The importance of establishing institution/ programme status

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. In other words, it should be established whether the institution is authorized to award qualifications which are accepted for academic and professional purposes in the home country, or, where applicable, if the programme is accredited. The fact that an institution and/or the programme is recognized or accredited indicates that the qualification in question represents an appropriate minimum level of education in that particular country.

Terms used for describing programme/ institution status

Depending on the country, different terms may be used in reference to the status of the institution or programme. 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. Higher education is governed by national legislation in most countries. Laws on higher education lay down the framework for the system as a whole, stipulate general criteria that have to be met, define policies and procedures that should be in place and bestow official, degree-granting authority on institutions, both public and private. Institutions that fulfill 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 the 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.

Licensing and accreditation. 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 recognized qualifications as well as access to public funding.

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 to achieve, maintain or enhance the quality of the institution and/or the programme.

Recognition/accreditation of an institution and recognition/accreditation of a programme

Generally qualifications awarded by recognised institutions are considered to be recognised. However, in some countries recognition/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.