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In the global academic landscape, students often apply for positions or programs abroad where the grading systems can differ significantly. For example, India and China have distinct educational and grading systems.

How can grades from these and other countries be effectively compared when considering applications for academic positions? Are there standardized methods or conversion scales commonly used by universities or institutions to evaluate the academic credentials of international candidates?

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There are certainly ways of conversion, but not really "standardised" ones. In my university, the admissions office is very apt at these comparisons, they have over the years collected large tables how to convert grading schemes as well as academic credit points from all around the world into our local Swedish system.

Of course, this is only one half of the medallion - knowing that an "A" in a specific system usually refers to "85% or more of total credits" is good, but does not tell you how hard it is to get an A and what percentile of students usually gets an A or better. This is a much more difficult to answer question, since this will rarely be officially documented, and answers will be highly local to individual universities, programs, or even courses.

This is one of the reasons why some universities have started providing "rankings" of candidates upon graduation in addition to their grades (e.g., when my wife graduated her degree stated that her grades were among the top-n percentile of students in this year and program).

To answer your question:

How can grades from these and other countries be effectively compared when considering applications for academic positions?

Basically, you can't. I'm not sure you should even compare candidates based on grades from the same country, and when you throw in different grading schemes and academic tradition I believe it becomes effectively a fool's errant trying to assess if a 1.3 from country A is better than a A- from country B.

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    Heck, you can’t even assume grades are directly equivalent between different programmes within a university! I’ve worked at one university where (anecdotally, but consistently) students transferring between the maths and engineering programme, in either direction, found that B/C-students in maths were straight-A student in engineering; conversely, I’ve worked at another where the maths dept was consistently about one letter-grade more generous than the CS dept. Trying to allow for grade inflation — and, even worse, recommendation-letter-inflation — is one of the hardest parts of admissions.
    – PLL
    Commented Jun 13 at 20:24
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    @PLL I was about to propose selection bias (if it's only one directional from math to engineering), but you mention "in either direction", so I guess it's evidence enough, haha.
    – justhalf
    Commented Jun 14 at 14:30
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Yes, there are standards, but they differ from country to country. Each country tries to "translate" the other country's grade system to their own system. Moreover, those translations are often pretty bad. This is why many applications require additional information like letters of recommendation.

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There are no standard conversion metrics I’m aware of, and there’s a very good reason for that. Imagine the outrage if some academic body would formally state “a C from university X is the same as an A from university Y”. That’s basically saying that the mediocre students from X are as good as the top students from Y.

Admission committees often rely on firsthand accounts from faculty/students who are familiar with those institutions- we ask the Chinese faculty/students to give us their impressions on Chinese universities, Indian members for Indian universities etc. In time, admission committees accumulate enough institutional knowledge to make those determinations. The problems start when an outlier appears: an application from an uncommon university. This unfortunately often biases reviewers against these applicants.

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    That’s basically saying that the mediocre students from X are as good as the top students from Y. - not necessarily. It could be that university X has more stringent grading and Y suffers from grade inflation, which doesn't necessarily say anything about the quality of the students at either.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Jun 13 at 15:18
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    There should not be too much outrage about such statements when they are patently true, which is often the case. We had plenty of students from all over asia who finished top of their class in their 4-year bachelors programmes, which with a recommendation got them into the second year of our bachelors programme. No way they would ever enter a masters programme directly, they struggled plenty with second year courses. Different universities have different standards and that's fine, no need to pretend they're all equal.
    – Servaes
    Commented Jun 13 at 19:31
  • @BryanKrause you are right about the truth value of those statements. I’m only saying that university leadership doesn’t like to hear accusations that they’re inflating grades, or that their classes are less rigorous
    – Spark
    Commented Jun 14 at 12:50
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    @Spark coming from the German university system and having a bit of a background in standardized quality assurance for study programs: faculties are duly aware of such mechanisms, and you wouldn't be "accusing" anyone of anything. Most professors would be very happy if they could start handing out 2,3 to mediocre students in final theses, and these students would then be happy to have gotten a grade with a nominal meaning of "good". But the reality is that inflation happened, and professors are well-meaning with the students that do a theses at their chair; they don't want to ruin any careers. Commented Jun 14 at 13:15
  • Of course, I’m painfully aware of the push for grade inflation. My only point is that there are some things that universities prefer not publicly stated.
    – Spark
    Commented Jun 15 at 5:23
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Standard methods are:

  • Ask for a standardized exam. Examples are the GCSE A-levels and SATs for undergraduate admissions, and the GRE or GMAT for graduate admissions.
  • Ask for a percentile in addition to the grade itself. A student who is 99th percentile is better than 99% of students in his/her cohort. It's not perfect since it's possible that the cohort is broadly better at one university than the other, but it's still a strong sign that the student is good.
  • Calibrate based on prior experience. If an A-student from university X attends this program and does well, then future A-students from that university are more likely to do well. With thousands of universities in the world however, this is not really possible for every university.
  • Say "screw it" and rely on letters of recommendation, and Google for the letter-writer's credentials.

Incidentally the problem is difficult enough that there are verification services for academic credentials. Example. I've never used one of these though and don't know how useful they actually are.

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Some institutions and authorities do their own evaluation: others choose to outsource evaluation of academic credentials to an external agency, typically (always?) a member of the National Association of Credential Evaluation Services

Credential Evaluation Services are typically used by state regulatory authorities: less so by academic institutions, and less the higher up the academic system you go: they are most often used for bulk evaluation of minimum standards.

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    This answer seems to assume that the institution is in the US, but the question did not specify.
    – Anyon
    Commented Jun 13 at 19:08

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