Final report of the joint European Commission, Council of Europe, 
UNESCO/CEPES diploma supplement working party.

1.Introduction to the report

2.Summary of the evaluation phase

3.Project outcomes and recommendations of the working party


1. Introduction to the report

1.1 Background to the initiative

The initiative to develop a new model for a Diploma Supplement/Administrative Annex to qualifications followed The European Union Council of Ministers decision of 6th May 1996. In 1994 the European Commission initiated a debate on the possible synergies between academic and professional recognition and a report was prepared which was discussed at the Council of Ministers meeting on the 6th May 1996. One of the conclusions from this meeting was that ‘the European Commission is invited to examine in co-operation with the Member States: possibilities for the introduction on a voluntary basis, of a European administrative annex to the diploma, the aim being to facilitate transparency and recognition in States other than those in which they were dispensed; it would take into account the experience of other organisations such as UNESCO and the Council of Europe in this area’.

Simultaneously, UNESCO and the Council of Europe had come to the conclusion that the Diploma Supplement developed by these two organisations needed revision and up-dating. The importance of the Diploma Supplement was furthermore underlined in the Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications Concerning Higher Education in the European Region, elaborated jointly by these two organisations and adopted in Lisbon in April 1997.

1.2 Establishing the working party

A Diploma Supplement working party was established in December 1996 as a joint initiative by the European Commission, the Council of Europe and UNESCO/CEPES. The group was composed of recognition specialists, representatives from higher education institutions and the three sponsoring organisations. In February 1997 a representative from the Confederation of EU-Rectors’ Conferences joined the working party. The full list of the working party membership can be found in Appendix 2.

1.3 The project

The mandate of the working party was to develop a new model for a Diploma Supplement/Administrative Annex to ease the problems of recognition and promote transparency and the mutual recognition of qualifications drawing on the experiences of the UNESCO and Council of Europe model as well as national experiences. Full details of the terms of reference of the working party can be found in Appendix 1. The project was divided into two parts. In the first part a group of experts produced a new Diploma Supplement model. The second part involved the practical pilot testing and subsequent refinement of the model. Following these activities this final report was produced making recommendations concerning the model, its future development, its implementation and promotion.

1.4 Activities of the working party

During the project the working party and its sub-group met ten times. A list of the activities of the working party is contained in Appendix 3. In addition, a launch seminar and an evaluation meeting were held in Brussels. Representatives of the working party have presented the project on numerous occasions including NARIC/ENIC meetings, the 1997 EAIE Conference, expert seminars in the USA and The Russian Federation, etc. Although the pilot project due to both practical and economic reasons, had to be limited in scope, the working party found it important to involve as many potential end-users as possible. Their advice and experience was invaluable. The working party also collaborated with the Phare Multi-Country project on recognition.

2 Summary of the evaluation phase

The joint pilot project involved the production and practical testing of supplements. A model was developed and supplements were then produced, some using this model as well as some being highly customised versions. Once supplements were produced they were distributed to all participating institutions who then evaluated them and completed questionnaires on their reactions. These evaluations were real practical tests of the supplements.

The testing of the revised Diploma Supplement through the pilot project was complemented by the Diploma Supplement part of the Phare Multi-Country Project on Recognition of Higher Education Diploma and Study Credit Points Across Borders. In total (both pilots) over seventy different institutions (including higher education institutions, social partners, ENICs/NARICs) took part. Over twenty-five different higher education subject fields were tested and over two hundred and fifty separate evaluations of supplements were undertaken. Full information on the evaluation phase and those who were involved can be found in Appendices 5, 6 and 7.

The joint pilot project pursued a number of different activities including the following: a launch seminar for the project in Brussels 22nd September 1997, to introduce the project to the participating institutions who then had to produce supplements; a meeting in Brussels to consider and allocate these supplements to institutions in the pilot; each participant had then to complete questionnaires covering their evaluation of each supplement they received; the evaluation meeting on the 15th May in Brussels.

Both projects held evaluation meetings which were enthusiastic about the supplement. Indeed, the evidence clearly demonstrated overwhelming support for the idea of a Diploma Supplement with 98% of those taking part in the joint European Commission, Council of Europe, UNESCO/CEPES project indicating that ‘it was timely and worthwhile to introduce the supplement’.

As a result of the extensive testing of supplements during the evaluation phase a number of conclusions were clear: a strong consensus indicated that they would issue supplements in their home language and English; a common framework for all supplements is preferable to customised versions; the information in the supplement on the national education system is essential; titles of qualifications, institutions and award classifications should appear in their original language; it was easy to produce supplements free of value-judgements; it was good practice to include transcripts and clear information on grade distributions and student workload; that the Diploma Supplement approach aided transparent decision-making based on explicit reason and thus facilitates the 1997 Lisbon Convention.

The evaluation meeting in Brussels and subsequent meeting produced a number of changes to the Diploma Supplement model. Serious consideration was given to such areas as the customisation of supplement, the use and dangers of translations, the workload involved in producing supplement etc. The final version of the supplement presented here (see Appendix 4) is streamlined and contains strong practical recommendations on its production and use. In particular, the concerns about the workload it involved and its complexity led to the creation of detailed guidance notes and the production of examples of completed supplements (also contained in Appendices 4).

3 Project outcomes and recommendations of the working party

The Diploma Supplement produced is a result of a rigorous empirical testing. The final ‘Outline structure for Diploma Supplements’ is presented in Appendix 4. This Appendix also contains the following sections: ‘Explanatory notes on completing supplements’; ‘Examples of supplements’; ‘Founding principles and general guidelines for those producing supplements’; and ‘Glossary’. These are all designed to assist the implementation of the Diploma Supplement at institutional, national and international levels. They are a product of the practical experiences of the pilot project and recommendations from the final evaluation meetings. Their use is strongly recommended as this will ease the implementation of the Diploma Supplement. The overall results of the project are very positive and the evaluation phase (for details see Section 2 of this report and Appendices 5 and 6) and subsequent refinement of the Diploma Supplement has produced an effective tool to improve international academic and professional recognition. The supplement functioned well for different sorts of application, types and sizes of institutions, countries, regions, subjects and levels.

The non-recognition and under-evaluation of qualifications is a global problem and original qualifications alone do not provide sufficient information. National educational systems and qualification structures are constantly changing under the impact of rapid economic and technological change. In this situation mobile citizens need clear explanations of their qualifications. The working party is convinced that the Diploma Supplement provides this.

The working party make the following recommendations:

3.1 Adoption

The working party suggests that European Union, Council of Europe and UNESCO, adopt and actively support the introduction of the new Diploma Supplement model developed by the pilot.

3.2 Good practice in the production of Diploma Supplements

The evaluation questionnaires produced a fairly even split over the automatic production of supplements. Some indicated that supplements should only be issued on demand (and with a payment of a small fee), others favoured automatic issue. On balance, the working party advises automatic issue as the problems of any retrospective issue would present many difficulties. However, any decision about charging for supplements is to be made by autonomous national institutions, and the working party takes no view on this. Also it is up to institutions to devise suitable security measures to ensure their supplements are not forged or tampered with.

The overwhelming view of the institutions involved in the pilot confirmed that customised supplements that did not follow the suggested order and structure for the information were much less effective and more difficult to understand. There are also clear advantages in promoting a uniform model that has widespread international use. Users of the supplement should follow this model and only give information on the scope, level, status, context and content of the qualification. Supplements should always include the brief warning statement and explanation printed in the box at the top of the outline supplement model in Appendix 4). This helps act as a quality check for any credential evaluator. The supplement should not be confused with a curriculum vitae and should always be accompanied by the original qualification. Details and advice on their production can be found in Appendix 4.

3.3 National and international implementation of Supplements

The Diploma Supplement is an important tool to further international transparency and improve recognition. It has both national and international applications. At the national level; Rectors’ Conferences, Ministries, ENICs/NARICs and other appropriate bodies are encouraged to promote its introduction, whilst at the international level, the three sponsoring institutions are invited to support and promote its implementation and the future monitoring of the initiative.

3.4 Applications and use of the Supplement

The Diploma Supplement has been designed to be used for any higher education qualification (including final and/or intermediate degrees) where a specific qualification has been successfully gained. It is designed to be issued with the qualification. It is recommended that activities that do not lead to qualifications are best documented in annual transcripts, e.g. in the format of the ECTS transcript. The experience of the pilot confirmed that good transcripts made the Diploma Supplement shorter and easier to comprehend.

3.5 Workload involved in the creation of Supplements

Some initial work is needed to introduce the Diploma Supplement at Higher Education Institutions. However, the experience of Flemish institutions who have introduced the previous version of the Diploma Supplement shows that the long-term benefits easily outweigh the short-term effort. There, the supplement has reduced workload, costs and provided significant benefits to both students and institutions. The introduction of the supplement throughout a whole institution should be staged to reduce the burden on staff. It is recommended that it is introduced faculty by faculty or department by department, as has often been the case with the introduction of the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS). Running a national pilot project to test a country’s requirements and how it could best be nationally adopted could be another option.

3.6 Language of issue for the Diploma Supplement

As previously stated, the Diploma Supplement can have both national and international uses to aid academic and professional recognition and mobility. The Supplement can be issued in the national language for internal purposes, whilst for international use, and to aid transparency, it can be issued in one or more widely spoken languages. In order to facilitate the distribution of accurate documentation the sponsoring organisations are invited to provide versions of the Diploma Supplement documentation in as many European languages as possible.

3.7 Translation of qualification titles and institutional names

In the Diploma Supplement it is clearly stated that the title of the qualification, the title of the awarding institution and award classification should be given in the original language. The background for this recommendation is that translating degree titles into another language should be avoided because it nearly always implies a kind of evaluation and equivalence. The supplement is designed to be a factual document that avoids all value judgements and equivalence statements. The Diploma Supplement itself should contain sufficient information on the qualification so that a translation (containing possible misleading value judgements) is not needed. It should always be possible for the person looking at the Diploma Supplement to make his/her own judgement concerning the qualification. However, the pilot phase and the final evaluation meeting showed that opinions were very divided on this issue of translations of qualifications and institutional titles. Some participants suggested that optional translations of titles should be allowed. However, a majority of the working party and participants in the pilot project strongly disagreed with this. It also contravenes the Council of Europe, UNESCO Convention on Recognition. Therefore the final model does not include the possibility for translating titles.

3.8 Description of national higher education systems

The pilot project showed that these descriptions are very valuable for placing the qualification in question into a national context and for evaluation purposes. Great care should be taken in having clear, concise descriptions. It is recommended that these descriptions are made at national level, preferably in co-operation with the Ministry of Education, the national Rectors’ Conference and the national ENIC/NARIC office. Furthermore, it is important to secure an automatic update when changes are made in the higher education system. Some models describing higher education systems can be found included in the examples of Diploma Supplements in Appendix 4, section III.

3.9 Promotion of the use of the Diploma Supplement

It is clear from the evaluation meetings that higher education institutions, the social partners, students and the public at large, will all require information and encouragement to become familiar with, and use, the Diploma Supplement. Higher Education Institutions will require information seminars and staff development sessions to help them prepare to issue supplements using appropriate computer software, whilst the general public needs to be made aware of the benefits of supplements.

In article IX.1 of the 1997 Lisbon Council of Europe/UNESCO Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications Concerning Higher Education in the European Region, it stated that the parties (to the convention) should promote, through national information centres or otherwise, the use of the UNESCO/Council of Europe Diploma Supplement or other comparable documents by the higher education institutions and parties. It is recommended that the introduction of the Diploma Supplement is considered an important tool for fulfilling one of the obligations of signatories to the convention.

Furthermore, the working party suggests that financial resources are found under the new Socrates II programme and other educational programmes to help introduce the Diploma Supplement on the international level.