Degree equivalency is a lie

As I spend more and more time in various countries, working with institutions and people of different academic levels, and as I experience the immense universe of students (from the few best, brilliant minds to the dark-grey sea of mediocrity and hopelessness), I am coming to one depressing conclusion.

While Bologna is being hailed as the key building block of academic internationalisation, it brings with it an immense danger of confused degree equivalency – degrees of the same “level” are seen as “equal” allowing students entry onto higher qualifications regardless of their original education. So, a BA from Romania is the same as a UK degree. And so on…

The problem of mistaken degree equivalency is one of actual educational quality – the end result of the educational process that is not a set of generic learning outcomes but real knwoledge-in-the-head. Here lies the crux – just because someone receives a degree in a third-world state does not mean they have the same level of knowledge, experience, hell, even academic skills, as those coming from more academic nations. My favourite group are the Asian students who, in their thousands, pursue “MBA” degrees that have nothing in common with…real MBAs – those difficult degrees for senior managers taught by the best academics and not just addiitonal “Masters-type” qualifications of little impact on actual management knowledge. When combined with hundreds of weak institutions offering such “education” we can now define the MBA market as effectively “poisoned”. A second group are the third-world academics seeking glorious employment in Western universities based on degree-level-equivalency (level 8 NQF for PhDs) and using NARICs certificate as proof of competence (when, in reality, the NARIC certificate only talks about “being similar to a UK qualification” in terms of levels but not content and quality).

So why is there no real standard? Probably because expecting quality would reduce the recruitment of international students. Yet, it is illogical, as recruitment of substandard individuals holding laughably-low academic qualifications from countries that have low or none standards actually poisons the academic environment of the accepting institution… Yes, yes, everyone should have the same chances, bla bla bla, but some have spent more time, effort, intellect and money on gaining their education, only to find themselves surrounded by those… others. When does the destruction-through-mediocrity of all things sacred end?

True, there are systems for rejecting the worst offenders – for example UK unviersities have classifications of degrees by country, university, degree, from which they accept candidates (and from many candidates are rejected outright as detailed analysis exposes the sheer illusion of “education”), while NARIC does its job of analysing equivalencies, however I strongly believe that the sheer scale of possible graduate profiles is so huge that more controls are needed. I will remember for ever Nepalese graduates of a local “BA in Politics” (I was interviewing candidates in Kathmandu for entry onto my masters degree), who did not know the difference between democracy and totalitarianism, despite “you know sir, studying, hard, for three years on that, politics, you know, course”.

More differentiation, more control, more analysis, precise and extensive rejection tables, acceptance conditions and accept/reject decision logic trees are needed. Otherwise, those of us with a decent education will soon be surrounded with substandard competitors holding paper qualifications at same level. And thus, identification of proper and improper degrees will be left to the marketplace, but that is much too late in the production cycle. There is no real degree equivalency. UK and USA education beats all.

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