Anyone who obtained their bachelor’s degree abroad and would like to continue their studies at a German university must have their foreign degree recognized academically. In principle, this applies to all additional, supplementary and postgraduate courses as well as to admission to a doctorate.
Responsibilities for the academic recognition of a study abroad
When it comes to the academic recognition of a study abroad, a rough distinction can be made between the recognition of individual course achievements and the recognition of entire degrees that also contain examination results. The respective university at which the study is to be continued is usually responsible for both cases.
The situation is different with courses that lead to a regulated profession and which conclude with a state examination. This is the case, for example, with the subjects of law, medicine, pharmacy and teaching.
The relevant state examination offices are responsible for the recognition of these courses of study. They decide whether the undergraduate degree abroad and the associated study and examination achievements are sufficient for further studies in Germany. Because a British Bachelor of Education does not necessarily qualify for a postgraduate Master of Education at a German university.
Different legal bases apply to the academic recognition of a study abroad. Depending on the country of study in which the degree was obtained and the purpose of the recognition, other guidelines or agreements apply.
Various guidelines and laws have been introduced in recent years with regard to both academic and professional recognition of foreign degrees. These are intended to simplify the recognition procedure in general and make them more transparent for those affected. The most important basis here is the so-called Lisbon Convention. It is the foundation for the practice of recognizing degrees acquired in countries of the European Union, the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland.
While the qualification for a specific activity forms the examination basis for professional recognition, the focus of academic recognition for studying abroad is on the curriculum of the respective subject area.
Lisbon Convention as the basis for the academic recognition of a study abroad
The “Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications in Higher Education in the European Region”, or Lisbon Convention for short, has existed since 1997. It has been anchored in German law since 2007. Your most important principle: Academic recognition of study abroad should be the rule. If an institution does not recognize a foreign qualification, it must prove that there are significant differences to the corresponding German qualification. It is no longer a question of whether the foreign degree is “equivalent” or “similar” to the German reference degree. Rather, it is about the question of whether there are “significant differences” between the two in terms of content.
Academic recognition as a rule
The academic recognition of a degree abroad and thus also the academic recognition of foreign degrees should be the norm and should generally take place if the university cannot determine any significant differences to the German degree. The Convention deliberately states: “Essential differences”. The test is not about determining whether there are differences, because that is an essential characteristic of academic performance elsewhere. Rather, it is about determining the extent to which there are differences in content. A negative decision is only justified if the differences are so significant that the basic prerequisites for successfully completing the subsequent course are simply missing.
The prospect of academic success should therefore be the focus of the decision when it comes to academic recognition. The decisive factor are the requirements of the respective degree program: Is the knowledge acquired in the foreign degree sufficient to successfully master the subsequent degree or are there any significant deficits and gaps?
Duty to give reasons (burden of proof)
If the university should reject the academic recognition of the study abroad and thus the degree obtained abroad, it is also obliged to justify this. The burden of proof that the non-recognition is justified lies with the examining university. In the rejection letter, it must document the extent to which there are significant differences between the examined degree and the required German degree. If there are doubts as to whether the differences are actually significant, the university must recognize the degree.
Another important principle of the Lisbon Convention is that of transparency: the university regulations regarding the academic recognition of a study abroad and individual course achievements must be clearly formulated and comprehensible for the students.
Other conventions and agreements
As already mentioned, the Lisbon Convention applies between the countries of the EU, the EEA and Switzerland. In addition to the Lisbon Convention, there are other conventions or bilateral agreements that play a role in the academic recognition of degrees. Germany has equivalence agreements with Bolivia, China, France, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Austria, Poland, Switzerland, Slovakia, Spain, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Cyprus. Bilateral declarationsThe Conference of Ministers of Education / University Rectors’ Conference also exists with Australia, Palestine and Russia.
Academic recognition without conventions or agreements
But what is the situation when it comes to the academic recognition of a degree from a country for which Germany does not have an agreement? Does that mean that academic recognition is not possible at all? Of course not! There is no bilateral agreement between Germany and the USA, for example, because the educational systems differ too greatly from one another. In addition, unlike in Germany, academic degrees are not protected in the USA. Whether a German university recognizes a bachelor’s degree acquired in the USA depends first and foremost on whether the US university and the respective course of study are accredited. The accreditation is the decisive criterion for academic recognition.
You can find out whether the foreign university is accredited and the degree it has awarded can be generally recognized in Germany by researching the anabin database of the Conference of Ministers of Education.
Anabin database for the recognition of foreign educational qualifications
The anabin database is an information portal for the assessment and recognition of foreign educational qualifications from a large number of countries. The database has the following information ready:
- Formal description of the degree
- Graduation title
- Translation into German or English
- Official abbreviation
- Duration of study
- Requirements for admission to the course
- General description of the course
- Information about his evaluation
- Classification of the degree in the German study system according to the criteria “partially comparable” / “corresponds to” / “equivalent”
Comparable to a limited extent: There are already differences on a formal level compared to the corresponding German qualification. This applies, for example, to qualifications that are anchored in the dual training system in Germany, but at university level in the country of origin.
Equivalent: There are no significant differences between the German and the foreign degree, either formally or in terms of content.
Corresponds to: A neutral classification, which means that the foreign qualification corresponds formally to a German qualification, but no statement can be made about the equivalence of the content.
The anabin database can also be used to search for the responsible recognition bodies.