The European Commission said it will consider an infringement procedure if it takes the view that member states hampering the recognition of diplomas obtained in other EU countries amounts to preventing students from exercising their freedom of movement.
Apparently, this is precisely the case in Bulgaria. EurActiv has received several letters from Bulgarians who graduated from European universities and then had tremendous difficulty having their diplomas legalised.
Many of these letters are copies of original correspondence sent to Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou, responsible for education, as well as to other EU officials.
From various documents seen by EurActiv, it appears that thousands of young Bulgarians who have completed their education in EU countries are in fact prevented from joining Bulgaria's civil service, as employers cannot wait for lengthy legalisation procedures to be completed.
Having missed sometimes once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, some disappointed graduates say they would rather seek employment abroad, where they say the hurdles are smaller.
According to letters, Bulgarian graduates from abroad often spend as long as a year getting their qualification recognised in their home country.
The first obstacle reportedly is that most Western universities deliver a certificate of completed studies, the actual diploma being provided several months later. In Bulgaria, only the official diploma qualifies for a legalisation procedure.
Apart from the diploma, the Bulgarian authorities require an academic curriculum specifying the number of hours on any subject studied. Before accepting the documents for legalisation, the Bulgarian authorities require a notary's certification in the country of studies or apostille, a legalised translation certified by the country's foreign ministry. Obtaining all these often takes three months. The cost of the certification services is often estimated at 200-250 euros, a sum close to the average monthly salary in the country, estimated at 350 euros.
Then the documents are introduced to a 13-member special commission working under a body called Nacid (national centre for information and documentation), which takes the decision to validate or invalidate diplomas issues abroad. It holds sessions at varying intervals, and according to graduates the decision can take another three months (the commission is not by deadlines for delivering its decision).
The Bulgarian Ministry of Education, contacted by EurActiv, said that it had improved its performance with the decision being taken within a maximum of two months after filing the request. In half of the cases, diplomas have been validated within one month, the ministry said.
According to its statute, the Nacid commission has the right to invalidate diplomas, in the case when there is a substantial difference between the curriculum of the foreign university and similar curricula for the same specialty in the country. Also, the Nacid Commission can invalidate a diploma if the foreign university is not recognised by the foreign country's authorities.
Is the Sorbonne legal in France?
Bulgarian graduates complain of abuse. One writes that she had been requested to provide certification that the Sorbonne, one of the world’s oldest university, was indeed recognised by the French state. Another one shared his dismay, having been asked to provide a 20-page brief in Bulgarian from its PhD thesis with a famous university in the UK, so that the Nacid commission would ascertain its scientific value.
Bulgarian MEP Ivailo Kalfin (S&D) signaled to Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou, responsible for education, what he described as an abnormal situation with diplomas recognition in his country.
Speaking to EurActiv, Kalfin said the diploma legalization procedure in Bulgaria was way to heavy. He particularly insisted that the Bulgarian bureaucracy had no right to refuse to recognize diplomas from EU universities.
Bulgaria, a country often criticized for insufficient administrative capacity to apply EU law, cannot afford to alienate for bureaucratic reasons those nationals who want to come back to their country after having obtained a qualification abroad, Kalfin said.
In a reply letter seen by EurActiv, Vassiliou in fact states that the objective of the diploma recognition is not to grant or deny simple recognition of foreign diplomas, but to establish an equivalence with similar diplomas in the home country.
However, the fact remains that many diplomas of foreign universities simply remain unrecognized in Bulgaria.
Asked to comment, Dennis Abbott, Vassiliou’s spokesperson, said that Recognition of academic diplomas is a matter for the member countries. They are also entitled to charge for translation/administrative costs, he added.
Unfortunately it is not rare for the process of recognition to be lengthy or costly, Abbott admitted.
But Vassilious spokesperson also said that the Commission could consider infringement proceedings if it takes the view that the length of the recognition process and charges are not justified and when such practices amount to punishing the students from exercising their freedom of movement.