OU title fails to convince

September 27, 2002

An Italian graduate from the Open University is battling to get his UK degree recognised at home, where the OU is not perceived to be a "real" university.

Marco Lorenzo, 40, received a degree in humanities from the OU in 1998 while working full time in a bank. Since then he has unsuccessfully applied to take a masters in art history at the universities of Parma and Verona.

Both rejected his application, arguing that an OU degree by distance learning was not comparable to any they offered and, therefore, unacceptable.

Verona did, however, offer Mr Lorenzo the chance to skip the first year of an undergraduate degree course. He refused.

Mr Lorenzo's case reveals the difficulties faced by mature students taking international qualifications via distance learning and non-standard entry routes. Such degrees are inadequately covered by European Union agreements to harmonise higher education accreditation between member states.

"I am disappointed with the lack of support and interest on the part of the EU for those individuals who make efforts in order to improve their education and careers," Mr Lorenzo said.

Christine Cathrow, OU student services manager, said that many European universities were suspicious about part-time degrees and distance learning. Disagreements arose over content, length of study and entry qualifications.

The OU, which has about 6,000 students registered in western Europe, has started to hold high-profile degree ceremonies at venues such as Unesco's headquarters in Paris to counter the impression it is not a "real" university.

Students such as Mr Lorenzo, who want their degree recognised, are advised to contact their national academic recognition information centre (Naric). Mr Lorenzo contacted the Rome Naric, which has a close relationship with the education ministry. But despite preparing extensive documentation, the autonomous standing of Italian universities gave them the last word.

The OU is building up case law of European universities that coincide on qualifications.

"It is difficult for students to be told that their degree is not recognised. For the most part, recognition is neither necessary or helpful. It is valuable only if the student wishes to work in the state sector or if he or she is going into a profession that requires a recognised degree. Those who are going to work for international companies or private companies don't need it," Ms Cathrow said.

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