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From counting credits to learning outcomes?

Report from the working group on recognition of foreign doctoral degrees.

Summary

NOKUT has seen for some time that there is an increasing need to review the set of criteria for recognition of foreign doctoral degrees. The goal is to update the set of criteria in accordance with the changes that have taken place in the education sector and developments in the recognition of qualifications. For this purpose, NOKUT established a working group mandated to consider different aspects related to the recognition of foreign doctoral degrees and, if applicable, propose criteria for general recognition of foreign doctoral degrees.

Up until now, NOKUT has had a homogeneous, system-based recognition regime with a strong focus on measurable input factors. The current criteria were adopted by NOKUT's board, based on the Norwegian Association of Higher Education Institutions' (UHR) guidelines for PhD degrees. NOKUT also awards credits for the doctoral degree and for the thesis using the same practice as for other degrees. NOKUT's criteria include the following:

  • The study programme must have been completed and the degree must be an officially recognised doctoral degree awarded by an accredited higher educational institution.
  • The study programme must have a nominal length of at least three years (equivalent to 180 credits).
  • Admission to the study programme must be based on a master's degree or equivalent.
  • The educational pathway must be eight years of recognisable higher education/ 480 credits in Norway.
  • The education shall include courses at a high level.
  • The nominal length of study for work on the doctoral thesis must be two years (120 credits).
  • The doctoral thesis must have been assessed and approved by a committee of experts.

In NOKUT's experience, many doctoral degrees are neither fully nor partially recognised as a result of not being structured so as to meet the whole set of Norwegian criteria, even if they are comparable with a Norwegian doctoral degree. Hence the criteria are neither in step with international developments in the field nor with the policies that drive the international processes. The set of criteria does not allow for variations. Nor does it permit the use of new tools such as learning outcomes and qualifications frameworks, the use of which is recommended in the European Area of Recognition Manual (the EAR Manual), by the Pathfinder Group and in the Yerevan Communiqué. These considerations underline the need for a review of our recognition practice.

In this report, we review the challenges posed by current practice, and we compare NOKUT's practice with corresponding practices in other Nordic countries. We discuss different aspects of recognition, explore the term 'substantial differences' and the relationship between recognition and the GSU list requirements. We go on to consider whether credits should be awarded in connection with the recognition of doctoral degrees and how learning outcomes can be used as a tool in this work.

We have prepared a proposal for a new set of criteria and a new practice for general recognition of foreign doctoral theses. The new set of criteria differentiates on the basis of when and where the doctoral degree was awarded. At the same time, the set of criteria is less detailed with respect to input factors such as admission requirements, structure, the nominal length of study and the GSU list requirements.

We propose that all doctoral degrees must meet the following criteria:

  • The study programme must have been completed and an officially recognised doctoral degree awarded by an accredited higher educational institution.
  • The main component of the study programme must be supervised independent research that results in an approved scientific thesis. The nominal length of study for work on the doctoral thesis shall be about two years.
  • The doctoral thesis must have been assessed and approved by a committee of experts.
  • The study programme must have a nominal length of at least three years.

It is proposed that doctoral degrees at EQF level 8 or equivalent in a comparable qualifications framework be fully recognised as doctoral degrees. Older doctoral degrees or doctoral degrees from countries without qualifications frameworks must be based on research and a total of eight, occasionally seven, years of study together with previous education, in order to be recognised by NOKUT. We have also proposed a certain change of practice to allow for a more individual evaluation to take account of the diversity of foreign doctoral degrees.

Our proposal for new criteria use qualifications frameworks and learning outcomes as tools for recognition. The criteria are less detailed than previously and allow for evaluation and recognition of doctoral degrees based on education structures that differ from those that lead up to a Norwegian PhD. The new criteria are more in line with the Lisbon Recognition Convention with respect to what may be considered a substantial difference. The criteria also reflect trends and ongoing developments in the field in Europe.


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Author(s): Andrea Lundgren
Valborg Holten
Jørgensen
Date:  2015.10.29
Report no.: 2015-4
ISSN-no.: 1892-1604