MAASTRICHT. Dutch master’s diplomas give not always access to jobs in Flanders. But now it seems as if an end to the arguing about the recognition of diplomas between the Netherlands and Flanders is in sight. In spring of 2014, a treaty will come into force that will regulate academic equality, a spokesperson for the minister of education, Jet Bussemaker, has said.
The problem is not new. It has been an issue since the introduction of the BA/MA structure within the European Union. In many cases, the Netherlands opted for one-year master’s studies (60 ECTS credits) in 2002, whereas surrounding countries introduced a two-year master’s (120 ECTS credits). In 2009, former student of Arts and Social Sciences Lotte van Boxem sounded the alarm. She missed out on a job with the Belgian government because Flanders still hadn’t recognised her master’s diploma as such after nine months. The then rector, Gerard Mols, sent a letter to the Dutch and Flemish ministers of education, NVAO (Dutch Flemish Accreditation Body), university association VSNU, and threatened to take legal action. This appeared to have some effect. In 2010 the ministers of education on both sides agreed that they would sign a treaty to automatically recognise each other’s diplomas. NVAO approval would be sufficient.
Today, four years later, it looks as if there will actually be a treaty. It will not solve all problems, say Ellen Daemen and Inge Jacobs. They graduated as masters of Mental Health at Maastricht University last summer. Their diplomas will be automatically recognised in their own country – Belgium. But for the time being, they can forget about finding a job in their native country as a psychologist. “I keep hearing: first work full-time for two years in the Netherlands to gain experience as a psychologist, or take some extra subjects at one of the Belgian universities,” says Daemen, who like Jacobs seizes every chance to gain work experience. At a master’s and bachelor’s level, both in the Netherlands and Belgium. In the case of psychologists - a so-called regulated profession - it is not just about academic recognition, but also about professional recognition. And there we have the stumbling block: a country decides for itself which legal professional requirements a person must meet in order for that person to refer to him or herself as a doctor, dentist, lawyer or a (clinical) psychologist. In the case of Daemen and Jacobs, Flanders feels that the Dutch master’s diploma is insufficient to enable them to work as psychologists and requires them to take additional training or work experience.
But there is hope, says Dr. Sjoerd Claessens, senior lecturer at the Faculty of Law and a specialist in the field of European Law. The EU’s Council of Ministers are on the brink of approving a new EU guideline in which “time difference” (one-year instead of two-year master’s) will no longer be a reason to refuse someone entry into a profession. “Europe wants free movement of persons. If you work as a lawyer, doctor, or psychologist in your own member state, then you should be able to do so in other member states. The primary rule for professional recognition will be “Yes, unless”. The new guideline still makes one exception: where there is a substantial difference in the content of a study. This is the case with our lawyers. They are trained in Dutch or European Law, but not in German Law, for example. This is not so clear for psychologists. The professional associations will now have to prove that a Dutch diploma is substantially different from the Belgian diploma.” In Maastricht it has been pointed out on more than one occasion that the one-year master’s, because of its longer academic year and fuller programme, match two-year programmes.
Professional associations tend to apply standard rules, says Claessens, while the European Court’s jurisprudence says that they have to look further than “the paper. Look at what the candidate knows and can do, apply a tailor-made approach.”
The Maastricht Executive Board thinks that this is good news. Should the problems with the recognition of professions remain, the UM will consider taking the matter to court.