There seems to be an increasing number of higher education providers that claim to be recognised by the Council of Europe, alone or in cooperation with other international organisations, such as UNESCO, or by individuals acting on behalf of an international organization. Sometimes providers also claim that the Council of Europe/UNESCO Convention for the Recognition of Qualifications concerning Higher Education in the European Region confers recognition on their education provision. In some cases, providers claim to have been recognised by the Council of Europe, whereas in other cases their text is phrased in such a way as to give the impression that they have been recognised, even if technically they do not say so.

In light of the increasing number of such claims, we wish to make it clear that the Council of Europe does not recognise or in any other way bestow legitimacy on any higher education institution, programme or provision.

It should be recalled that most education provision belong to a national education system, and that the competence to determine what institution, programmes or other provision is recognised belongs to the public authority responsible for the education system in question. Increasingly, recognition or acceptance of higher education institutions by national authorities is made conditional on the institution or programme undergoing a quality assessment. In Europe, this is the policy adopted by the Ministers responsible for higher education in the European Higher Education Area. They adopted a set of European Quality Assurance Standards, which are based on the work done  elaborated by ENQA – the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education and  other partners.

International, transnational or cross-border education

Some of the providers claiming to be recognised also claim to provide “international” or “European” education, in other words they do not claim to belong to a higher education system. There is no competent international body, independent of national education systems, with a mandate to recognise or assess such provision. However, UNESCO and the OECD have elaborated Guidelines on Quality provision in Cross-border Higher Education that “aim to support and encourage international cooperation and enhance the understanding of the importance of quality provision in cross-border higher education” as well as to “protect students and other stakeholders from low-quality provision and disreputable providers as well as to encourage the development of quality cross-border higher education that meets human, social, economic and cultural needs”.

The Lisbon Recognition Convention Committee adopted several subsidiary texts on recognition of joint degrees and of degrees issues by transnational systems. They also provides useful indications of what students should look for in a provider claiming to offer international education.

Precautions students should take

Students should carefully verify the status of an institution, programme or provider before they decide to enrol in a higher education programme. They should ask the institution whether it has undergone a quality assurance exercise, and if so, by what body it has been assessed. While some higher education providers that do not belong to national education systems are of good standing, it may be wise to pay particular attention to the status of institutions claiming to be international or European. Providers claiming to be recognised or supported by international organisations such as the Council of Europe should be regarded with scepticism.

We also point out the document produce by UNESCO in this field: Student guidelines on the recognition of qualifications.