Recognising refugee qualifications is a necessity

In the face of the ongoing refugee crisis, higher education has been posited as a solution to the problem of integrating refugees into their host country. Access to higher education and the jobs market, language support and cultural awareness and increased community engagement could help refugees integrate into a new country with a different culture, language and practices.

Recognition of their higher education – and other educational – qualifications, however, is a necessity to gain access to higher education and the jobs market and to reduce unnecessary duplication in the learning process. In fact, recognition of prior learning should be a vital part of the integration of refugees into their host countries.

Refugees, from Syria or elsewhere, usually face challenges in gaining access to their host country’s higher education system. Lack of recognition of their higher education qualifications, along with lack of access to financial and non-financial resources, pose a significant barrier to integration.

Although higher education is not a panacea for the challenges of integration, it facilitates increased cultural awareness and understanding of the host country culture, traditions and practices and provides awareness of rights and responsibilities as a refugee and future citizen of the host country as well as increased opportunities in the job market and engagement with society.

Integrating refugees into a host country is a two-way process requiring active engagement from both refugees and the host country’s populace. Learning occurs within and outside higher education institutions, especially in the community and the labour market.

Furthermore, some refugees already have the qualifications required to enter the job market and would only need language skills if their higher education qualifications were recognised by their host country. As such, the Lisbon Recognition Convention should play a key role in supporting the integration of refugees within Europe.

The Lisbon Recognition Convention

Since the establishment of the Regional Convention on the Recognition of Studies, Diplomas and Degrees in Higher Education in Latin America and the Caribbean on 19 July 1974, the world has seen the proliferation of regional recognition conventions across regions.

Although the actual implementation of these so-called first generation regional recognition conventions has been far from ideal, they have set the foundations for second generation recognition conventions, namely the 1997 Lisbon Recognition Convention; the 2011 Asia-Pacific Recognition Convention; and the 2014 revised African Recognition Convention.

In relation to the integration of refugees into their host countries, the Lisbon Recognition Convention, which is a revision of the 1979 Convention on the Recognition of Studies, Diplomas and Degrees concerning Higher Education in the States belonging to the Europe Region, provides a non-binding transnational framework for the recognition of higher education qualifications in the European region.

This includes the recognition of non-traditional higher education, qualifications of refugees, displaced persons and those in refugee-like situations.

In fact, parties to the Lisbon Convention are required to develop procedures designed to fairly assess and expeditiously ascertain whether refugees, displaced persons and persons in a refugee-like situation fulfil the relevant requirements for access to higher education or to employment even in cases where refugees lack documentary evidence.

Implementing the Lisbon Convention

Implementing the recognition of refugees' higher education (and educational) qualifications may provide a solution to Europe’s refugee crisis.

With their qualifications recognised, access to higher education (and education) and-or the job market may provide the two-way interaction for refugees and the host country’s populace to learn from each other’s culture, traditions and practices, understand the challenges they have and are undergoing and facilitate the growing sense of community necessary for facilitating the integration of refugees – and even immigrants – into the host country.

Developing effective and efficient procedures that aid the fair assessment of higher education qualifications of the disadvantaged, such as refugees, can be challenging to individual European countries. As such, Europe needs to stand together as it once did with the Bologna Process and the establishment of the European Higher Education Area to recognise the higher education qualifications and prior learning of the refugees they are and will be hosting.

Recognising those with the required qualifications and-or competences actually reduces financial and social costs to host countries and creates the conditions that enhance the integration of refugees into their European host country.

The world is looking on as Europe struggles to cope with its refugee crisis. Any initiatives it takes do not only affect European refugees and their host European countries, but future refugees and other host countries as well. Refugee – and immigrant – integration into their host countries remains a significant factor in tipping the balance towards a sustainable and peaceful world.

Roger Chao Jr is an independent higher education consultant. He was formerly the international higher education specialist for UNESCO in Myanmar and has been commissioned to undertake various evaluation projects for UNESCO, including the Asia-Pacific Recognition Convention. His research focuses on regionalism, internationalisation of higher education and international development.