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International recognition of Open University qualifications

If you intend to use your Open University (OU) qualification to seek work or undertake further study outside the UK, we've created a simple guide to help you check whether your intended qualification will meet local requirements for your chosen career or study goals.

Guide to recognition of OU qualifications outside the UK

An Open University degree has the same status as one from any top UK university. Recognition outside the UK may differ, however.

We recommend erring on the side of caution: if you intend to use your Open University qualifications to seek work or undertake further study outside the UK, then check whether your intended qualification will meet local requirements for your chosen career before you enrol.

We mention this because official recognition of qualifications gained outside the country in which you wish to work or study isn’t always straightforward.

For example, you might intend to use your Open University degree as a professional qualification for finding work – but membership of a professional body or professional status might also be required. In such cases, you’ll need to find out whether your chosen degree will allow entry to the next qualifying stage.

You’re best advised to check your Open University study plan with the appropriate professional body in the country where you intend to work, prior to enrolling.

Happily, many employers and organisations worldwide do employ Open University graduates and understand that an OU degree is equal in academic standard to a degree from any other British university.

For further information, read our advice and guidance below.

If you are intending to use your Open University (OU) qualifications to seek work or undertake further study outside the UK it is important to undertake enquiries at the earliest possible opportunity to ensure that your OU qualification or study path will meet local requirements for your chosen career or study goals.

Official recognition of qualifications gained outside the country in which you wish to work or study is complex. Each country has its own legal and administrative framework, with which you must comply, and there are supra‐national directives, for example within the EU, which often add to the complexity. This is a fast‐changing area, within which any advice is temporary, so you will need to inform yourself fully before seeking recognition.

You might be planning to use your UK degree as a professional qualification in finding work. However, your degree is not always sufficient. Membership of a professional body or professional status (such as Chartered Engineer), may also be required. In such cases, you will need to find out if your chosen degree will allow entry to the next qualifying stage. This could include additional professional examinations and/or a period of accredited work experience.

The professional bodies determine whether academic courses will provide exemptions from specific professional examinations. Your study plan should therefore be checked with the appropriate professional body in the country where you hope to work before commencement of study. You may also have to apply for national or state recognition of your qualification from the official authorities – see below for further information on applying for official recognition overseas.

It is not always necessary to seek official recognition of your degree if you are looking for work in the private sector. You should enquire of prospective employers if this is demanded. Many international organisations employ OU graduates and understand that an OU degree is equal in academic standard to a degree from any other British university. Smaller employers may be less familiar with the OU and you might need to provide additional explanatory information to ensure that your qualification is fully valued.

If you wish to use your degree to gain entry to another academic institution, or to work in the public sector, you will often have no choice but to seek official academic recognition. It is preferable to do so before you commence your studies since the OU is unable to guarantee recognition in all circumstances. However, please be aware that the academic recognition process can be cumbersome, slow, and not without cost and should only be sought if you discover that you need official recognition of your qualification to pursue your career outside the UK.

You must follow the required procedures when seeking recognition and you will need explicit advice on how to do so before you begin. All countries within Europe have a national advice centre on recognition, known as a NARIC or ENIC centre, which will give you advice free but may charge for other services. These centres also exist in the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, but in other countries you may have to approach the Ministry of Education or equivalent government department for advice.

If you are advised that you must approach a university or other institution in any particular country it is sensible to assume that they know very little about The Open University (OU). Therefore, we advise you to provide supporting documentation and information. For example:

  • The University’s sample explanatory letter.
  • An academic transcript of your studies – in Europe this should be in the form of a Diploma Supplement if you have already graduated (you can download this from your StudentHome page).
  • Module descriptions available from our website and from the University’s printed prospectuses.
  • An academic reference that should explain the qualification you have in a broader context. This can be requested from your student home website and should be explicit about the purposes for which you need the reference.
  • You will also be required to produce an original degree certificate, which sometimes has to have an additional certification as a legal document. This involves the attachment of an apostille to authenticate the signature of the document. The Open University cannot provide this, but you can apply online.

It is important to present your studies in a way that emphasises the quality of The Open University’s qualifications:

  • Make it clear that you have not followed correspondence courses. The OU teaches through supported ‘Open Learning’ which incorporates flexible learning with one to one study support.
  • An OU degree is equal in academic standard to a degree from any other British university. The University is subject to the same quality assurance procedures, through the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA), as all other British universities, and uses external assessors and examiners to ensure comparability of standard and level in its courses.
  • Your studies may have been on a part time basis but remain equal in academic rigour, and in volume, to those of a student studying full time. It is important to stress the total amount of time that it takes to gain an OU degree.
  • If you have included residential schools in your profile, do not forget to mention the intensive laboratory or practical work undertaken, and the opportunities for group work, presentations, field trips, etc.
  • The University’s assessment system is rigorous. You will have had to pass both continuous assessment and a written examination in most modules. In some countries you may wish to add that each tutor‐marked assignment (TMA) is the equivalent of a modular examination.
  • Each module has published learning outcomes that you have to satisfy to pass.

American degrees are based on a modular system like Open University degrees. Systems vary from one institution to another and between states, but two of the most commonly used measures are ‘credits’ and ‘semester hours’. It is important to remember that OU credit does not represent the same amount of study as American credit. Students usually need 120–124 semester hours or 180–186 quarter‐hours to graduate with a bachelors or baccalaureate degree.

On the whole it is advisable not to try to equate OU courses with American courses yourself, but rather to allow the American institution to assess their equivalence in American terms. However, it might help to state the number of hours of study each course required, and to explain that the OU uses a credit system in which 120 credits are the equivalent of one full‐time academic year of study, and at least 360 credits are required for a Bachelors degree with honours.

The OU is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. The MSCHE is an institutional accrediting agency recognised by the U.S. Secretary of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). MSCHE is an institutional accreditor; therefore, it examines and reaffirms accreditation for each of its member institutions as a whole, rather than the specific programs within the institution. MSCHE does not approve individual programs.

MSCHE accreditation does not expire but is reaffirmed at the time of the institution’s next review. It may be appropriate in some circumstances to refer to this as additional external evidence of OU academic quality.

Accreditation of this kind does not guarantee automatic transfer of credit in the USA or elsewhere. Each institution makes its own decisions about credit transfer and it may take into account a variety of factors, such as how well the credits students earned at another institution fit the requirements for the program they wish to pursue, the comparability of learning goals for the courses at the other institution, the grades students received in the courses they took, whether the college they attended is accredited, and other factors that vary from one institution to another.

The only way to determine which credits (if any) a college or university will accept is to contact the institution directly. Students who know in advance that they may wish to transfer to another institution should contact the receiving institution as soon as possible about the transferability of credits.

There appears to be no blanket validation available from US government courses and therefore the onus of assessment is placed on the individual employer/institution. However, there are agencies in the United States that, for a fee, will assess the equivalence of qualifications gained outside the US to those available in the US.

Two agencies we know of are: World Education Services and International Education Research Foundation.

The Bologna Process in the European Union aims to harmonise the Higher Education (HE) systems of all its signatories to increase the mobility and portability of qualifications. Amongst the reforms completed are the division of HE into three cycles (equivalent to the British honours degree, the masters degree and the doctorate) and the provision of transparent documentation of these qualifications, in the form of the Diploma Supplement (a transcript of your qualification). The OU honours and masters degrees conform to the current European qualifications framework. You can download your Diploma Supplement from your StudentHome page. This will indicate how your OU credit measures against the European credit transfer system (ECTS) but, in essence, 60 OU credit points are the equivalent of 30 ECTS points.

Please note that it is possible that undergraduate level certificates and diplomas, ordinary degrees and foundation degrees will not be given any formal academic recognition outside the UK, since they are achieved before the end of the first cycle of the common European Higher Education framework. The Bologna Process is still ongoing, and information on recognition quickly becomes outdated. For the latest information on individual countries, and for contact details of the national offices, visit the enic‐naric website.

For up‐to‐date information on the Bologna process, visit the official website.

Please remember that while the general principles of the Bologna process have been agreed throughout Europe, they are not legally binding. Individual universities and national authorities have considerable freedom concerning their interpretation and application. As a result there continue to be significant differences in the recognition of British awards. For example, an academic degree of 180 ECTS from the OU – or any other British university – might not meet the strict entry criteria for certain postgraduate programmes or for employment in the public sector in some countries outside the UK. Students are therefore strongly advised to undertake local enquiries at the earliest possible opportunity to ascertain the current position.

Students living outside the UK are entitled to all our services but should be aware that there are more examples and opportunities advertised within the UK and Ireland.

  • Students based overseas and studying through our partner organisations should check with their host organisation what services are available to them.
  • When planning your career development, it is important to recognise that academic qualifications may play only a part in determining your suitability for a particular career or profession. You should also consider your skills, the content of specific courses, and the learning outcomes that are all part of OU study.
  • If you are an OU student, or if you have studied with the OU in the last three years, you can request information, advice and guidance to support your career planning and job seeking, including help to recognise and develop your employability skills.
  • Visit our OU Careers and Employability Services website for information and advice on all aspects of career planning.

Here are a selection of the services on offer to you:

  • online forums, webinars, and Facebook Live chats on a wide range of job market skills, career planning and specific career areas
  • a wealth of downloadable guides and the Career Planning and Job Seeking Workbook
  • online interactive career planning, timed interview practice and CV building tools
  • Opportunity Hub platform to connect with vacancies, placements and schemes from hundreds of employers (chiefly UK‐based)
  • our LinkedIn networking group The Open University Careers Network (TOUCAN)
  • one‐to‐one guidance from experienced careers consultants

To whom it may concern

Re: ‘Student name’ Recognition of Open University Qualification

(Student name) was awarded her/his/their qualification(s) (enter qual) by The Open University on (date). We have been contacted by (student name) to attest her/his qualification(s). This letter sets out the Open University’s authority to award UK degrees and how the academic standards of its qualifications are assured.

The Open University

The Open University has national and international reach with a strong reputation for leadership in the provision of higher education and professional development. The Open University is a world leader in modern distance learning, pioneering teaching and learning methods which enable people to achieve their career and life goals studying at times and in places to suit them.

Power to award UK degrees

The Open University was established by Royal Charter on 23 April 1969 with degree awarding powers. The UK Government maintains a list of institutions that have their own degree awarding powers recognised by the UK authorities (UK and Scottish Parliament, Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies). The Open University is listed as a recognised body with degree awarding powers on the UK Government website where this can be verified at the following link: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/recognised‐uk‐degrees. The Open University degree programmes are at the UK higher education level, and degrees awarded are comparable with those awarded by other UK universities.

The Open University’s awarding powers are used to validate the awards of other educational institutions in the UK and overseas including the Arab Open University which occupies 7 different countries across the Middle East.

Quality of Higher Education Qualifications

Like other UK universities, The Open University is independent and autonomous. The University’s academic standards are assured in a number of ways including by external examiners appointed from other universities and degree awarding institutions within the UK. In line with other universities in the UK, the University’s teaching and research are formally assessed by a Higher Education Funding Council (HEFCE – www.hefce.ac.uk), and its quality assurance arrangements reviewed by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (www.qaa.ac.uk). The Open University is accredited by the Middles States Commission on Higher Education (https://www.msche.org/) based in Philadelphia, USA, which is an institutional accrediting agency recognised by the US Secretary of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

These bodies have a commitment to the improvement of educational qualifications and continuous improvement in management of quality in Higher Education, and the University continues to place high priority on the development and enhancement of its procedures for quality assurance. Higher education in the UK has an international reputation for excellence and maintaining the highest academic standards and quality is crucial to keeping this reputation.

The Open University is both a teaching and research institution and research informs course development and teaching practice. Since its launch in 2006, the University's publicly‐available research repository – Open Research Online – has recorded more than 2.2 million visitors. The repository makes around 22,000 research articles publicly available, as part of The Open University’s commitment to open access to educational resources.

You can find out more about The Open University at www.open.ac.uk, however I do hope that the above information is sufficient to attest to the quality credentials of The Open University and the qualifications it offers, as well as its authority to confer degrees that are fully recognised by the UK Government and UK and international quality assurance bodies.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you require any further information.