Have you ever wondered how big, international agreements come about? Attending the UNESCO Higher Education Section Meeting on the Future Global Convention on Recognition of Higher Education Qualifications was an opportunity to see part of that process in action. The meeting took place over three days in early December 2018 at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris. I was representing TAICEP as Past President. TAICEP is a stakeholder and had observer status at the meeting.
What is the Global Convention?
The Global Convention is an effort to enhance worldwide cooperation for global mobility. It aims to provide real life, practical outcomes for students, academics, educational institutions, and employers. The Global Convention is based on principles of transparency; fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory recognition processes; and information sharing.
How did we get here?
The Global Convention builds on the regional conventions. The first generation of regional conventions on recognition were drafted in the last century in Latin America and the Caribbean (1974), the Arab States (1978), Europe and North America (1979), Africa (1981), and Asia and the Pacific (1983). The second generation of regional conventions on recognition include: Lisbon Convention (1997), Tokyo Convention (2011), Addis Convention (2014), Arab States (2019), and Latin America and Caribbean (2019).
The growth of students moving across the globe produced the need for an international framework for recognition of higher education credentials.
Preparation for the Global Convention began in 2011-15 with expert meetings, feasibility, and preliminary reports. The Drafting Committee of the Global Convention was made up of 23 experts from all regions who were appointed by the Director-General in coordination with member states. Serving in their private capacity (not as representatives of member states), the committee met four times and completed a first draft of the report in June 2017. In the first half of 2018, more than 1,200 comments were received from 70 member states and 10 stakeholder organizations. These were incorporated into the draft convention that was reviewed at the December 2018 intergovernmental meeting.
How was the meeting organized?
The meeting took place in a large hall at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris and was attended by representatives of member states, associates, and observer organizations. The attendees met in plenary style and approved an editorial board and leadership to run the meeting. Similar to the United Nations meetings that we have seen over the years, delegates were seated at desks in rows, with each state or organization identified with a placard that could be held up or placed vertically in a slot on the desk to indicate a desire to speak. Comments and suggestions were referred to as “interventions.” Delegates recognized to speak were always referred to by country or organization, never by personal name.
Simultaneous translation was available to all delegates during the entire meeting in the six languages of the United Nations: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish. Translators sat in two stories of rooms off to the side of the hall and were visible through large glass windows.
At one point, a UNESCO legal counsel was called upon to provide legal background and recommendations, especially related to implementation of the convention.
Leaders took turns acting as president of the meeting. UNESCO staff and other leaders assisted the acting president in identifying speakers and moving the meeting along smoothly. The goal of the meeting was to reach consensus decisions. Although it was clearly tempting at times to vote on two opposing options, the leadership made every effort to avoid voting and work toward a commonly acceptable solution.
Over the course of three days, most of the draft document was reviewed. Suggestions for changes were made in real time and projected on a large screen at the front of the room over the head table. The text was available in both English and French. After each day of meetings, the editorial committee worked on that day’s changes. Their energy and diligence was incredible.
How can the meeting be characterized?
Opinions about the meeting varied among delegates. There was some frustration that the entire text was being examined, instead of focusing on the changes in text between the first and second drafts. The level of expertise on the international qualifications and the details of work in this field varied between the delegates. Some delegates were nonetheless impressed by the participation by a wide range of member states, including those that are not normally active in higher education qualification communities. Within a 30-minute period comments came from Cuba, Tunisia, India, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Cameroon, Togo, Palestine, Germany, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Sudan, Italy, the Council of Europe, Uzbekistan, the Holy See, Jamaica, the United Nations Higher Commission on Refugees, Qatar, and Greece. The lively and civil debate was refreshing and inspiring.
A second intergovernmental meeting has been tentatively scheduled for March 2019. The resulting draft Global Convention text is expected to be examined by the UNESCO General Conference with the goal of adoption in November 2019. It will then be open for adoption by the member states.
Margit Schatzman has been involved in international admissions and credential evaluation for over 30 years. She began at ECE in 1983 as an Evaluator. In 1985 she became Vice President. She has been president of ECE since January 1, 2007. She is a frequent speaker at U.S. and international conferences on topics such as credential evaluation principles and methods, and falsified and altered documents.