The Credential Evaluator figure was born in the 1940s when US higher education institutions found themselves handling a significant influx of international students from conflict-ravaged European and Asian systems for the first time.

The need for professional figures with specific skills in the context of the evaluation of qualifications that emerged after the Second World War, then found a subsequent strong impetus in the 1960s following the process of the decolonisation of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

Throughout the second half of the twentieth century, the mobility of international students thereafter witnessed a steepening curve which, laying the foundations for the current context, made clear the need to face the new panorama with tools and specialised professionals

Indeed, it was at the end of the century that, in Europe, the two pivotal events of the true development of recognition procedures took place. The Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications concerning Higher Education in the European Region (ETS No. 165), commonly known as the Lisbon Recognition Convention - LRC, of 1997 and the Bologna Process, which began in 1999, constituted two fundamental steps in the development of procedures for evaluating and recognising qualifications, regulating the fundamental principles, providing tools for transparency and comparison between systems and guiding what would later be the policies and conventions on the subject at a global level.

In the field of Credential Evaluation, the Lisbon Convention, in particular, marked a milestone for the development of the profession.

The free mobility of students, a founding principle and long-term objective of the European Higher Education Area, in fact implied the existence of tools, knowledge and skills that would allow the implementation of a correct, fair and transparent recognition of foreign qualifications and periods of study abroad, in accordance with the provisions of the Convention and the related subsidiary documents.

Among the various innovative aspects introduced by the Convention was also the creation of the National Information Centres of the ENIC-NARIC networks where the profession of European Credential Evaluators found a structured configuration.

Within the 55 centres of the EHEA - European Higher Education Area, designated by the respective competent national authorities, the activity of the Credential Evaluators contributed - and continues to contribute - to facilitate access to authoritative and accurate information on education systems and on national and foreign qualifications, through the advice of experts in the field of recognition of qualifications and the issue of certificates of comparability and verification.

CIMEA and the Italian context

The Italian NARIC centre CIMEA - Information Centre on Mobility and Academic Equivalences, was among the first to take concrete action in the national and international context, facilitating the understanding of the elements of the Italian system and foreign systems of schooling and higher education and promoting the principles of the Lisbon Convention on the recognition of qualifications.

Founded in 1984 with the aim of providing information and advice on academic recognition procedures, CIMEA was then designated in 1986 by the then Ministry of Education as the official Italian centre belonging to the NARIC - National Academic Recognition Information Centres of the European Union and to the ENIC - European National Information Centres of the Council of Europe and UNESCO, to become in 2002 the National Information Centre on qualification recognition procedures following Italy's ratification of the Lisbon Convention.

CIMEA's activities have developed considerably over the years, making the centre a real national and international reference point in the credential evaluation sector.

Alongside the institutional tasks that see the centre representing Italy within networks promoted by the European Commission and the Council of Europe, (e.g. the Eurostudent European network, Group of National Correspondents for Qualifications Frameworks ( QF-EHEA), the Information and Promotion Network (IPN) of the Bologna Process, the European Promotion and Mobility Agencies network, the Working group on the Recognition of qualifications held by refugees, displaced persons and persons in a refugee-like situation, the national Bologna Process Expert group, and the Bologna Follow Up Group (BFUG), CIMEA has also assumed an authoritative role at an international level as a promoter and player in the development of fundamental tools for the evaluation of foreign qualifications. Projects to which CIMEA credential evaluators have actively contributed extend from the Recognition of qualifications, to National and supranational qualifications frameworks, from Joint study programmes and qualifications, and Vocational education and training (VET) and also to the European Higher Education Area.

The CIMEA experts have therefore constituted a concrete model of the professional figure of the credential evaluator in Italy, also contributing to the dissemination of precise professional standards in other areas of the world - just think in this regard of the MERIC-net, RecoASIA, RecoLATIN, and RecoNow networks.

If on the one hand, therefore, CIMEA's activity has looked outwards through collaboration with other ENIC-NARIC centres, no less important was the contribution of the centre in the development of the figure of Italian Credential Evaluators. The consultancy activities on the subject of recognition and evaluation of qualifications, the implementation of the Comparability and Verification services of foreign qualifications and the training initiatives of the personnel at Higher Education Institutions have constituted an indispensable support for the Institutions attracted by student mobility which has led over the years to an exponential growth of the internationalisation of the Italian Higher Education system.

The Birth Of Apice

According to the Bologna Process Implementation Report of 2018, decisions on the academic recognition of foreign qualifications in most EHEA countries are mainly the responsibility of the Higher Education Institutions, while the national centres of the ENIC-NARIC networks perform a mainly informative and consultancy-type role.

Indeed, even in Italy, the certificates of comparability and verification issued by CIMEA constitute an indispensable information tool for tertiary institutions, but they do not in any way replace the decision-making autonomy of the institutions to which Law 148/2002 confers the jurisdiction for the academic recognition of cycles and periods of study carried out abroad and of foreign qualifications.

Over the past 25 years, the European Higher Education Area has seen a rapid evolution of tools, frameworks, documents and networks created to facilitate and support the recognition of qualifications also through the use of new technologies such as blockchain and artificial intelligence. If on the one hand, these elements testify to the vitality and importance of a continuously developing sector, on the other hand the presence of specialised and constantly updated professionals who do not limit their activity within the ENIC-NARIC centres has become increasingly necessary. The professional figure of the Credential Evaluator has therefore also become indispensable within higher education institutions.

And it is precisely because of the collaboration between CIMEA and the Credential Evaluators active in the Italian Higher Education Institutions that the idea for APICE was born.

In 2020, in fact, CIMEA developed, in collaboration with the European University of Rome, the first specialisation course dedicated to the training of the professional figure of the Credential Evaluator which was attended by representatives from more than 40 Italian institutions. The success of the course highlighted not only the shared need of the participants to be able to access continuous training and information, but also a feeling of professional identity and the desire to create a network that allows Italian Credential Evaluators to learn about the experiences of colleagues who operate nationally and internationally, sharing questions and best practices and participating in the debate on the latest news and reforms on the subject of internationalisation of higher education.

For this reason, on the initiative of the director of CIMEA, Mr. Luca Lantero, for the first time in Italy, the reference practice was drafted which defines the requirements relating to the professional activity of the Credential Evaluator which APICE takes as its starting point.

The birth of the Association therefore marks the apex of a development path of the profession that has its roots in the last century and which, with the publication of the Reference Practice in October 2021, has found its first formal recognition. APICE intends to continue this path by becoming the spokesbody for the enhancement of the figure of credential evaluator and a forum for dialogue for the member community.