Focus on learning outcomes

It is recommended that competent recognition authorities base their evaluation of a foreign qualification on establishing what the applicant knows, understands and is able to demonstrate. For this purpose, competent recognition authorities should focus on the learning outcomes of the qualification. This approach should be used to check whether substantial differences exist between the foreign qualification and the required one. For more information, see chapter ‎10: “Substantial Differences”.

Where can information on learning outcomes be found?

Information on learning outcomes at programme level might be found in the:

  • Diploma Supplement;
  • description of the study programme (usually available on the websites or in the catalogues of higher education institutions);
  • Degree Profile (if available).

Example 1: Evaluation of learning outcomes of a Degree Profile

General information on learning outcomes at national level might be found in the following features of national qualifications frameworks:

  • national level descriptors;
  • national qualification descriptors;
  • national subject benchmark statements.

Example 2: Using the learning outcomes of level descriptors (NQF)

Example 2: Using the learning outcomes of qualification descriptors (NQF)

Although the information sources listed above refer to learning outcomes at different levels of specificity, they are all important in the process of recognition of a foreign qualification.

No useful information on learning outcomes?

In practice, usually no direct information on learning outcomes is found in the accompanying documentation of the qualification, such as the list of subjects or transcript. Even section 4.2 (programme requirements) of the Diploma Supplement, which is intended to provide “details of learning outcomes, knowledge, skills, competences”, does not always contain a clear list of learning outcomes.

In the absence of information on learning outcomes, the competent recognition authority should try to infer the output of a qualification from other pieces of more readily available information, such as the place of the qualification in the national education system or qualifications framework, the purpose of the programme, the contents of the programme, compulsory elements (such as a thesis or dissertation), the rights attached to the qualification and workload of the programme.

Learning outcomes should be interpreted with some care

As the writing and listing of learning outcomes is still a rather new development for most higher education institutions in many countries, the information contained in lists of learning outcomes should be interpreted with some care. It might be, for instance, that an important learning outcome of the programme has been overlooked by the compilers of the list, whereas it might be obvious from the rest of the information on the programme that such a learning outcome is being developed within the programme. The learning outcomes assigned to a particular programme should always be looked at within the context of the general learning outcomes assigned to the qualifications at that level (as expressed in national qualification descriptors and level descriptors).

Also, the competent recognition authority should be reluctant to conclude too easily that non-matching lists of learning outcomes of two programmes are a sign of substantial differences between the programmes.