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Quality in Higher Education: Accreditation, Recognition and Quality Assurance

Accreditation and Recognition

A foreign qualification cannot be properly evaluated without taking into account the official status of the institution awarding the qualification and/or the programme taken. As such the credential evaluator should confirm that:

  • the institution is authorised to award qualifications, which are accepted for academic and professional purposes in the home country, and/or:
  • the programme is accredited.

The fact that an institution and/or the programme is recognised or accredited indicates that the qualification in question represents an appropriate minimum level of education in that particular country.

Differing terms may be used to describe the status of the institution or programme in each country. The two most common are “recognition” and “accreditation”. They are often used interchangeably, but they are not synonyms.

  • Recognition refers to the official status granted by national legislation. Institutions that fulfil the requirements set in national legislation and have official degree-granting authority are considered to be recognised, though a different term may be used.
  • Accreditation is a formal decision by a recognised authority which has verified whether the institution and/or the programme meets the predefined minimum quality standards.
  • Accreditation is usually a voluntary process and is granted for a specified number of years, after which the institution or programme has to request re-accreditation. The differences in the way accreditation is applied in different countries may include government involvement and the extent to which the procedure is really voluntary. In most countries acceptance of the qualifications depends on whether the institution or/and the programme is accredited, so though it may be a voluntary process, there is in fact little choice.
  • In some countries institutions are first granted a permit or license to operate as an educational entity (possibly for a limited amount of time while the decision is being reviewed). Licensing is not equivalent to accreditation and does not necessarily require demonstration of quality. To be granted accreditation, a licensed institution has to go through the accreditation procedure. It is the accreditation that grants the institution the right to award officially recognised qualifications as well as access to public funding.

Generally, qualifications awarded by recognised institutions are considered to be recognised. However some countries have a system in place that is based on programme accreditation. In those cases the status of the programme needs to be checked, as the accreditation of a programme is separate from the recognition/accreditation of an institution. In other words, it is possible for recognised institutions to offer programmes that are not officially recognised and for non-recognised institutions to offer recognised programmes.

Credential evaluators should verify the status of the institution and/or programme through which the qualification was awarded and check whether the institution and/or programme belong to the education system of a given country. Credential evaluators should rely on accreditation or quality assurance by competent bodies as evidence that an institution or programme complies with minimum quality standards.

Quality Assurance

Quality assurance is another term used in the discussions of the recognition and accreditation of institutions and programmes. Quality assurance in higher education includes the policies, procedures and practices that are designed toassess, improve and maintain the quality of higher education in an education system. A quality assurance agency is responsible for the external quality assurance of higher education, which checks the effectiveness of the internal quality assurance policies of the higher education institutions, who have their own internal quality assurance system in place. In Europe (but also outside of it) the quality assurance systems in higher education are often based on the European Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area (ESG). The ESG promote standardised, transparent and fair internal and external quality assurance procedures for the continuous improvement of the quality of teaching and learning at higher education institutions.

Two recent developments in the field of quality assurance at international level are:

  1. the European Quality Assurance Register for Higher Education (EQAR), a register of quality assurance agencies in the European Higher Education Area that comply with the principles of the ESG; and
  2. the Database of External Quality Assurance Results (DEQAR) of higher education institutions and programmes that have been subject to external quality assurance. The database provides quality assurance reports at programme level from higher education institutions worldwide.

It is possible to find official information of quality assurance aspects in ENIC-NARIC countries on each country page. Please click on "Countries of the Networks", select the country of interest, and click on the “Quality Assurance in Higher Education” section.

For more detailed information on quality assurance aspects in other countries, please visit the Recognition Conventions section of this website and/or contact directly the national authority of the relevant country.