Graduates of foreign universities are often faced with a series of administrative hoops making their lives difficult upon arrival in the Czech Republic. One of these is a procedure officially named as the Certification of a foreign university degree and qualification, but more commonly known under the term nostrifikace (validation). This topic was broached by the iRozhlas.cz server, where the issue was discussed in a simplified and slightly misleading article, which nevertheless illustrates very nicely the negative aspects of this procedure. One aspect is the character of this procedure, the other is its objective. It is, in fact, the reason for requiring a nostrifikace, which is linked to many commonly shared misconceptions.
First considering the procedure itself, the Certification of a foreign university degree and qualification represents the recognition of the degree certificate and its content. A qualification, according to the appropriate international agreements, is understood to be a certificate or another equivalent document acting as proof of education.
Thus it is not regarded as recognition of the expertise and expert capacity, as is often mistakenly interpreted. In the Czech lands, this procedure was introduced in 1956 with the Higher Education Act no. 58/1950 Coll. Since then, its character has remained essentially the same, with only minor parametric changes. An application for a nostrifikace is submitted to a public higher education institution, which offers an equivalent study programme, and this university/institution compares the degree submitted for validation with Czech study programmes. Based on this comparison, the university either grants the nostrifikace or, if it finds significant differences, rejects the application. The executive body to which appeals can be submitted is the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports (MEYS/MŠMT). When it is impossible to identify an equivalent study programme at Czech public universities, the MEYS is the decision making body in the first instance. A defined administrative procedure is followed with each application, which includes specified time limits. The current Further and Higher Education Act (no. 111/1998 Coll.) thus provides a relatively wide scope for assessment, leading to significant differences in the decision making practice between universities. For instance, some public universities evaluate as different the fact that the graduate hasn’t completed some subjects, whereas others don’t have a problem validating even study courses differing significantly from those offered by them. Thus, for applicants, it is often a lottery as to which university they choose to apply to. However, most universities don’t concentrate on the character (form) of the degree, but on its content (i.e. mostly the information from its appendix). The MEYS, on the other hand, does not consider the educational content of the degree but concentrates on the formal side of things in agreement with how it interprets the binding international treaty on acceptance of qualifications in the European area (the so-called Lisbon Treaty, no. 60/2000 Coll. international treaties). From the point of view of the MEYS, the key issues are whether the university is a recognised higher education institution in the given country, if it is authorised to provide an education in the particular study programme, if the length of study is approximately equal to what is common in the Czech Republic and if the holder of the degree has specific academic rights, i.e. the right to access the next level of education. Thus, in this respect, most applicants succeed with a timely appeal to the MEYS. Taking into account various errors in the procedure, the occasional nonsensical requirements by some public universities towards the applicant (requirements to provide syllabi with higher authentication, further certificates from the universities where the applicant had studied), and also in view of the overloading of administrative bodies with applications, the handling of an application for a nostrifikace can take several months, half a year is not uncommon. And this, of course, is where the applicants come unstuck when they are required to submit a validated certificate and they have no way of speeding up the procedure.
The MEYS is aware firstly of the complexity of the process, but above all of the fact that the practice of strict comparison of the study course undertaken abroad with Czech study programmes is undesirable because, at the level of the universities, it leads to rejections of applications even in the case of study programmes over whose quality there is no doubt. For this reason, the currently submitted amendment includes changes to the appropriate paragraphs (§89 and §90) such that they adhere to what is assumed by the Lisbon Treaty and currently practiced by the MEYS. Specifically, it states that it is not the content of the course of study, but the level of education, that is being assessed and that the actual content has to be obtained from documents about the given programme. The amendment is due to come into effect on 1stSeptember 2021.
On the other hand, from the point of view of the MEYS, it is not desirable to simplify the administrative procedure to such an extent that essentially every applicant has a right to a nostrifikace. Many foreign education systems are completely incompatible with how the Czech system works. As is the case with many professional diplomas, their holders don’t have the academic right to apply for the next level of study, and thus from the point of view of the MEYS there is no reason to grant them this right in the Czech Republic if the original certificate does not grant it to them in the country of origin. Additionally, there are educational courses accredited by private agencies, which are not licenced by any country, even thought they might provide a high quality education in the given fields (e.g. the Swiss schools of Hospitality Management). Most importantly, there is the possibility of fraudulent, virtual or unauthorised degrees, which in no way meet minimal standards required of university education in Czechia. Such forms of degrees should not be officially validated.
At the same time, we face the question of why anyone actually wants to have their degree validated with a nostrifikace. One of the basic principles of the constitutional order of the Czech Republic states that “no one should be forced to do something, which is not required by law” (Art. 2 para 3 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms). Thus if someone requires someone else to validate their education with a nostrifikace document, this should be permitted by law. Otherwise they are unjustifiably making that person go through the above-described complicated procedure, which also has cost implications. The fee for the application itself is 3000 CZK, but the costs for official translation and legalisation of given documents have to be added, with diplomas from many countries requiring a higher level of authorisation, the so called superlegalisation, which is also logistically complicated (validation by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the country, which has issued the degree certificate, followed by the Czech Embassy of the given country).
Unfortunately, it is a fact that employers are asking for a nostrifikace from their applicants despite having no legal basis for this requirement, even though this is completely nonsensical. It is the employer who invites applications for a position and thus it is their responsibility to assess the suitability of candidates without passing on this responsibility elsewhere. An example where this works normally is visiting lecturers in the academic world. If universities were to require each lecturer to have their PhD certified with a nostrifikace, they would logically have no one to come and lecture. The universities themselves are the most competent to judge whether the person they are hiring is the expert that they want. The same argument is valid for private companies and the state. Furthermore, if one employer asks for a nostrifikace and another one does not, this can be regarded as discrimination. It is in fact the state which is most flagrantly disregarding the law, because regulation art. 11 para. 5 of the Methodical direction of the deputy Minister of the Interior Affairs for civil service no. 1/2019 requires a nostrifikace from all graduates of foreign universities who are applying for positions in the civil service. This requirement has no justification in the law and thus stipulates an obligation to the applicants, which it has no right to stipulate.
Superfluous requests to validate degrees thus logically overload the system, which is therefore even less likely to stick to the published time limits, therefore increasing the time the procedure takes. The result of this is that the applicants are at odds with a body, which is acting legally, and not with a body, which is asking something of them that has no legal basis. That is caused by the misunderstanding of the purpose of the nostrifikace.
Firstly, many people assume that, without a validation through a nostrifikace, their degree is not valid in Czechia. That is definitely not true. No regulation of any law says that for a foreign degree certificate to be valid, it must be validated through a nostrifikace. A legally issued document about a university education (a degree certificate) can be used without further validation, and the only official procedure that can be requested of its holder is its official translation into the Czech language. Taking into account the fact that a large proportion of validations were unnecessary from a legal viewpoint, a fee for administering a nostrifikace application was introduced in 2016 with the aim of putting off some of the applicants. The assumption turned out to be wrong and as a result of an overall (unjustified) need by various bodies and institutions to have an official seal of approval for everything, the number of applications is rising in parallel with increased mobility. Based on various obstacles it is quite understandable that a graduate of a foreign institution arranges a nostrifikace of their degree certificate “just in case”.
However, if we start from the premise of the law, then a nostrifikace is required only for three specific things. The first reason is to prove eligibility for the next step of study, which is why this procedure is enshrined in the Further and Higher Education Act. Other reasons are not given by this Act. Its link to the Further and Higher Education Act is the primary reason for the procedure being entrusted to the universities themselves, so that they can assess if the applicant meets the given criteria. However, within the framework of the current procedure, there are differences between where the candidates apply to, what they have studied abroad and what they want to study further. As a result of this, cases often occur where the applicant cannot apply for a validation from the university where he/she wishes to study at the next level. Because of this, amongst other things, by introducing an institutional accreditation scheme, accredited universities are given the right to accept students without needing a nostrifikace. At this moment in time, 16 public universities have this right and must put it into use when requested to by the applicant. These universities are UK, MU, UP, UPar, VŠE, JČU, OU, ČZU, VUT, VFU, UTB, VŠCHT, UJEP, ZČU, VŠB-TUO, AMU.
Secondly, a validation (nostrifikace) is required to enter your academic title into your Czech ID card according to §7 para. 2 of Act No. 328/1998 Coll. on Identification Cards. Czech Republic is one of the few countries, which allows the inclusion of academic titles in ID cards, and this provision leads to a number of otherwise unnecessary applications for a nostrifikace. It is probably related to the title obsession phenomenon in the entire ex-Eastern bloc region. As a result of this regulation, many people assume that the reason for validating their title is to be able to use it officially and that they cannot use their title without the formal validation procedure, which is not true. The titles can be used completely regularly in the form written on the degree certificate. At the same time, it is never possible to grant foreign graduates the ability to use a Czech title at the equivalent level. Typically for countries of the former Soviet Union, titles are not usually awarded, only so-called qualifications are granted. Such applicants never gain the right to use a title as they were simply never awarded one.
Thirdly, a nostrifikace is needed to fulfil the requirement to prove your education in order to apply for the recognition of professional capacity to carry out a regulated profession when the degree was issued in countries outside the EEA and the Swiss confederation in cases when required to do so by law. Specifically, this concerns healthcare professionals (part 8 of Act No. 95/2004 Coll. and head VIII of Act No. 96/2004 Coll.), auditors (§4 para. 1 letter a) of Act No. 93/2009 Coll.) and mining professions (§5a para. 3 of Act No. 61/1988 Coll.). Those educated in the EEA even in the above-mentioned professions do not require a nostrifikace to carry out their profession (a list of regulated professions is available here: https://uok.msmt.cz/uok/ru_list.php) and they can contact the regulation bodies directly. Here we come across another frequent misunderstanding, which is that a nostrifikace is also a professional recognition and that even with a regulated profession it is possible to start practicing just with a nostrifikace. That is not the case. A nostrifikace is only an academic assessment of the level of education, not a professional assessment. Teachers, doctors, social workers and many other professionals will find a nostrifikace useless for employment, instead they must apply for professional recognition from the appropriate regulation body (in the three examples given, this would be MEYS, the Ministry of Health or the Ministry of Work and Social Affairs).
The last and very specific use of a nostrifikace permitted by law is to document one’s education upon being issued an employee’s card in the case when there are doubts that a particular type of degree fulfils the given requirements (§ 42g para. 2 letter c) of law point 1 Act No. 326/1999 Coll.). Apart from those outlined above, the law stipulates no other reason for requiring a nostrifikace.
On the contrary, a nostrifikace is never needed for degrees from countries with whom the Czech Republic has a so-called equivalent agreement on the recognition of certificates of education, which must be applied in preference to national law. These are Slovakia (an exception is Slovak education acquired outside the Slovak territory), Poland (an exception is the recognition of titles, so a nostrifikace of a Polish degree is needed if the title is to be included in the ID card), Hungary (no exceptions) and Slovenia (no exceptions). Generally, all other international treaties in this area aim to simplify the recognition of education, especially for the purpose of academic mobility, and to head more towards so-called automatic recognition.
Generally, it is important to differentiate essentially three different procedures for the recognition of education and studies abroad:
1) Academic recognition, i.e. recognition of a foreign university education and the degree qualification (nostrifikace).
2) Professional recognition, i.e. recognition of the professional capacity to carry out a regulated profession.
3) Recognition for social and health reasons, i.e. recognition of the status of the education for tax and health and social insurance purposes (this also applies to unfinished studies and is likely the only recognition probably needed by every Czech who goes to study abroad)
To finish off with, let’s have a look at the approximate structure of the applicants. We can more-or-less say that the largest number of applicants are from the Ukraine, the second most frequent are those from Russia, and only in third place are the Czechs. Of those, a large proportion has studied at English speaking universities in Great Britain, the United States and Australia (these countries have very flexible education systems, so some of these studies can be done purely online without the need to travel abroad), the Netherlands or the Nordic countries; another large group of Czechs applies for recognition of degrees acquired at branches of Slovak or Polish universities located in the Czech Republic, mostly in subjects related to teaching, social work and nursing, or management (as discussed above, a validation of Polish degree certificates, even if acquired in the Czech Republic, is not necessary). The next group is formed of applicants from the remaining post-Soviet countries, countries from the Middle East, from Ghana and Nigeria and from Vietnam.
If you are still confused about your specific situation with the validation of a foreign issued degree certificate, you can contact me by email on: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mgr. David Pavlorek pracuje na odboru vysokých škol Ministerstva školství, mládeže a tělovýchovy, kde se primárně věnuje posuzování zahraničního vzdělání a obecně struktuře zahraničních vysokoškolských vzdělávacích systémů. Zároveň je doktorandem moderních sociálních dějin na Filozofické fakultě Univerzity Karlovy. Na Univerzitě Karlově též dlouhodobě působí v jejích akademických orgánech.
Mgr. David Pavlorek works in the universities section of the MEYS, where his primary role is the assessment of foreign acquired education and more generally the structures of foreign higher education systems. At the same time, he is a doctoral student of modern social history at the Faculty of Philosophy of the Charles University. He is also a long-time member of the academic bodies of the Charles University.