The University Council of Jamaica (UCJ) is the National External Quality Assurance Agency (EQAA) for higher education in Jamaica. One of the UCJ’s key functions is to assure the quality of foreign credentials.
The recognition of qualifications is an important element in the cross-border consumption of higher education. As international trade in higher education services increase the demand for recognised foreign qualifications becomes paramount. The UCJ is the single competent authority in Jamaica for the recognition of foreign qualifications. For over 30 years, the Agency has provided credential assessment services for persons with foreign qualifications. The Agency assesses any formal educational credential from high school to university level, in order to determine whether such qualifications satisfy the requirements for further study and or employment, and for some individuals seeking to practice in a regulated profession in Jamaica.
Although it is generally accepted that international mobility has the potential for capacity building and strengthening economic development, many governments want to protect their systems from fraudulent or substandard qualifications and certifications by ensuring that qualifications earned outside their borders meet local and international standards. A rigorous national credential assessment system is considered important so as not to compromise the quality and damage the reputation of a country’s higher education system.
The factors behind concerns about qualifications earned abroad include: the varying quality of education and training across countries; the increasing access to higher education with implied implications for quality; the perceived less rigorous admission criteria for some programmes; the growth of private higher education providers; and the growth of online learning. There may also be concerns about the level of quality assurance culture in the countries in which these foreign qualifications are awarded.
And yet, we cannot ignore the need for students and professionals educated abroad to know that they can benefit from their qualifications for employment opportunities or further studies in another country. For Jamaicans who choose to pursue programmes abroad, the return on their investment is having their foreign qualification recognised in order to land a job, secure a promotion, or pursue further studies.
For foreign-nationals coming to Jamaica, recognition of qualifications represents empowerment and respect for their educational achievements. As pointed out by Sjur Bergan, head of the Education Department at the Council of Europe, the recognition of foreign qualifications is “a moral duty”.
Over the years, The UCJ in undertaking the recognition of foreign qualifications has observed the recognition principles outlined by UNESCO. UNESCO has established a number of regional conventions (for Latin America and the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, the Arab States, Europe, Africa, and the Asia-Pacific regions) on the recognition of qualifications in higher education. In addition, UNESCO has prepared a preliminary report on a Global Convention on the Recognition of Higher Education Qualifications.
UNESCO describes the recognition of qualifications as a “formal acknowledgment by a competent authority of the value of a foreign educational qualification with a view to accessing educational and/or employment activities”. Against this background, in recognising foreign qualifications, the UCJ considers factors such as the quality assurance culture of the country of study, level of qualification, entry requirements, programme length, number of credits, purpose and components of the programme. The UCJ does this by making reference to Jamaica’s education system, the Tertiary Qualifications Framework, and the National Qualifications Framework of Jamaica. It should be noted that qualifications are assessed only in cases where the institution is recognised by a competent authority in its own country.
Given the rapid changes in higher education, the decision-making process for admission officers and employers may become complicated. For example, employers might not be able to tell the difference between an authentic document and a fake qualification from a degree mill, for which prior education and work experience were used to gain a degree from a rogue private provider. On this note, it is surprising that not many private sector employers seem to demand a formal recognition of foreign qualifications from The UCJ. It must be recognised that The UCJ’s national credential assessment system serves as one means to protect the value of legitimate qualifications and the integrity of Jamaica’s higher education.
Role of the UCJ in the Recognition of Foreign Qualifications
The UCJ advises students, employers, and other key stakeholders on matters concerning the recognition of institutions, programmes, and qualifications. The credential assessment process generates a report that includes verification of the legitimacy of the qualification and its Jamaican comparability. The report allows a foreign credential to be understood in relation to one earned in Jamaica, thus removing any obstacle to employment and pursuit of career or educational goals.
Without a doubt, the work of The UCJ in credential assessment is more important than ever, given the rise of fraudulent providers and practices. Throughout the world, students, employers, and the academic community, need to contend with an increase in diploma mills, accreditation mills, and rogue for-profit providers.
With many of our students being attracted to the opportunity for foreign and seemingly low-cost and more portable degrees, alongside online study, The UCJ provides information so that they can make informed decisions and not fall victim to the shady operators of diploma mills also referred to as diploma mills.
Diploma mills tend to offer “degrees” for a price without requiring students to complete any significant academic work. They may even collaborate with other institutions to offer degrees through arrangements that are suspect and fraudulent. It has been reported that more than 2,600 diploma mills operate globally. It is therefore important that persons desirous of earning a foreign qualification first determine the recognition of the institution and its qualifications.
The UCJ carries out the assessment of foreign qualifications, deciding on a case-by-case basis, whether the qualifications are sufficiently comparable in standard to the Jamaican system and standards of education. Each credential is validated to determine that the person is a valid graduate of the institution and that the qualification is not fake and accredited by an accreditation mill. The UCJ conducts research by accessing a range of sources and foreign databases to ascertain information on the education system of a country.
The UCJ competently manages Jamaica’s foreign qualification recognition policy and practice to support student and labour mobility. It is committed to fair, nondiscriminatory, and transparent service, using credible and coherent methods and applying internationally agreed principles and guidelines.