The Diploma Supplement and the Higher Education Achievement Report (HEAR)

This article was first published on the ECCTIS Blog

At the Berlin Ministerial meeting in 2003, the UK and the other Bologna signatory countries committed themselves to the introduction of the Diploma Supplement. The agreed objective was that the Diploma Supplement should be issued automatically and free of charge to every student graduating from 2005.

In the UK, in 2013, this target has yet to be achieved, but what is the current situation with Diploma Supplement implementation and why has it proven so difficult to achieve?

The UK National Europass Centre (UK NEC) has a particular interest in the Diploma Supplement, because it is responsible for promoting the Diploma Supplement in the UK as one of the five documents that comprise the Europass Portfolio.

The Diploma Supplement: Background and status of implementation

The Diploma Supplement was designed jointly by the European Commission, the Council of Europe, and UNESO/CEPES and derives from a pilot programme that ran from 1996-1998. It is issued to students by Higher Education Institutions on the successful completion of a qualification. It provides information about the qualification, institution and qualification framework to aid recognition by credential evaluators, admissions officers, employers, individuals, etc.

The results of the 2011 UK Higher Education International Unit European Activity Survey of UK HEIs indicates that, of the 70 institutions that responded to the survey, 79% currently issue the Diploma Supplement. Of these, 82% use the standard European format; 73% issue them automatically.

One reason why the Diploma Supplement has not been ubiquitously implemented across the UK Higher Education Sector is because of the existence of the Higher Education Achievement Report (HEAR).


The HEAR is specific to the UK and is the product of the Burgess Implementation Steering Group. It derives from a 2007 report Beyond the Honours Degree Classification. The HEAR is a concise, electronic document produced by a higher education institutions (HEIs), which provides a record of a student’s achievement during their time in higher education.

The HEAR conforms to the data fields for the European Diploma Supplement template, but it differs from the Diploma Supplement in a number of ways, including:

  • It is an electronic rather than paper document.
  • The title of the document (HEAR Diploma Supplement).
  • It is an on-going record that is updated throughout the student’s career with the institution (although the HEAR Diploma Supplement is the exit document issued on completion of the qualification). It can be accessed by the student at any time.
  • It contains information about the student’s non-academic achievement that can be verified and validated by the institution.

The relationship between the Diploma Supplement and the HEAR

The Diploma Supplement template and the guidelines governing its completion are inflexible. This is because the document is jointly owned by the European Commission, Council of Europe and UNESCO-CEPES.

Higher education institutions have the option to apply for the Diploma Supplement Label – a quality label which requires applicants to follow stringent guidelines to ensure consistency in the content and format of the document.

Because of the differences between the Diploma Supplement and HEAR, there has historically been uncertainty as to whether the HEAR complies with the Diploma Supplement template, and whether it meets the Diploma Supplement Label requirements. Some HEIs have, understandably, been reluctant to introduce either document until the issue is resolved.

In October 2012, the Burgess Implementation Steering Group published their final report entitled Bringing It All Together: Introducing the HEAR. The report proposed that higher education representative bodies commend the HEAR to be adopted sector-wide for students entering education in the academic year 2012-2013 (Universities UK and GuildHE have subsequently commended the HEAR to the sector).

Concurrently, clarification was sought from the European Commission as to whether the HEAR DS could meet the Diploma Supplement label requirements. The European Commission’s response was that they had no issue with the title of the document, or its electronic nature, and raised no objection to the inclusion of additional information so long as “it can provide genuine added value in a national context”.


The European Commission’s indication that the HEAR Diploma Supplement can meet the requirement for the Diploma Supplement Label has opened the door to a common UK position for the implementation of the Diploma Supplement.

These developments are a significant step towards widespread adoption of the HEAR Diploma Supplement across the sector. Indications from the Burgess Implementation Steering Group are that over 100 HEIs have already signed up to issue it.

The UK NEC will be paying close attention to future developments in this area, and is particularly interested in whether any of those institutions issuing the HEAR will apply for the Diploma Supplement label and test the question of what non-academic additional information the European Commission considers provides genuine added value to the document?

Reflections: Libya

LibyaIn September 2013, UK NARIC was given the opportunity to revisit Libya, a country in transition following the fall of the Gaddafi regime in 2011.

UK NARIC first visited Libya in 2012 to find out more about the Libyan education system. A year later, we were invited to the Workshop on the National Qualifications Framework: Towards Strengthening Confidence in Libyan Education and Training System held in Tripoli on 7th September. The conference brought together all key stakeholders and intended beneficiaries of the proposed framework, from government ministries to university deans and school heads with the aim of introducing the concept of a comprehensive framework and the benefits it could bring to the Libyan education system. The concept is not an entirely new one in Libya: having first been proposed in 2009. Whether a reflection of the on-going transition in Libya or more broadly of the increasing understanding and implementation of NQFs internationally, discussions this year have been met with far greater support.

Many of the officials we met with had benefitted from the government’s national scholarship scheme, which funds approximately 95% of the Libyan students enrolled in international universities. Having undertaken PhDs at a wide range of UK universities, they are keen to see what lessons they can incorporate both from UK education, in strengthening the Libyan system, and in developing robust and efficient evaluation procedures for international qualifications.

Outside of the conference, we were fortunate enough to be taken to visit Leptis Magna, a place once interestingly referred to as ‘Rome by the Sea’[1]. The remnants of the Roman Empire are evident and remarkably well-preserved there but having climbed to the top of the Roman theatre, with stunning views of the Mediterranean, we couldn’t help but feel sad that such a beautiful place remains for the most part unseen, with the FCO advising against all but essential travel to Tripoli and coastal towns: happily, we felt welcome and safe at all times.

Perhaps the highlight of our trip was an unscheduled tour of Gaddafi’s compound which our driver took us to en route to the airport. Only by driving around the largely destroyed complex can you get some picture of the power Gaddafi had held for over four decades. It was interesting, though sad, to see that amongst the dozens of burnt out cars, collapsed buildings, abandoned check-points, and the ruins of his former residence, several families have set up home. The ruins that still stand in the heart of the capital serve as a reminder of the past, amid on-going efforts to build a New Libya.


The Impact of MOOCs

The Impact of MOOCs. From the ECCTIS Blog (

If you are an employer, a professional body or an education provider you are going to have to consider how you evaluate MOOC qualifications. Will the current recognition processes allow this to happen?

UK NARIC helping with Tier 4 Highly Trusted Sponsor Compliance

Please note that since this article has been published immigration guidance has changed. Please see our post UK NARIC’s Visas and Nationality Service launches on 6 April which contains more up-to-date information.



Universities and colleges across the country need to comply with strict guidelines to bring students from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) to study in the UK.  There have been high profile suspensions of universities and colleges which have failed to comply with these guidelines resulting in significant damage to the reputation of the institution as well as having a meaningful effect on revenues.

There are no hard and fast rules on how education providers can ensure they can keep their Highly Trusted Sponsor (HTS) status, but it is apparent that demonstrating good practice in the recruitment of international students is an important step in the right direction.

Working with institutions and the Home Office UK NARIC has been able to identify the following areas as being important steps in being able to help institutions keep or achieve HTS and thereby achieve compliance.

Compliance is the Key

In order to bring students to the UK from outside the EEA universities and colleges need to have HTS status.  HTS is something that is “given” to education providers by the Home Office.  Having, and keeping, HTS is the main aim of all education institutions that engage in the recruitment of international students.

The best way to gain and maintain HTS is to be compliant with the Home Office’s sponsor requirements.

There are numerous criteria to which institutions have to comply and we feel that it is useful to highlight four areas:

  • Adopting best practice
  • Ability to follow a course
  • Counter fraud
  • English Language Proficiency

Adopting best practice

Education providers in the UK need to clearly demonstrate that they are using tried and tested processes to identify and evaluate potential students from outside the EEA.  The Home Office are not going to tell higher education institutions or colleges how they should market themselves or whether they are over-estimating the abilities of an individual; but they do want to see that there are policies and procedures and that the institution is following good practice.

Policies and Procedures

When it comes to evaluating applicants from outside the EEA institutions need to show that they are being consistent.  Universities and colleges need to be able to demonstrate that they have a system in place.  Using UK NARIC’s data is one way of doing this.  All UK NARIC’s members are entitled to a “Membership Certificate”.  This does not mean that UK NARIC accredits the institution (if you become aware of any institution claiming to be accredited by UK NARIC please let us know!), it simply confirms that the institutions is a member of UK NARIC and therefore has access to our data and services.  The Membership Certificate clearly shows that the institution is using “an independent authority” to help them evaluate the qualifications of international applicants.  If you are a member of UK NARIC and you would like to order a Membership Certificate please contact your Account Manager.

There are a number of other criteria that can be used to demonstrate good practice and we could fit many blog articles with them.  However, it is worth highlighting a couple more:

Staff development: Make sure that relevant staff are kept up-to-date with the latest developments in education internationally.  This can be done through Newsletters; there are a number of relevant newsletters available (QAA, UUK’s International Unit, AUA, UK NARIC).  Additionally, staff could attend training courses and conferences.  UK NARIC runs a number of professional development courses that have been designed for this purpose; additionally UCAS, UKCISA and many other organisations run courses and conferences throughout the year.  Finally, it is important to keep up-to-date with immigration policy; UK NARIC is now running events that are specifically design to help higher education professionals to do this.

Admissions Policy: An Admissions Policy should set out the way in which an institution evaluates applicants.  It should be readily available and it should provide information on the sources of information staff should use to make decisions.  Which sources of information does your institution use: internal databases? UK NARIC? Any other sources?  These should all be listed.  Additionally, if your institution has particular policies on an institution, country or region this should be detailed in the Policy.  The Policy should cover how you deal with Agents and what relationship you have with Agents.

Ability to follow a course

Under Tier 4 institutions should only issue a CAS once they are satisfied that a student both intends and is able to follow the course of study concerned.

The key point here is being able to assess an individual’s ability.

This can be done through the applicant’s previous qualifications, their performance in an admissions test or through interview.  If an institution is using previous qualifications to assess an applicant’s suitability, then they need to “confirm any qualifications the student already has which make them suitable for the course” on the CAS, i.e. use UK NARIC’s data.

Assessing a student’s suitability is very important.  It is the way in which institutions can be sure they have a committed student; but how can institutions be sure that the qualifications are genuine?

Counter fraud

We have covered education fraud in another article in this blog, and it is important that higher and further education institutions develop systems and processes to combat education fraud (in fact it should be covered in the Admissions Policy!).

The Home Office’s view on fraud is:

“We would encourage Sponsors to take all reasonable steps to verify the authenticity of a document; it is in the Sponsor’s interests to do so

Rooting out the non bona fide applications before issuing a CAS would save them from paying a CAS fee for a student who won’t enter the UK.

If an institution repeatedly sponsors applicants with non bona fide documents it may affect their Sponsor rating and could ultimately lead to their removal from the register.”

Therefore, it is vitally important that institutions wishing to gain or maintain HTS have a way of finding out whether a qualification is bogus.  Members of UK NARIC are able to use the Counter Fraud Service which will provide members with the knowledge needed to be able to make better judgments about whether a qualification is legitimate.  There is also the Degrees of Deception publication and a training course.

English Language Proficiency

There have been examples of when students have used bogus English language qualifications to enter the UK. The Home Office has established criteria for those wishing to study in the UK. There are a number of different ways in which applicants can show that they meet the different levels that have been specified, please refer to the Tier 4 guidance policy.

Tim Buttress, June 2013



Please check the Home Office website to ensure that you have the most up-to-date information.

Recognition of Joint Programmes

As Erasmus Mundus Programmes and joint programmes in general are increasingly gaining popularity, several projects and initiatives have been launched to explore solutions to the common problems associated with joint degree offerings: accreditation and recognition.

Through our partnership in the JOQAR Project (Joint programmes: Quality Assurance and Recognition), UK NARIC is actively involved in the on-going work that aims to facilitate  joint degrees in these two areas.

JOQAR (2010 -2013) plans to achieve its aims by developing multilateral recognition agreements between accreditation bodies; establishing a European Coordination point for external quality assurance and accreditation; raising awareness about the ENIC-NARIC network’s expectations regarding the design of the degree and the content of the Diploma Supplement.

In the scope of the project, the JOQAR Recognition Team is currently developing a set of guidelines for higher education institutions that will provide recommendations and examples of good practice regarding the award of the degree certificates and the Diploma Supplements to graduates of joint programmes.

UK NARIC will present the findings and the intermediate outcomes of the project during the three Bologna Regional Workshops organised by the British Council in October-December 2012.

For further information on JOQAR project please visit the project website.


Tim Buttress, September 2012

New User Area launched for members

As announced in NARIC News there are a number of phases in the redevelopment of the ECCTIS websites.

On 24th September a new User Area for UK NARIC members was launched.

This development will make it easier for members to log-on to our databases and get in touch with their designated Account Manager.

In the User Area all the services that are available to Users will be highlighted in an easy-to-use grid. One of the most significant developments is a new Member Enquiry System. This will allow Users to contact UK NARIC through their User Area and also upload documents associated with any queries. Please note that as of Monday 24th September you will no longer be able to email enquiries to UK NARIC.

A user manual of how to use the new User Area is available to download from the UK NARIC website.

If you have any difficulties using the new User Area or the Member Enquiry System please contact us on

Spotlight: Vietnam

Vietnam is the easternmost country in the Indochina Peninsula. With a population of over 90 million (rising at an annual rate of 1%), it is the world’s fourteenth most populous nation. It also has a young population: over half the population is below 30 years old, and 25% are within the 0-15 year age group.

Since doi moi (economic renovation) was announced in 1986, the country has benefited from sustained economic growth. Over the past decade, for instance, growth rates in the region of 5-10% have consistently been achieved.

In line with the political and economic reforms implemented since 1986, there has also been substantial investment in the education system. Public spending on education, as a percentage of GDP, is higher than all its regional neighbours; universal basic education has been established and the national literacy rate is 94%. Nonetheless, higher education funding has not achieved similar results, where standards are affected by low quality facilities, outdated teaching methods, and a lack of autonomy and academic freedom.


Vietnam is one of the countries showing an increase in the number of page views within the International Comparisons database. During 2011, Vietnam received 5575 views; an increase of 206, or 4% over the 2010 figures. These figures continue the trend; 2010 saw an 18% increase over the 2009 views.

Database page views 2011 5575
Database page views 2011 rank 46th
Database page views 2010 5369
Database page views 2010 rank 53rd
Member Enquiries 2011 100
Member Enquiries 2011 rank (out of 190) 36th
Member Enquiries 2010 127
Member Enquiries 2010 rank (out of 190) 20th
Individual Assessments 2011 8
Individual Assessments 2011 rank 135th
Individual Assessments 2010 9
Individual Assessments 2010 rank 128th

“We’ve had a close look at where Vietnamese member enquiries are coming from and the results have highlighted that organisations from Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the UK are all interested in Vietnam,” stated Tim Buttress, Deputy Director Policy and Communication at UK NARIC. “For instance, we normally see only around 2% of our enquiries from Australia, but this jumps to 13% if we look at questions about Vietnam.”

This broadly supports figures from UCAS, which show that applications from Vietnam increased 15.9% for entry 2011.

Education in Vietnam

All levels of education in Vietnam are the responsibility of the Ministry of Education and Training (MOET), apart from vocational and technical education, which comes under the auspices of the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs (MOLISA) – established by Prime Ministerial order in March 1998. The only exceptions are the medical universities, managed by the Ministry of Health, and military and security institutions, which are the responsibility of the Ministry of National Defence and Ministry of Public Security respectively.

In the higher education sector, there is an acknowledged lack of capacity. Between 1998 and 2008, 198 new universities / colleges were opened but, with only 400 higher education institutions, only 25% of secondary school graduates get to progress onto the national higher education providers. In 2010 for instance, there were 1.2 million graduates of secondary schools, but only places for 300,000 within the higher education sector. Therefore, with greater levels of disposable income, more parents are able to fund studies at either private higher education providers or international universities. Reasons for choice of international over domestic degree programmes include:

Ref MITC (

Whilst competition to enter public higher education institutions is fierce, the very best students prefer to attend private institutions like the Foreign Trade University, National Economics University, Banking Academy or Medical University, because of increased employability.

In the last few years, the Government has launched new university initiatives with international partners to seek to build world-class institutions. In 2008, the Vietnamese German University (VGU) opened in Ho Chi Minh City. A French-backed technology school is opening in Hanoi and the Australian institution, RMIT, has opened an international campus in the country.

Recent Educational Developments

In 2010, a new Government initiative was launched to introduce English lessons for all 3rd grade students, as a means of supporting continued economic development. Four English sessions are envisaged per week; however, implementation of the policy may be hindered by a lack of English language teachers.

Official language(s) Vietnamese
Other language(s) English (increasingly favoured as a second language), some French, Chinese, and Khmer, mountain area languages (Mon-Khmer and Malayo-Polynesian)
Population 91,519,289
Population date Jul-12
Population (world ranking) 14
GDP (purchasing power parity) $ 299,000,000,000
GDP (purchasing power parity) date 2011
GDP (world ranking) 43
Compulsory education nine years (ages 6 – 14)
Academic year Commonly September – May at school level, and September – June at higher education level.
Education laws Universal Primary Education Law 1991; Education Law 1998; Education Law 2005.
Outgoing students
Total (foreign students) 44,038 (2009)
Percentage of world total 1.3% (2009)
Top Destinations USA (12,612), Australia (7,648), France (5,803), Russian Fed. (3,518), Japan (2,895) – 2009