The Baltic Course  

With a diploma - around the world

Olga Smirnova, Tatyana Komorskaya, Alexander Venne

In early summer exams at schools take place across the Baltics. and not long after that come entrance exams at universities and higher education establishments. The BC took a look into the current situation concerning the diplomas of higher education establishments in the Baltic states, which ones are recognised abroad, and which foreign degrees are recognised in the Baltic states

Dual education in Latvia

As the chairman of Latvia's Higher Education Board, Baiba Rivza, explained, in every country that has signed the Lisbon Convention, there is a Centre of academic information. Using the database of this centre, one can get to know whether a certain higher education establishment in a certain country has been accredited. And if this higher education establishment has been accredited in the respective country, then there is no reason not to accept the diploma also in other member countries of the Lisbon Convention. Nevertheless, in different countries, there can be additional requirements for so called regulated professions. Thus, if you are a lawyer, doctor, veterinary doctor an architect, be prepared for surprises. Currently, all higher education establishments in Latvia have been accredited for different time spans - from 2 years to full accreditation.

Recently, many higher education establishments in Latvia in cooperation with those in other countries have implemented the  possibility to acquire two professions and two diplomas while a student studies. Chairman at the Baltic Russian Institute (BRI), Professor Stanislav Buka, commented on this situation, giving his institute's example: "Our institute cooperates with higher education establishments in Russia and Europe. We provide our students with the possibility to acquire diplomas in the framework of cooperation programmes among universities: The Moscow State University (MSU), Russia's State Institute of Performing Arts, The European Business School and others. Although the Russian education system differs from the European one, it is recognised everywhere. There can be problems with the level of recognition of diplomas. In Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, the system for education level evaluation differs from the one in Europe and the Baltic states. These CIS countries continue to give diplomas to specialists in accordance to 5-year programmes; at the same time, in the Baltic states, there is a different system: 3 to 4 years for a Bachelor's degree, followed by Master's and Doctor's degrees. When submitting Russian diplomas for evaluation at the Centre of academic information, unexplainable things happen. For example, a five years' diploma of the Moscow State University can be evaluated here as a Bachelor's diploma, but the similar diploma of another possibly unknown Russian higher education establishment could be acknowledged as a Master's diploma. We can't explain it yet."

Along with the state and private higher education establishments, there are also branches of foreign higher education establishments in Latvia. For example, The St. Petersburg Institute of Foreign Economical Affairs, Economics and Law has not been accredited in Latvia. Head of the branch of this institute in Riga, Yury Samoshenkov, told the BC: "As a branch of a foreign university, we provide accredited programmes of the Russian Federation, and after students have successfully passed state exams and defended their graduation papers, they acquire standard diplomas of the Russian Federation. Recognition of these diplomas is carried out in accordance with the Lisbon Convention of 1997, which was accepted both by Latvia and Russia.

Lisbon Convention - an official document on the mutual recognition of European countries of education certificates, signed on April 11, 1997, in Lisbon by a number of European countries, the USA, Canada and Israel, including also several CIS countries.

It is quite hard to judge about the quality of education in Latvia and what criteria to use: the number of Nobel laureates from Latvia, the number of those who have won other high prizes or the number of young specialists. If we look at how our students learn abroad in the framework of exchange programs, it can be said that the quality of education is acceptable. There have been no cases when our students have gone abroad and were completely not ready for the Western education program. What concerns local higher education establishments, those students, who really want to learn, show good results. Nevertheless, after the option of paid education emerged, there are young people who just hide behind the walls of an institute from service in the army or go there, pushed to this by their parents, who pay large sums for the education of their children.

Of course, more students go away from Latvia to acquire education than come to learn here. Speaking about Latvian higher education establishments, where currently foreign students learn, these, primarily, are the Medical Academy of Latvia and the University of Latvia.

In order to ease a student's way to get a job abroad and our diplomas to be recognised and understandable to other countries, Latvia signed the Bologne Declaration in 1999 for simplification of diploma recognition procedures. The system of education is oriented not so much towards marks, but towards credit points. The knowledge evaluation system is different in each country, but the credit points show which discipline and to what extent a student has learnt. So far, there have not been cases when our students, abroad to continue education, could not have coped with the curriculum. Each diploma, whatever the academic degree is, should have an appendix of a diploma copy in English.

Along with the education in Latvian and Russian languages in Latvia, the following higher education establishments offer the possibility to learn in English: The Stockholm School of Economics in Riga, The Latvian University of Agriculture, which in cooperation with the Norway University of Agriculture, provides the possibility to acquire a Master's degree learning in English. The University of Latvia also has a Eurodepartment, where one can study in German or English.

No allowances and grants to foreign branches in Lithuania

A Lithuanian diploma, as well as the Lit, practically remains of local value. But dealing with the many various diplomas of different countries and their accordance with the appointed qualification level, as well as dealing with inquiries of other countries about what one or another Lithuanian diploma represents is the job of the Education Quality Evaluation Center of Lithuania. It functions as a national information centre in the sphere of education recognition (ENIC/NARIC) and provides the information, consultations and recommendations to Lithuanian scientific and educational establishments, as well as to legal and natural entities.

Acting deputy director of the centre, Darius Tamosiunas, told the BC about many situations, which their specialists have to deal with. Let's imagine, a person with a Canadian diploma, given by a higher education establishment, with which there has been no previous experience in Lithuania, comes to the country. Besides, a local university and possible employers are interested in his qualification in the Lithuanian qualification system.

Another example - it has to be cleared out whether the educational qualification of a teacher of French from abroad is sufficient. Can he teach children? By the way, there are 123 regulated professions in Lithuania. Frequently, when a young foreigner wants to enter a higher education establishment in Lithuania, the marks are verified in the center, whether there is a 10-mark system like it is in Lithuania or maybe a 13-mark system as in Denmark, a 7-mark or 5-mark system, as in Russia.

The center works in a united system with other similar establishments, therefore, if needed, there is always the possibility to contact colleagues. Once five refugees came to the center. Having acquired higher education in their countries, they wanted to pass exams as external students in order to acquire driving licenses. After checking, it turned out that their countries' diplomas are sufficient for the given procedure in Lithuania.

A rather complicated question for Lithuania is the registration of affiliates of foreign higher education establishments. There is a large-scale media campaign, and surprised talks are going on. The Polish actively fight for their rights to a "national" higher education establishment. The Russians, as usual, maintain silence.

According to D. Tamosiunas, currently, there are 10 illegal foreign higher education establishments operating in Lithuania. To have them registered, it is necessary that the affiliate complies with certain requirements: intellectual, hygienic, etc; for example, there should be a library. Moreover, it is necessary to go through certain stages. Having gone through the whole protocol stage, the Ministry of Education submits a project to the government with recommendations: to give permission or not.

During these years, foreign higher education establishments in Lithuania have got more or less used to the situation. The good thing is that students study there willingly; among them there are also Lithuanians - education costing less there. D. Tamosiunas speaks on the "Polish" version: three years of education in Lithuania, then the students go to Poland for a half a year, and a diploma is ready. According to him, "Russian" higher education establishments mainly operate in the framework of taking courses of qualification improving and . getting diplomas as well.

Local higher education establishments in Lithuania can be split in two groups: universities and colleges. Among 18 Lithuanian universities, 4 are private. Three, as it can be guessed easily, are clerical. Among 17 colleges, 9 are private. In 7 of them, students are taught business and management. Norway's International Club Management became a pioneer by registering the International College for Managers in Lithuania. It is still not clear how the Lithuanian Parliament will react.

All Lithuanian higher education establishments work with a license of the Lisbon Convention. Diplomas are recognized by bilateral consent. And officially, nothing prevents a Lithuanian specialist from taking a respective post in another country. Or, as the specialist from the Education Quality Evaluation Center of Lithuania told us: "There is no such thing as primitive non-recognition of our diplomas abroad." According to him, in the USA, Lithuanian Bachelor degrees frequently are evaluated higher than the American ones. The situation is worse with stomatologists and only supposedly due to the different title of qualification: just about everywhere else in the world, they are called dentists.

According to a survey, carried out by the Ministry of Social security and employment, currently, around 204,000 residents of Lithuania have gone to work abroad. Not all of them gather strawberries or plant fir trees in farmers' plantations. Some are trying to get a job in their specialty. In such cases, specialists with diplomas frequently have to acquire an additional education in local higher education establishments. In the Lithuanian center, they say that for the "equalization of knowledge", it is necessary to study for several years. A local doctor in America, for example, wanting to get a license, will come across the requirements of private associations and will be forced to register in an American higher education establishment.

One of the functions of the education evaluation center is to provide the information in order to evaluate and recognize a Lithuanian qualification abroad. However, in practice, when leaving Lithuania, a person with a higher education without the so-called equalization of knowledge has hard times.

Caution! - Worthless diplomas in Estonia

According to the explanations of the Ministry of Education in Estonia, there is no division among diplomas of a higher education of various countries yet. That is, there are the same requirements for diplomas, given in Kazakhstan, Russia or France.

In case a foreign specialist with a higher education wants to work in Estonia in a specialty of high responsibility (doctor, lawyer etc.), he must submit his documents to the Ministry of Education, Justice, Social affairs or other in accordance with the specialty - for evaluation of correspondence with the requirements accepted in Estonia.

In the Ministry of Education, it was pointed out that here we can speak not about some exams, but just about the checking of documents itself. Nevertheless, every specialist should keep in mind that in Estonia, besides others, there is a law on the knowledge of the state language and without passing the language exam, even local specialists cannot work as doctors. The knowledge of the state language is examined by the State language inspection.

For specialties, which do not involve a particular responsibility, for example, manager, there is no obligatory checking. However, if an employer wants, he can send a foreign specialist to a particular center under the Ministry of Education. In this center, a specialist will have to pass certain exams.

What concerns Estonian diplomas, there is a certain disorder. In Estonia, diplomas are given by three kinds of higher education establishments: state and private ones, and affiliates of foreign institutes or universities. The situation with the state higher education establishments is clear - Estonian diplomas are recognized practically all around the world.

With private institutes and colleges, it is also more or less clear: they must have a license, given by the Ministry of Education, in addition, this license is given to each subject. For example, Sillamaa College of Economics teaches managers, and there are no problems with the diplomas for this specialty. Besides, the college is accredited, concerning this specialty, therefore, managers from this college can work in any country.

However, it is worthless to study psychology in a college, if it does not have a license for teaching the subject. Such problems, according to what the BC was told in the Ministry of Education, exist with the private university LEKS, where, by the way, many students from Latvia and Lithuania are learning. Therefore the ministry suggests students to find out themselves, which of the specialties in their higher education establishments are licensed and have been accredited.

There are even more problems with the affiliates of foreign higher education establishments. These affiliates offer the education and diploma of full value, but none of them has the Estonian license. Since in accordance with the law, the ministry does not deal with affiliates, the problematic cases are handed over to the department of consumer rights protection and, as we were told in the ministry, some cases have already been handed over to court.

Moreover, if an affiliate offers studies for external students, that is, by passing exams in the parent higher education establishment, there are no problems. But problems can arise, if students pass exams in Estonia. Nevertheless, as it was acknowledged in the ministry, there is a division even here: if after studies, the parent higher education establishment gives a diploma, this document has full legal power. But if it is written in the diploma that a student has learned in Estonia, this is no more a diploma, but just a worthless piece of paper.