In some countries, such as the UK and Australia, such a document can be called a testimonium or testamur, Latin for "we testify" or "certify" (testari), and so called from the word with which the certificate begins. In Ireland, it is generally called a parchment. The certificate that a Nobel laureate receives is also called a diploma.
The term diploma is also used in some historical contexts, to refer to documents signed by a King affirming a grant or tenure of specified land and its conditions (see Anglo-Saxon Charters and Diplomatics).
Sheepskin diploma from Mexico City College, 1948 (in Latin)
Originally, diplomas were made of thin Italian sheepskin, as paper wasn't economically viable to create because of the lack of skilled workers since the fall of Carthage (famous for its paper) to Rome, and also because it was extremely delicate at that time, with the exception of Carthaginian paper of course.[when?] The entire diploma was written by hand because of the lack of economically viable printing presses, as at the time templates would have been carved out of limestone tablets, and since the fall of the Egyptian empire there had been very few skilled workers in the carving of limestone.[dubious– discuss]Soon, parchment entered use for the diploma in many places but most notably, first at Mexico City College in May, 1949[dubious– discuss], later the diploma became bound in leather.
Diplomas used to be printed on large paper, but it has become common to print diplomas on standard letter or A4 size paper, except for most educational institutions in the north of France which issue diplomas on A3 size paper or larger.[dubious– discuss] The University of Malta also still issues diplomas and degrees on A3 size paper or larger.
In the U.S., the word diploma usually refers to the actual document received at the end of high school, undergraduate studies, or graduate/professional school. This can lead to some confusion when persons who obtained a degree in the USA are presenting their academic credentials in other countries (see below).
It also can refer to a specific academic award. An example is in the field of Nursing where the Diploma in Nursing was offered by hospital based schools.
In Australia, a diploma can mean one of three things: the older usage refers to an advanced level course done in the vocational education and training sector or university, and is academically equivalent to some years of a bachelor degree while giving a professional status and position similar to a degree; a Graduate Diploma, which is undertaken after completing a degree but at undergraduate level, and in a field other than that covered by said degree (e.g., the Graduate Diploma of Education necessary to become a school teacher in most Australian states); and a Postgraduate Diploma, a coursework-only qualification which is undertaken as additional study in a specialisation within one's degree area. The course itself and the certification are referred to as a "diploma" in Australian English.
In Pakistan, a Diploma is a specific academic award usually earned in professional/vocational courses e.g. Engineering, Nursing, Fashion, etc. In such cases, a dipelor's degree of that discipline. As diploma studies started on vocational route of study after school for three years, the Bachelor of Technology is the logical next degree for diploma graduates. Also Diploma is concentrated for the area of study, e.g., Diploma in Engineering of Electronics Engineering or Industrial Electronics, Civil Engineering. Graduates of Diplomas work as associates to Engineers and are often called Associate Engineers. Few Postgraduate Diploma or PGD are ranked higher than the Bachelor degree as they are completed after graduation. These are normally a year's worth of coursework after a university degree.
For more detailed information about the German Diplom, see Diplom.
In Greece, diplomas can be awarded by educational institutes as a proof of a certain educational level. Diploma in engineering is a high award provided by Greek technical universities after the successful completion of a five-year programme and is equivalent to British bachelor and master of engineering.
In Ontario, Canada, diplomas are awarded by colleges of applied arts and technology whereas bachelor degrees are awarded by universities. In Canada, depending on the provincial legislation, there may be a subtle difference between a college and a university.
In the Kingdom of Spain, university diplomas are issued in the name of the King. As such, they are Public Official documents, strictly regulated and protected by the law. They are internationally recognized by the Hague Convention of October 5, 1961.
In Mexico and other Latin American countries, a diploma may be awarded for short courses of vocational training. The university-issued diplomas finalizing higher education are most often called título (title) or certificado (certificate).