€42m Lawsuit Could Shake Up International Credit Recognition in Higher Education

€42m Lawsuit Could Shake Up International Credit Recognition in Higher Education

Lawsuit could set precedent for higher education around the world

A €42 million class action lawsuit in Norway could potentially impact how countries around the world deal with study credits earned from foreign institutions. The lawsuit by Law student Ove Kenneth Nodland against Oslo University alleges that the school's refusal to accept his degree credits earned at the University of Oxford – thereby forcing him to retake modules – is unsubstantiated and a violation of the Lisbon Recognition Convention. Specifically, the lawsuit charges Oslo University with failing to protect the rights of students to have their foreign credits recognised. Nodland believes as many as 2,000 students may have been affected, delaying their education, causing financial strain and impacting society negatively by delaying students' entry into the workforce. His lawsuit claims that more than €42 million in damages have been caused by unfair recognition standards. In Europe, it is common to sue employers or institutions over their refusal to recognise foreign qualifications; however, it is less common to base a case around course credits. The case is particularly interesting as the European Commission eyes deeper internationalisation for higher education.

The Lisbon Recognition Convention is an internationally recognised, legally binding convention of UNESCO and the Council of Europe. It stipulates that degrees or credits earned abroad must be recognised unless substantial differences between programmes or education standards can be identified and proven. It has 54 signatories, including all Council of Europe member states save for Monaco and Greece, as well as places like Canada, Holy See, Tajikistan and New Zealand. The Convention serves as the main agreement on academic credit recognition in the European Union, home to the ERASMUS educational exchange programme.

Following unsuccessful talks regarding settlements for the matter, the student at the head of the lawsuit scrutinised 750 of Oslo University's decisions regarding the recognition of foreign credits between 2021 and 2022 and found that “systematic misconduct” had occurred. In at least 742 of these decisions, there was no reference to a legal basis, while 98% of applicants were not informed of their educational rights. According to the suit, approximately two thirds of applicants with foreign study credits which were not earned through Oslo University's exchange programme were rejected. Only one case of rejection was found to have thoroughly legal substantiation and authorisation. Nodland says that during his research, he found there was essentially no consistent system or guidelines for the recognition or rejection of foreign degrees and credits.

The case signals the need for a review of how external credits are handled by institutions. He is receiving free legal help from lawyers Mads Adenæs and Carl Baudenbacher. Adenæs believes the case could affect the standards of recognitions for external credits at every higher education institution in the more than 50 countries who are party to the Lisbon Recognition Convention. He adds that politicians may begin to criticise universities for potentially wasting public resources with overly strict or arbitrary recognition standards. Baudenbacher says the case could end up at the European Court of Human rights if the lawsuit fails at the Oslo district court.

WUP 28/06/2023
by Olivia Nelson
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