Complexities in Recognising Foreign Qualifications

A growing diversity of individuals including members of the public, state agencies, private organisations and education institutions, come to the National Accreditation Board seeking a Statement of Recognition.

There is an increase in awareness of the importance of pursuing programmes at institutions that have been quality assured, which accounts for the growing numbers of applications for Statements on Recognition. Those who have completed studies abroad, these interested in studying abroad and even individuals considering distance learning, all want to know if their qualifications will be recognised in Dominica. Further, individuals seeking scholarships, employment or promotion, apply to the National Accreditation Board for statements on recognition. A statement of Recognition is required when applying for a CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) Skills Certificate, and will soon be a requirement to register doctors, pharmacist, engineer and as a practitioner in other professions. Employers have also begun requesting that all new employees even some existing employees produce a statement on Recognition to verify the authenticity of their qualifications.

A statement on Recognition provides information on whether an identified post-secondary or tertiary level institution is quality assured and or accredited, and whether the programme(s) of study would be recognised in Dominica. Statements of Recognitions also provide information on specialised accreditation of programmes that lead to licence to practise in a specialised profession. Processing of applications for statements on Recognition is usually completed in a minimum of ten (10) working days.

Before a statement on Recognition can be issued by the National Accreditation Board, a significant amount of research must be conducted on the status of the educational institution and programme. Firstly, the National Accreditation Board must verify that the institution has been quality assured by the recognised quality assurance agency in the country in which the institution is located. While 'accredited' status is most commonly granted to an institution that has met the quality standards of the quality assurance agency, the actual system or framework for quality assurance varies significantly from one country to the next.

In Europe, the United States of America, Canada, Latin America and many other countries, accreditation is usually done by national quality assurance agencies established or recognised by government. Accrediting agencies in these countries regularly share information on the accreditation status of colleges and universities with other quality assurance agencies like the National Accreditation Board. Technical staff at these agencies is generally willing to provide information on institutions and their programmes, as well as specific restrictions, limitations or conditions of accreditation.

It is important to note that accreditation is never a permanent status and maybe associated with specific 'conditions'. This means that universities and their programmes have to be constantly evaluated by the respective quality assurance agency. In some instances the National Accreditation Board is unable to issue a Statement of Recognition within the specific time period as the university and or the programme of study may be undergoing the accreditation process. In such cases the National Accreditation Board must wait on a response from the accrediting agency before a Statement of Recognition can be issued.

Acquiring updated information on accredited universities in countries such as Cuba, India, Nigeria, Philippines and Venezuela may take a very long time. List of accredited universities and programmes of study in some countries are not always current and it may not be immediately evident which is the appropriate accrediting agency in the country. When this occurs, the National Accreditation Board is required to do more in depth research on the higher education system to identify the appropriate accrediting agency. Contacting the accrediting agency in such countries is hardly ever simply matter of establishing e-mail correspondence. In many cases, the National Accreditation Board technical officers need to follow up several times and correspond formally before receiving an answer.

Gathering accurate information from non-English speaking countries can also present challenges. Translation services may be requested as the National Accreditation Board must ensure that information communicated is accurately interpreted. These and other challenges can add significantly to the complexity of research required before the National Accreditation Board can issue a Statement of Recognition.

Qualifications awarded a long time ago also present difficulties for research and verification. It may be that the institution that awarded the qualification no longer exist, or that the accrediting agency is no longer operating. In such cases historical evidence would need to be sought, often more than one agency. Again the National Accreditation Board broad network of partner agencies and colleagues are often able to provide the National Accreditation Board with valuable information and other contacts that allow the National Accreditation Board to issue accurate Statements on Recognition for even the most complex cases.

These and other challenges allow the National Accreditation Board technical officers to learn more about the educational and quality assurance systems from various parts of the world, and to establish professional networks with other quality assurance professionals globally. The National Accreditation Board technical officers have also developed specialised expertise that is shared with representatives from national accrediting agencies within the CARICOM region and internationally.

Much of the knowledge gained from researching divine educational and quality assurance systems is used to improve the National Accreditation Board policies and procedures for recognition, while is one of the National Accreditation core services. While there are many challenges in the recognition process, the National Accreditation Board has been able to transform these challenges into opportunities for the Board and its stakeholders.