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Will my qualification be recognized abroad?

E.V. Shevchenko

What is it all about?

Hundreds of Russian nationals go abroad to continue their studies, work on a temporary basis or leave for permanent residence. Even more Russians are trying to make up their minds about what kind of a higher institution they should enter - national or foreign. And all of them are concerned about the issue quoted in the caption above. Rest assured, your qualification will be recognized. However, no recognition is or has ever been an automatic procedure!

Indeed, there is a great variety of education systems, degrees, methods of assessment of training intensity, credits and grades, etc. worldwide, which makes it hard to decide on whether the qualification obtained by an individual abroad is sufficient, or whether the said individual is capable of performing professional duties properly and in accordance with the obtained qualification.

There are two equivalent aspects to the problem of qualification recognition in Russian and other countries: ( а ) recognition of Russian qualification abroad, and (b) recognition of foreign qualification in Russia. Correct and competent solution to the first problem allows to protect the interests of the students and graduates from the Russian higher institutions on the global market of education and labor, whereas solution of the latter shall ultimately protect the Russian market of labor against poor 'specialists' whose performance in Russia may be detrimental to the citizens of this country.

What is the purpose of recognition of your qualification?

There are only two types of recognition: academic and professional. Academic recognition allows the holder of a relevant document to complete or carry on the study on the next level at a higher institution, which would recognize his/her qualification. Such recognition, however, does not make the holder eligible for employment within the country, which has recognized foreign qualification of the said holder. Professional recognition allows the holder to apply for employment in accordance with qualification or degree obtained abroad.

What should be rather recognized -period of study or qualification?

First of all, let's make it clear that qualification means any document on the award of degree, diploma or any other certificate issued by the relevant authority to certify successful completion of any educational program (junior high or senior high school, college, lyceum, technical school, higher institution, postgraduate courses, residency training, doctorate, etc.). Qualification must give its holder the approved rights, such as: perform the relevant professional duties and/or, by all means (more often than not subject to certain conditions) continue the study on an advanced level.

The term period of study usually implies that the student failed to complete a certain training program. For example, if a student upon successful completion of the third year wishes to continue the training abroad, it stands to reason here to speak of recognition of the 'period of study'. The period of study is usually certified by academic records or similar documents of inferior value than qualification.

Procedures of recognition of qualifications and periods of study are fairly well established worldwide. However, qualification recognition procedure is much simpler than that of the period of study, since each educational institution is responsible for its qualifications. In the event of admission of a student to the program of another educational institution, to acquire a qualification the applicant will have to comply entirely with requirements of a new educational institution, most likely different from those of the prior one. In addition, the international academic community (based on the established international recommendations) would usually admit foreign students in the middle of the training program, if such student entered the prior educational institution in accordance with regulations of the relevant country and demonstrated his/her capacity by successful performance of at least one-year program.

Equivalence, recognition or acceptance?

Formerly, the international education specialists upon solving the abovementioned problems endeavored to establish equivalence of qualification, which implied virtually similar length of study and contents of academic knowledge. Eventually, it became apparent that equivalent qualification cannot be attained even within a single country. Since 1997, the academic community has been using the term recognition instead of 'equivalence'. Simply put, the specialists would argue as follows: "We realize that your qualification is not the same as in our country, but we do concede that you have sufficient qualification to perform the functions you have been studying for ( or - "Your qualification is sufficient to continue the training in our country on an advanced level")".

Nowadays foreign scientific literature some specialists, loath to "recognize" foreign qualifications, insist on using the term acceptance . ("We do not recognize your qualification, but we do concede it is acceptable in our country"). However, for those who seek recognition of one's qualification, this scientific dispute is remarkably of no importance.

Higher institutions eligible for recognition of qualifications

Considering the great variety of educational institutions worldwide, the international academic community adopted a number of recognition principles by the type of educational institutions and programs taught therein.

1. Accreditation Principle . As far as recognition is concerned, status of the educational institution (state, non-state, affiliated, private) and the title thereof (international, European, international, all-Russian) are of no importance whatsoever. Also, it does not matter that upon the entering you were enticed by the title of the issued qualification - an international diploma or a European certificate (which are non-existent anyway). What really matters is that recognition applies only to qualifications obtained in educational institutions officially accredited by an established and reputable agency in accordance with procedures accepted by the country of location of the relevant institution. The range of accreditation agencies is rather extensive: from Ministry of Education (as in Russia ) to private organizations and associations (as in the U.S. ). No foreign country will recognize qualification obtained in an unaccredited institution, or, alternatively, accredited by an unknown agency or accredited in breach of regulations adopted by the country of location. For example, according to the Russian regulations, each branch of the higher institution is subject to individual state accreditation, otherwise your qualification may not recognized.

2. Similar-Level Principle. The laws of many countries (e.g. the U.S. ) regard qualification obtained after high school as higher education. In other words, according to the U.S. law, any graduate of the Russian vocational school (completed after the high school) is deemed to have higher education. That is why all higher education programs are subdivided into academic and practical training programs. Academic programs are characterized by a pronounced theoretical basis, primarily aiming to train research workers, instructors, innovative design engineers, etc., whereas the latter serve to train operators, executive workers, etc., which renders them more practically biased. Levels of education in terms of the graduates' rights are determined in accordance with International Standard Classification of Education approved by UNESCO. Therefore, your qualification obtained in a German Fachhochschule , Finnish Polytechnic or any other similar institution providing practical training programs, your qualification, no matter how titled, will be recognized in any other country, if only on the level similar to that of the Russian vocational school diploma.

3. Single Sector Principle. Both programs can be implemented either in several or in a single educational institution. The title of the educational institution (university, academy, institute, school) is absolutely of no importance. What really matters here is the sector of higher education it belongs to according to the laws of the country of its location. Academic training programs are mostly implemented in the university sector institutions, i.e. institutes licensed to perform fundamental scientific research and to train candidates to a Master's degree, post-graduate and doctoral students. Practical training programs are also taught at the non-university sector educational institutions, which normally can grant qualifications only under supervision of the state structures and have no Master', Ph.D. and doctoral training programs. This being the case, the recognition experts primarily check the higher education sector of your institution. However, there may be certain exceptions here as well, which only prove the rule anyway: for example, Spanish universities provide for both academic and practical training, therefore it would only matter what kind of program you have actually mastered.

4. Qualification Defense Principle. In many countries, especially those with rich traditions in the sphere of education, you may be required to take an exam under the main subject or a comprehensive test under your specialty pursuant to the program you have mastered, if you wish to obtain qualification at this particular institution. As we said before, this is happening because social responsibility of these educational institutions is higher than in Russia.

What is the point in international agreements?

Qualifications obtained in Russia are readily recognized by the majority of countries worldwide, because in 1964-1991 the former USSR signed agreements (conventions, protocols) on mutual recognition and equivalence of qualifications with 53 states of Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America. However, quite a few of them already expired and some became obsolete since Russia adopted the multiple level higher education system. Occasionally, this leads to fairly quaint situations: for example, according to the 1979 Protocol, Finland shall recognize Russian specialist diplomas a priori , whereas recognition of the Master's degree involves a rather complex procedure. The present staff of the Ministry of Education of Russia managed to the circumstances handle domestically and internationally and in the last three years arranged the execution of international agreements on recognition with dozens of states, primarily with the former USSR republics.

Until recent, recognition of the Russian education has been going hard only in a handful of countries of Western Europe and North America, mostly due to the political reasons. However, in 1999 Russia joined five international conventions regulating recognition of education, thereby vastly improving the situation. Lisbon convention adopted in April 1997 and signed by over 30 countries is particularly important for Russia, as it effectively stipulates that there can be no equivalent education and calls for recognition essentially on the basis of submission of a greater bulk of information. For you and me it is important that despite the fact that the applicant is responsible for submission of all relevant information, the proof of inadmissibility of prior qualification is now responsibility of the authority considering the document for purposes of recognition. In addition, the Convention obliges each educational institution to provide comprehensive data on programs and other aspects of education at the first request of the graduate without references to, say, financial difficulties.

"Guidelines for Recognition of Qualifications from other European Countries in the Russian Federation and Recognition of Russian Qualifications in other European Countries" developed by the Order of UNESCO and approved in June 1997 ( Helsinki ) proved to be a real breakthrough in the cause of recognition of the Russian qualifications. This document effectively stipulates that the countries with two-level university degrees system should recognize the Russian B.A. qualification as Level 1 qualification, whereas specialist diplomas, and Master's degree shall be treated as level 2 (Master's degree). This document also addresses the issue of recognition of Ph.D. and Doctor of Science degree. Please disregard newspapers and other sources claiming that your qualification will be recognized no higher than B.A. degree or that recognition applies only to qualifications obtained at the top universities of this country!

Therefore, participation of Russia in international agreements and conventions is considerably promoting the recognition, although does not solve the problem of recognition entirely.

Who is handling the recognition procedures?

Recognition of a foreign qualification, i.e. final decision on each individual case, is the responsibility of competent authorities properly authorized by applicable laws. This being the case, this competent authority is not necessarily the national Ministry of Education. However, considering the increasing migration, extensive academic and professional mobility, diversity of education systems and other factors, virtually every country have established agencies specializing in appraisal of qualifications, which implies preliminary expert examination and drafting recommendations on recognition for the competent authorities. These agencies may be governmental, governmental-public and even private (in the U.S. there are over 60 such agencies), employing highly skilled experts and specializing in appraisal of qualifications with reference to specific countries, perfectly cognizant of all specific features pertinent to education systems, qualifications, etc. In addition, it is common knowledge, that Finland, Sweden, the United States, Israel and Netherlands, not to mention other countries, experts responsible for the appraisal of Russian paperwork have a good command of Russian, which is certainly helpful in proper assessment of a qualification and, on the other hand, enabling them to detect false documents.

Is it possible to 'buy' a diploma?

Forging of qualifications has become a major problem of Russia only in the last decade, whereas abroad forging has been going on for quite a while already. This prompted the appraisers to develop a whole package of methods enabling them to detect false documents.

Firstly, as a rule they accept only the original documents legalized in accordance with established procedures (see below). Copies, even properly notarized, are not reviewed although accepted anyway, since the originals shall be returned to the owners upon completion of examination, whereupon the notarized copy is filed to the applicant's record.

Secondly, foreign appraisers of qualifications are totally aware of the methods of protection (grid, special paper, printed messages visible on photocopies, special symbols, etc.) of the state-approved Russian qualifications to tell the authentic and false documents apart.

Thirdly, they possess a remarkably expert knowledge (sometimes better than officers of our educational institutions) of instructions of the Ministry of Education of the Russian Federation regarding the qualifications completion procedures and all mandatory attributes of the documents. This is exactly the reason why so many reference books are printed all over the world providing the samples of documents and instructions on their completion, including the Russian qualifications.

Fourthly, you may be required to submit documents on each prior stage of education. Comparison of the admission and completion dates with standard periods of study usually provides additional information affecting the qualification appraisal results.

Fifthly, the applicant for recognition is usually interviewed to provide the data convincing the appraiser of authenticity of submitted documents. For example, the International Association of Universities on a biennial basis publishes a special guidebook detailing the names of departments and specialties of the Russian higher institutions, as well as their addresses, full names of their head officers and other important data, which the applicant is supposed to know.

Sixthly, over the years, the appraisers have been collating their own files of qualification copies, including specimens of seals and signatures of head officers of all top educational institutions in this country (based on my personal experience, I would point out that these top institutions suffer the most from forgery).

Seventhly, the agency accepting the documents upon the slightest shadow of a doubt shall confidentially request the issuing higher institution to confirm any particular qualification and/or certificate. In 1990s, the Technical University alone used to receive about a dozen such queries on a monthly basis.

There is a large variety of methods to authenticate qualifications and it takes a really unsophisticated individual to think that qualification bought in the subway passage or by the subway station would pass just fine abroad.

legalization or nostrification?

Legalization , which is acknowledgement of legitimate issue of qualification, is one of the safeguards against forgeries. The first and the most common and universal method is legalization at the consular offices. For example, Department of Consular Service with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russian legalizes qualifications issued within the Russian Federation. Since this service is no longer free of charge, today legalization is performed only in Moscow. If you studied abroad, it would be most reasonable to have your qualification legalized both by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the relevant country and by the Russian Embassy to the said country as well. Our Ministry of Foreign Affairs is unable to legalize your qualification, as only overseas representative office of the Ministry may check it out, for example, by placing a cal to the educational institution you have graduated from.

Another way to have your qualification legalized is to submit it for stamping by a special 'apostil'. This is also a pay service provided by the Qualification Validation Service with the Ministry of Education of Russia. Generally speaking, any legal department of any municipality may affix the apostil to the documents, but this authority does not extend to certificates of higher education. Due to the increasingly strong flow of forged qualifications brought out of this country in the 1990s, the Government of the Russian Federation issued a Decree in 1998 expressly authorizing the Ministry of Education of Russia to authenticate certificates of education by apostil, leaving the right to affix apostil on any other documents brought out of this country (certificate of birth, certificate of marriage, certificate of death, archive certificates, etc.) to legal departments of urban and district administrations, and to other competent authorities. And they are well aware of this regulation abroad.

The appraisal service shall make sure that the documents are authentic by checking them against its seal and signature specimen database and by placing a call to the relevant higher institution. At the moment you do not have to rush to Moscow to have the apostil affixed to your documents. This Service has its representative office at the Institute of International Educational Programs (IIEP) with St.Petersburg State Technical University (SPSTU), which carries out preliminary expert examination, submits to and receives from the Ministry of Education properly formalized documents and issues them right here, in this city.

However, legalization by apostil is only valid, if you are heading for the country, which has signed and ratified the 1961 Hague Convention. To date, there are about forty such countries, and over fifty per cent of them are particularly appealing to the Russians in terms of post-graduate studies and further employment: the United States, the U.K., Israel, Italy, Hungary, Greece, Cyprus, Turkey, Finland, Germany, etc.

There are very few countries, which require no legalization of the Russian qualifications. However, according to my experience, there is no harm in having your documents properly legalized.

Please keep in mind that you will have to have legalized each document separately, i.e. the diploma and the annex thereto should be legalized as two separate documents.

The terms legalization and nostrification are often confusing. The latter implies that the holder of qualification obtained in a foreign country should receive national qualification of the similar degree. For example, up to early 1990s a lot of Soviet specialists took post-graduate courses in Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia, etc., upon completion and final thesis defense receiving relevant diplomas. Upon arrival and submission of the relevant documents to the Supreme certification Committee, they would receive a Soviet Ph.D. diploma, which, let's face it, was more suitable for negotiations with the employer. Today nostrification is almost extinct and is only reasonable, if you intend to immigrate to a specific country.

What to expect from one's educational institution?

Successful recognition of your qualification largely depends on the educational institution you graduated from. Herein we will not discuss merits of various educational institutions, focusing rather on formal aspects.

Firstly, the educational institution shall formalize the qualification papers in strict compliance with the instruction of the Ministry of Education of Russia. Unfortunately, improper formalizations are not infrequent (misspelled name, discrepancies in the date of diploma and the annex thereto, the title of specialty is not in line with the state standard, the title of the institution in the document and on the seal are different, the diploma and the annex thereto are written by various officials, etc.). There were times, when documents were executed on obsolete or sub-standard forms (when a graduate instead of a special Diploma Magna Cum Laudae would receive a standard diploma with "With Honors" written by hand).

Secondly, according to regulatory documents of the Ministry of Education of Russia, the higher institution should either provide you with a copy of the latest certification document, or at least advise you of the registration number and the date thereof, as well as on the official paper wherein the certification decision has been published.

Thirdly, in accordance with the Lisbon convention, the educational institution shall make available academic information to any applicant upon the first request. Unfortunately, today almost all institutions disregard this provision and by default ignore all academic queries from abroad pleading deficient funds and specialists with good command of English, or demanding a fee for such services. One should report any such instance to the Ministry of Education of Russia, which is responsible for the compliance with the Lisbon Convention in this country.

And certainly, your educational institution shall comply with the Russian laws on education, as well as similar regulations effective in other countries. If any Russian higher institution admits to its post-graduate program a German Fachhochschule or Finnish Polytechnic graduate, which is prohibited by the German and Finnish laws, the Russian graduates of these higher institutions will have big trouble having their qualifications recognized in Germany and/or Finland. It goes without saying everywhere that quality of the granted qualification and compliance of generally accepted rules is responsibility of each individual higher institution rather than the state. Therefore, graduates of higher institutions, which have made a single mistake, will be subject to thorough examination, while the applicants will be totally unaware of it.

Recognition of your qualification would be much easier, if educational institutions issued to all (or at least those who actually apply) graduates in addition to the diploma, regardless of its level, the so-called UNESCO Annex providing all necessary and sufficient information about the obtained qualification. Any educational institution caring for its graduates' should have long decided upon the issue of such. However, this provision is still optional and, unfortunately, not awfully popular.

How to submit your papers?

It is common practice worldwide that academic certificates, recommendations, references and other additional document should be mailed to the relevant institution rather than personally delivered by the applicant. It is believed this would reduce the chances of qualification forging. However, our educational institutions almost never render this service to their former and current students, and everybody abroad knows it. However, if you wish to strike a few points in your favor right from the start, make sure to have your educational institution seal (not necessarily by coat-of-arms seal, the "For Reference" stamp will do just as well) all flaps of the envelope containing all documents mentioned hereinabove. Better yet, someone whose has signed the papers inside the envelope should put his/her signature across the sealed flaps.

Should I have my qualification translated?

The qualifications should be translated, which will be especially helpful during the first contact with individuals who are going to examine them and decide upon recognition. However, poor quality translation will be detrimental to prompt consideration. What is most important here?

Firstly, the translation shall be done by a properly licensed agency, which to a certain extent is indicative of the translators' skills and quality of the translation. Better yet, if such agency has the right to notarize its translations. Alternatively, the translation and its copies can be notarized separately at a notary office. The graduate may do the translation personally and have it notarized at his/her higher institution. In doing so, it is very advisable that the seal and the signature of the notarizing person be the same as in your qualifications.

Secondly, and most importantly, one shall make sure that all terms and definitions are translated correctly. Unfortunately, special terms and definitions are often so badly misinterpreted that the appraisers abroad simply fail to understand what subjects you have actually studies. With this in mind, it is advisable for the applicant to do the translation personally under supervision of the relevant experts (your former tutors and instructors) who know the terms well enough.

Thirdly, and anyway, the translation shall be free of any additional data, comments; there shall be no omissions of lines and sentences from the original text. The latter can be easily checked by comparing the original and the translation line by line.

Fourthly, incorrect translation of the dates and numerical data is a very common mistake. One shall check the numbers and dates by all means.

Fifthly, your name and surname shall be spelled in the same way as in your other documents, e.g. travel passport. You will have trouble with recognition, if there is a single letter misspelled in your surname and names (abroad your patronymic is considered one of your names) quoted in your documents.

This is a very important point - one shall not convert one's grades into the rating scale of another country. For one thing, the rating scales are different not only in various countries but in the higher institutions within the same country as well. For another thing, appraisers are expected to do it anyway. Also, there is no need to translate the title of qualification. It is internationally accepted practice to transliterate the title into Latin script as it is pronounced in the original language (e.g., inzhener-mekhanik ; economist, bakalavr, kandidat tekhnicheskih nauk ), which, however, does not prevent the translation thereof in brackets.

What should one do prior to the departure abroad?

So far, the subtotal appears to be as follows: prior to your departure abroad, (a) make sure that your documents are properly formalized, (b) translate (or have translated) your documents and reconcile the translations; (c) make as many photocopies of your documents and translations as possible and have them all notarized. The two latter can be done abroad, but it will be more expensive.

It should be noted that each country has its own bureaucracy and there are individuals not awfully competent in issues of recognition. That is why make sure to have a stock of additional, not mandatory but thoroughly advisable papers, such as references of your tutors/instructors or your former employers, properly endorsed by the personnel department; copies of licenses and accreditations of your higher institution; and any other papers providing details on your higher institution or prior employer. This would be definitely no overkill. Of course, all these papers shall be made in one of the most common foreign languages or at least be properly translated. It goes without saying that references and translations thereof shall be sealed in an envelope, stamped and signed by the author of the reference across the flaps. And, naturally, you should have official addresses and names of managers of all agencies wherein the appraisers of your qualifications may send their queries. It wouldn't hurt any, if you had an English version of Helsinki Recommendations.

Decades of experience show that recognition can be vastly promoted by certificates of the Incorvuz (est. 1989), an international non-governmental agency of a rather high standing in the UNESCO. These certificates, based on international conventions, recommend that your qualifications should be recognized on the level approved by the international community. Certification applies to school certificates, vocational secondary school and higher education diplomas, Ph.D. and Doctor of Science qualifications, additional training and even refresher course certificates. The certificates are subject to legalization by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation and can be obtained at the Incorvuz St.Petersburg office.

Prior to the departure, it wouldn't hurt to submit a query regarding the recognition of your qualification to the Ministry of Education of the country where you are going. The Ministry shall forward your query to one of the competent agencies. Better yet, submit your query directly to the National Information Center on Academic Recognition and Mobility (ENIC/NARIC) office available virtually in every developed country. Their addresses can be easily found in the Internet.

How to obtain academic recognition?

Academic recognition of qualifications and periods of study is performed in virtually all countries by educational institutions admitting the applicant for the continuation or completion of education, if applicable laws and regulations in these countries grant autonomy in academic issues to the said institutions. In some countries the academic recognition of qualification is sole prerogative of the state education authorities. Anyway, you are likely to be referred to a special agency handling the recognition of qualifications.

As a rule, academic recognition of qualifications goes smoothly, unless there is something wrong with your papers. Recognition of the periods of education usually requires the ascertaining of the education level and type of the educational institution, including the term of your curriculum, as well as the contents of academic subjects and your grades. Private U.S.-based appraisal agencies can do it all, also offering to convert your grades into the U.S. system and even calculate the weighted average grade. Prior to joining the first-year program, you may be required to take 1-2 years of special classes, which is normally practiced in most countries even though you may have a very good command of the language of the training. According to the Lisbon Convention, rejection of admission to the higher education based on the claim that Russian school takes 11 years to finish is unlawful and you may fight for your rights engaging an arbiter, ENIC/NARIC О being the most competent in such issues.

On the other hand, you should not expect any preferences on the basis of your qualification, if no such preferences are envisaged for such level of education in the country issuing the relevant qualification, even though national graduates of the same level are entitled to any such extra opportunities. Many universities make additional demands (not for purposes of recognition of your qualification but for the admission to further training) related, for example, to the knowledge of the language of training. By the way, Sweden grants admission to the Master's program only to individuals with bachelor degree and at least two years of experience in the profession. Qualification obtained upon completion of a non-university level program does not entitle the holder thereof to apply for Master's degree or a Ph.D. program.

How to obtain professional recognition?

Procedures of professional recognition are more complex and profoundly diverse, and require separate consideration. Within framework of this article we can only discuss general issues.

Professional recognition is regulated by the applicable laws and regulations of each specific country, which are usually rather severe, aiming to protect the national labor market. When we talk about professional recognition, we usually imply official recognition required for the opportunity to be employed by a governmental institution. Private enterprises, companies, businesses and employers personally identify requirements to qualifications and expertise of the applicants with reference to each specific position; therefore the official recognition is mostly optional here. However, prior to consideration of the submitted papers, many big companies require competent agencies to appraise them. Generally speaking, availability of recommendations of the appraisal agency enable the applicant more reasonably to expect the employment.

The official recognition may be de jure and de facto. Professional recognition de jure implies recognition of qualifications in the so-called 'regulated' (or 'protected') professions. Protected profession means occupation regulated by the national laws and regulations requiring permits, registration or conformity of professional skills with requirements of the accepting country. The number and the list of protected professions vary from country to country. The EU has adopted a number of so-called 'sectoral' directives regulating mutual recognition of such professions as architect, maternity nurse, pharmacist, physician, nurse, dentist and veterinarian. In 1989 and 1992 the EU adopted two common directives concerning recognition of other groups of professions.

The first common directive applies when protected profession in the receiving country requires at least three years of training at a higher institution. In Sweden such professions are: lawyer, speech therapist, public school teacher, university instructor, ophthalmologist, organist, clergyman, physiologist, psychotherapist, accountant, rescue service manager, X-ray room nurses, physical therapist, marine engineer and master mariner. In Italy the list includes architect and air traffic control officer.

The second common directive supplements the first one and applies when the protected profession in the receiving country requires: (a) at least three years training at a higher institution; (b) professional training and training on a level below the higher education (e.g., school after completion of a senior high school), and (c) vocational training on a lower level. Going back to Sweden, these provisions apply to such professions as: fireman, realtor, regent, virtually all marine positions, dental technician, dentist assistant nurse and even driving school instructor.

However, these directives apply only to the EU states. From this point of view, attitude toward professional recognition of the U.S. and the Russian qualifications in these countries will be absolutely identical. In fact, the concept about biased attitude toward the Russian qualifications is totally incorrect. The laws of the Netherlands, for example, a priori do not recognize qualifications even obtained at Harvard or Oxford universities. In Latin America, graduates from foreign higher institutions (including the U.K., the U.S., Germany, France, Russia, etc.) are required to provide translations of all curricula and take one or two comprehensive exams on their specialty at the National university, and each national who has studied abroad is also required to take an exam on the national history.

Based on the in-house regulations, the applicant in the EU and other countries may be required to provide proof of experience in the profession (several years), take additional training and exams, internship at workplace, testing or an extensive trial period. And this is no discrimination.

It should be noted that virtually all countries are particularly exacting in professional recognition of schoolteachers (especially primary schools), and there are positions wherein no foreigners are admitted (police, penitentiary system, top positions in public authorities, etc.).

As a rule, professional aptitude of the holder of foreign qualifications is evaluated by trade unions or associations. For instance, there are about 50 agencies in the U.K. authorized by the government to perform such evaluation. These include associations and unions of physicians, lawyers, builders, mining and power engineers, secretaries, librarians, metal-makers, etc. As a rule, the state authority shall make the final and official decision on this matter. Please keep in mind that the agency engaged in consideration of your papers shall provide data on the procedures of disputing its decision.

De facto professional recognition implies recognition of professions unregulated (unprotected) this particular country. As far as these professions are concerned, it may be important that a competent authority has appraised the qualifications, which may help the applicant prove that his/her qualification is in line with conditions of the receiving country. Ultimately, your professional competence is the most important factor for de facto and de jure recognition of your qualification.

Curiously enough, quite a lot of countries regulate the use of academic titles as well. For example, the laws of Morocco prohibit the use of the 'M.D.' or 'Professor' titles even on business cards, unless one has a relevant recognition certificate.

How do they recognize foreign qualifications in Russia?

Russia is still working on an lucid system of recognition of foreign qualifications and periods of training, especially for professional purposes. So far, recognition of foreign qualifications and periods of training is based on the single procedure. According to Federal laws, recognition de jure and establishment of equivalency of foreign qualifications and academic degrees shall be responsibility of the Ministry of Education of the Russian Federation. De facto academic recognition of foreign qualifications and training periods of foreign nationals is performed by the higher institutions. Recognition of foreign qualifications obtained by the Russian nationals is the sole responsibility of the Ministry of Education of the Russian Federation.

As for the Russian nationals who have finished senior high schools abroad and, they will be required to present the Russian certificate (secondary education certificate) for the admission to the higher institution. This requirement is based on the provision that the Russian nationals entering the higher institution shall have finished senior high school in accordance with the Russian education standards envisaging over a dozen compulsory subjects, including the Russian language and Russian literature. At the moment, this problem is solved - a number of city schools organized exams on specific subjects for non-residents. Following the reconciliation of the subjects complying with the state standards, the non-resident shall receive the approved secondary education certificate.

It should be noted, that qualifications obtained in the CIS and the Baltic states are also subject to recognition procedures, as these states are actively reforming their education systems, changing the period of training at secondary schools, introducing a variety of high school programs, not all of which make the students eligible for higher institutions. Also, these countries already have different terms of training for the Bachelor's, Specialist's and Master's degrees; adopted modern grading systems for the assessment of knowledge, skills and expertise of the students; almost all of these countries changed the title of qualifications, which reflect diversification of the training systems.

The experience of the Academic Research Laboratory for the Appraisal of Certificates of Education at the International Education Management Department of the Institute of International Education Programs with St.Petersburg State Polytechnic University points out the necessity of new ways of qualification recognition. Today a lot of foreign companies have their business in Russia, and their executive officers (mostly not Russian nationals) tend to regard the Russian qualification of a 'Specialist' as not equivalent to the Master's degree, thereby gaining leverage for refusal to raise salaries of these specialists.


All aspects of such a complex process as recognition certainly cannot be addressed in a single article. We did not even touch upon the academic recognition of the training periods with academic mobility, when students go abroad to study for a term of up to one year, whereupon they obtain qualification at their alma mater . We also provided a very brief description of the most complex issues of professional recognition. And it is only natural that it is impossible to consider the variety of specific situations in this article, that is why we suggest to create a special, permanent column in the new magazine to publish the experts' answers to the most frequent and interesting questions concerning the recognition of qualifications.

Anyway, I do hope now you understand that all legal papers, be it qualifications or academic certificates, can be recognized in other countries. However, to streamline this process, one shall know and comply with a number of international and national statutory acts. Recognition of your education largely depends on the quality formalization of the papers you are submitting.

Source: E.V. Sevchenko. Will My Qualification be Recognized Abroad? // Education and Career in St.Petersburg - 2001 - No. 5 [11]. - 59-63 pp. (Part. 1); Education and Career in St.Petersburg - 2002 - No. 1 [12]. - P. 59-63 (Part. 2).


IIEP - Institute of International Educational Programs
MFA - Ministry of Foreign Affairs
ENIC - Education National Information Center
VTS - Vocational Technical School
SPSTU - St. Petersburg
State Technical University (now - St. Petersburg State Polytechnic University) USSR - Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
U.S. - the United States of America
UNESCO - United Nations Educational, Scientific & Cultural Organisation

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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