universities should have a similar methodological approach, but in fact there is no compatibility. According to the rules, in most US higher education institutions, to obtain a diploma, one should hear at least 83-85% of lectures. Only 15-17% of lectures may be credited. Transfer from one technical college to another is possible, but as for such fields of study as business, economics, law etc. one will have to take the course anew.
          If you studied abroad and now want to continue education in Russia, please apply to the department of recognition and establishment of equivalence at the Ministry of Education of the Russian Federation. Its staff workers will tell you whether you'll have to take additional examinations in some subjects, and if so, what exactly.

           Consequence number three

          Ratification of the Convention on Recognition of University Qualifications guarantees that your diploma should be recognised by other European countries. Sounds like a fairy tale, doesn't it? Yuri Akimov says that "great and painstaking efforts are required for the realisation of the rights of Russian school leavers guaranteed by these documents. The Russian Ministry of Education together with representatives of other Parties should compare educational programmes of Russian and western higher education institutions ".
          Naturally, only basic disciplines will be compared. If the comparison reveals that the education of a student does not include key subjects, such student will have to take respective examinations. For example, if a student of physics has not studied such subjects as "Methods of Mathematical Physics" or "Theory of Differential Equations", his/her diploma will not be recognised as equivalent to diploma in a receiving country. This would hardly be the case with out physics, though.
          The Convention confirmed the tools that had already worked at the level of intergovernmental agreements. This practice was quite good. Russia periodically signs with other countries agreements on correspondence of diplomas, mixed commissions are established that compile the lists of diplomas recognised by both countries and lists of subjects. Such agreements have been signed with nearly all socialist countries, some European countries (Finland, Spain) and some countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia. It is planned to sign respective agreements with Germany and Italy in the near future.
          In the opinion of Irina Mochalova, ratification of the convention may have a positive impact on scholars who have an academic degree, publications and international recognition. "I'll tell you what happened when I was a student of the Higher Mathematics and Cybernetics Department of Moscow State University. At that time, it was one of the world elite departments in this field. Third- and fourth-year students published research papers in international journals; they were invited for traineeship abroad. But formally, they could be admitted only subject to the acknowledgement of their diplomas upon coming to a foreign country. To my mind, this is wrong, because the level of education and knowledge of our graduates in this area is much higher than that of foreign students. Ratification may cancel out such procedures, thus facilitating traineeship and employment ".
          In any case, recognition and employment should be separated. Strictly speaking, recognition does not guarantee graduates' employment. Access to employment is within the competence of personnel and immigration services. This is the internal policy of each country.

           What is to be done?

          After the ratification of the conventions the procedure for submission of the documents to foreign higher education institutions has not changed. So, if you are a secondary school leaver and are going to study in a foreign higher education institution, you should act depending on the country in questions.
          UK . So far, a school leaving certificate is not sufficient for admission to the first year of study in a UK university or college, since, according to the local standards, you have to study for two more years to be admitted. Therefore, before admission you will be required to complete the two-year preparatory courses. The subjects you will have to study will depend on the university and department you have chosen. Besides, you will have to take IELTS test.
          If you seek admission to the second or third year of study, you will have to apply to the Universities and Colleges Admission Services (UCAS), which is the central organisation that processes applications for full-time undergraduate courses at UK universities and colleges. Most probably, you will be required to take tests in a number of subjects and IELTS test. In all likelihood, you will lose a year or two, as after two years of study in a Russian higher education institution you may be admitted only to the first year of study in the UK.
          If you, nevertheless, choose to send your application right after school leaving, the procedure is as follows. Before December 15, you should obtain in the British Council, complete and send a special UCAS form. In the form you should indicate the grades you expect to get at the school final examinations using their equivalents given in a special look-up table contained in a UCAS book. According to the book, Russian eleven-year studies are equal to UK Secondary Education. In the Certificates section you should write Attestat o srednem obrazovanii   or Diplom ob okanchanii srednego spetsial'nogo uchebnogo zavedeniya .
          Then you should indicate the codes of one to six UK universities or colleges you would like to be admitted to (they are also given in the book). You should attach a reference in English given by one of your teachers who can confirm that you have received the grades you indicated in the application, and send the form to the UK through the British Council channels. Some lime later, you will receive an official notice of which of the six universities or colleges you indicated are ready to admit you.
          If you got the expected grades, you should inform UCAS of the particular university or college where you expect to study. If the results are worse than expected, the university of college will reject you and you will have to look for vacancies in other universities you can expect to be admitted to with your results. The lists of vacancies are published in leading British newspapers, and UCAS sends them to its centres. Then you will have to act on your own: call the university, try to convince them that it is you that they need more than any one else. Maybe, you'll have luck.
          Germany . Only those who have completed two years of study in a reputable Russian higher education institution will be admitted to the first year. German professors believe that German school students study the subjects taught during the first two years in Russian universities in the two last gymnasium classes. In this case, for admission to the first year it is enough to pass DSH, a German language examination.
          If you want to enter a German higher education institution right after school leaving, you will have to study at special preparatory courses in a Studienkolleg    and only after that you can apply for admission.
          If you seek admission to the second or third year of education, the question of recognition of the equivalence of your education will be decided by the university in question. The academic council will decide what year of study you will be admitted to. Before sending your application you are advised to obtain a reference from DAAD (German Service of Academic Exchanges ).
          Matters related to the recognition of diplomas in Germany are dealt with by the Permanent Commission of Ministers of Culture of German Lands (KMK ). Of late, almost all Russian diplomas have been recognized; though an official agreement on recognition of diplomas between our countries has not been signed yet, a respective statement has already been made. During the February visit of Chancellor Schroeder to Moscow, the Russian-German interagency agreement was signed which sets forth the basic principles of the equivalence of qualifications. Under the agreement, the Russian degree of doctor of science is equal to German "Habilitierter Doktor, 2-nd degree ", and candidate of science - to German "Doktor ". Diplomas issued by the Russian higher education institutions which have Dissertation Council are equivalent to German university diplomas.
          France . In France, there is no organisation dealing with the recognition of foreign diplomas or certificates. This matter is fully within the competence of universities. For those who seek, losing a year or two, admission to the first year of study in a French higher education institution, the French Cultural Centre offers a special preparation programme. Upon completion of the programme, you will have to take the language examination and send your file (package of documents) to the university of your choice. The writing of a so-called "motivation letter ", in which you should explain in detail why you seek admission to this particular university and to this particular department takes much time and efforts.
          If you want to continue education under the second or third year programme, you will have to take numerous tests (peculiar for each university) and compulsory French language examination. You will be exempt from the latter if you are a DALF holder, but to obtain it you will also have to take a respective examination. Based on the testing results, the university academic council will decide what year of study you may be admitted to.
          Czechia . There are practically no problems with Russian diploma and certificate recognition in the former socialist countries. Special relevant agreements exist between many East European countries and Russia. Russia concluded a similar agreement with Czechia practically immediately after the disintegration of Czechoslovakia. The Agreement on Cultural Relations and Scientific and Technological Cooperation of August 26, 1993, contains a provision on mutual recognition of certificates, diplomas and academic degrees.
          Though Czech school students also study for 12 years, you may easily be admitted to the first year of study in a Czech higher education institution after leaving a secondary school. The only examination you will have to take in addition to general entrance examinations will be the Czech language examination.
          Russian diplomas are fully recognised, the titles being the only difference. A holder of the Russian master's degree will be called an engineer in Czechia. Master's degree is awarded in Czechia only to pharmaceutists and graduates of arts universities.
          USA . Though the United States of America has not acceded to the European conventions, there are no problems with recognition of Russian school-leaving certificates there. Admission to US universities is subject to TOEFL , SAT-1   and SAT-2 tests , which can be taken in the centres of the American Council of Teachers of Russian (ACTR ). The only test that cannot be taken in Russia is the Medical Colleges Admission Test (MCAT) , which can only be taken at US medical colleges.
          After you have passed all the tests, you will have only to complete the university form, indicating all your grades for the last three years, attach a copy of the certificate in Russian and English and send your application to the college of your choice. Sometimes, colleges require letters of recommendation, which you may compile with ACTR assistance.
          If you seek admission to the second or third year of study, you will have to take a standard set of tests and also the tests required by the college.
          As for the recognition in the US of your university diploma, there are no competent bodies dealing with this matter. The US has no ministry of education and, accordingly, a commission for the recognition of equivalence of credentials. Therefore, you will have to decide the question of the recognition of your diploma with the employer or college.
          Australia . This country has not acceded to the conventions yet, but is now considering it. NUUSA commission on recognition of credentials equals Russian school-leaving certificates to incomplete secondary education. So, after leaving a Russian school you will have to take one-year foundation course. After that you will have to take a certificate program, and then you may become a first-year student of an Australian university.
          If you want to continue your education, you should apply to both the university you have chosen and NUUSA. You will be admitted only after your grades have been acknowledged.
          As for the recognition of Russian university diplomas, it may be sought only by immigrants. Australia is not interested in employing foreigners, as there are many unemployed natives there. But if you are, nevertheless, offered a job, most likely your employer will be satisfied with your qualification.

Source :    Kuznetsova Е., Fedyanin N., Bukhovtsev А. What is Your Diploma Worth? // Obuchenie za rubezhom . - 1999. - N 9(10). - September. - See also: Internet: web-site of Obuchenie za rubezhom .

           LIST OF ACRONYMS:

          ACTR - American Council of Teachers of Russian.
          DAAD - DeutscheAkademische Austausch dienst. German Service of Academic Exchanges.
          DALF - Diploma Approfondi de Langue Francaise. Diploma of advanced (knowledge) of the French language.
          DSH - Deutsche Sprachprufung fur den Hochschulzugang auslandischer Studienbewerber. Oral examination in (knowledge of ) the German language for foreigners seeking admission to German higher education institutions.
          ENIC - European National Information Centre on Academic Recognition and Mobility [the network of centres established pursuant to the recommendation of the Council of Europe and UNESCO in European countries ].
          IELTS - International English Language Testing System [1) organisation supported by UCLES ; 2) certificate of English language proficiency issued by UCLES , required by emigrants in Australia and New Zealand, and also by those seeking traineeship in the UK and Commonwealth countries ].
          KMK - Kultus Minister Konferenz [German Permanent ] Conference of [Land ] Ministers for Education and Culture.
          MAI - Moscow Aviation Institute.
          MCAT - Medical College Admission Test [US, for master programmes ].
          MFA - Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
          MGU - Moscow State University.
          RF - Russian Federation.
          SAT - 1) Scholastic Achievement Test. Test (for English language proficiency ) for academic degree. 2) Scholastic Aptitude Test. [US educational ] [for applicants to colleges and universities ].
          TOEFL - Test of English as a Foreign Language.
          UCAS - Universities and Colleges Admissions Service.
          UCLES - University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate.
          US - United States of America.

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

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