Recognition through a learning agreement is recommended for long-term pupil mobility happening in the framework of the Erasmus+ Programme, but this kind of mobility represents only a very small portion of the total. Between 2014 and 2016 only 800 pupils went on individual pupil mobility with Erasmus+, with a 54% decrease in comparison with the Individual Pupil Mobility strand of the Comenius Programme. Moreover, among these, only few spend abroad a full academic year. From the study conducted, it is clear that for students spending abroad less than 10 months, most of the time they are re-integrated in their class and pass the yearly exam together with the other students, therefore the studies followed abroad are not really taken into account.
The school period spent abroad is not recognised in many Member States (Belgium Flemish Community, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Hungary,, Finland, Lithuania, Sweden, and the Netherlands). In the EU countries where recognition of studies abroad is regulated (Austria, Belgium French Community, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia and Spain), not only recognition systems are very different, but in some countries their application is not effective, and most students opt for a “gap year” instead (Belgium French speaking, France, Poland, Portugal, Spain).
For example, in Italy and Austria, national laws provide frameworks for effective recognition to the study period abroad if done via exchange programmes: the year abroad is validated by the school as a ‘passed year’ given the transversal skills students gain through this experience, no grades are provided and students are enrolled in the next class.
In Slovenia, Croatia, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Latvia students can receive partial recognition of the academic year abroad and upon return they need to take exams for the subjects not studied in the hosting school . This kind of recognition system is applied with different levels of success.
In Ireland, students can spend abroad the transition year between the junior and the senior cycle of secondary school, and upon return enrol in the first year of the senior cycle, however there is no recognition of grades.
In Romania, study periods abroad up to 10 months can be recognised if the students attended the same school grade they would have attended in Romania and they can provide official documentation that they successfully passed all the school year’s exams in the hosting country, however these conditions cannot always be met and students might need to repeat the year. A similar procedure for recognition exists in Spain, but with a very low rate of success: the validation of the year abroad by the Ministry of education is based on a transcript of grades but depends mostly on where the students have been on exchange.
In the French speaking community of Belgium and in France, recognition is made possible via a learning agreement between schools on the study programme prior to the student’s departure; however in neither of these countries this complex procedure is actually used by the many students going abroad in the framework of exchange programmes.
In Portugal and Poland the law on recognition clashes with the culture and the school system. In Portugal students are culturally used to go on exchange on the last year of high school and this clashes with recognition procedures and the timing of the entry exams for university, which means that they have their studies recognised but they take a gap year between high school and university. In Poland due to the short duration of the last cycle of secondary school, students do not feel like going to exchange and then entering the next and last class and pass the final exam.
Finally, it is important to mention that the Nordic Agreement on Pupil Mobility (Nordplus) grants recognition for any period of secondary school undertaken by a pupil from Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, and Iceland to one of these countries, if duly documented.
For a full overview of recognition practices in 27 European countries, check the publication ‘Recognition of school study periods abroad in Europe- an overview and policy recommendations’ (Elisa Briga, EFIL, 2018). Before the study was released, this overview table was made available to inform policy makers.
Here you can read an overview of the situation of recognition of study periods abroad and other legislation related to pupil mobility in 2007 (part of the pilot project ‘Individual pupil mobility’ run by EFIL).