A European qualifications passport for refugees

Roger Chao Jr writes in University World News that recognising refugees' higher education (and educational) qualifications may provide one solution to Europe’s refugee crisis by helping refugees’ integration in their host country. Article VII of the Lisbon Recognition Convention states that all the signatory parties should establish recognition procedures for refugees, displaced persons and persons in refugee-like situations.

However, with the exception of very few countries, including Norway, in the almost 20 years since this convention of the Council of Europe and UNESCO was signed, very little has been done in practice to ensure these obligations are being met.

The European University Association's Refugees Welcome Map documents the commitment of higher education institutions and organisations to supporting refugees. For example, in our own country, Norway, the University of Oslo has initiated an Akademisk dugnad, an extraordinary effort to integrate refugees and asylum seekers into our educational system.

However, the main problem faced by many higher education institutions seeking to make it easier for refugees with higher education degrees to further their studies and work in their host country is how to identify refugees with the relevant qualifications.

The need for special recognition procedures

The experience of the Norwegian ENIC-NARIC centre, NOKUT, confirms that challenges related to the recognition of refugees’ qualifications can be addressed at the national level and that the national recognition authority plays an important role.

Since 2003, NOKUT, the Norwegian Agency for Quality Assurance in Education, has been working on developing and implementing special recognition procedures for refugees. After more than 10 years of trial and adjustments, Norway has gained experience in the development and use of appropriate recognition tools for refugees. Our toolkit contains recognition methodologies that can be adjusted to the current demands and situation.

In 2013, NOKUT developed a special recognition process for refugees and people with insufficient documentation, the UVD-procedure, to replace the inefficient system of higher education institutions issuing their own documentation.

The process is intended to be used by refugees who permanently reside and intend to stay and work or study in Norway. Language proficiency in Norwegian or English, as well as a residency permit in Norway, are necessary preconditions for applicants seeking to benefit from the process.

However, the current situation with record inflows of refugees has created the need for an additional approach. From our perspective, it is important to ensure that even refugees without sufficient proficiency in Norwegian or English are offered a real opportunity to undergo a professional evaluation of their qualifications as well as to receive guidance regarding opportunities for further study and formal recognition or authorisation.

In February 2016, NOKUT initiated a pilot project for the evaluation of qualifications of refugees, displaced persons and persons in refugee-like situations: NOKUT’s qualifications passport for refugees. The purpose of testing out a qualifications passport is to find ways of assessing the qualifications of all groups of refugees, displaced persons and persons in refugee-like situations in a cost-effective way.

A Europe-wide scheme

It is necessary, however, to look outside the national framework for ways of coping with this situation in a fair and effective fashion in the European context.

We should take into consideration how time-consuming and resource intensive the establishment of appropriate recognition procedures for refugees, displaced persons and persons in refugee-like situations are, plus the likelihood that a high number of refugees will move from one country to another inside Europe.

To support and ensure that refugees will be able to participate in the jobs market and-or pursue further studies in Europe, NOKUT and UK NARIC have proposed the idea of establishing a scheme called the European Qualifications Passport for Refugees.

Bearing in mind the legacy of the Nansen passport for refugees set up in 1922, it will establish a multinational framework to organise and establish a fast-track scheme to evaluate refugees’ educational and training background while still ensuring their mobility around Europe.

The overall goal is to enhance the mobility, employability and access to further studies of refugees, displaced persons and persons in refugee-like situations by promoting multinational cooperation on recognition of qualifications in Europe. To achieve this goal we envisage the following measures:
  • • The appointment of a coordinating authority and information centre in charge of establishing and coordinating a multinational recognition scheme for refugees, displaced persons and persons in refugee-like situations.

  • • The implementation of an effective fast-track procedure for a centralised recognition model to evaluate the qualifications of refugees, displaced persons and persons in refugee-like situations, irrespective of which country the refugees first arrived in. It would have one methodology for refugees with a full portfolio of educational documents and another for refugees with insufficient documentation.

  • • Assessment: The European Qualifications Passport for Refugees would contain necessary information concerning refugees’ educational background. The document would provide universities, national authorities and employers with relevant information on refugees’ educational background subject to proper assessment and review.

    The assessment would take place at the national level and would be carried out by relevant stakeholders with experience of credential evaluation. In some countries, assessments could be assigned to the national ENIC-NARIC office; in others the task might be assigned to one or more universities.
We consider it important that the European Qualifications Passport for Refugees is valid for a limited period only. NOKUT suggests three years. This would be sufficient for refugees to apply for recognition in the country they reside in if needed and it will not jeopardise the national recognition schemes of receiving countries.

The assessment of refugees’ qualifications, including assessment of those without sufficient documentation, will continue to be an important component of the daily activities of universities and recognition authorities throughout Europe and in other regions.

However, at a time of unprecedented pressure to tackle the migration challenge, we believe there is a demand for a long-term and coordinated multinational approach to screening, evaluating and recognising refugees’ qualifications. Bearing this in mind, the establishment of a European Qualifications Passport for Refugees may prove to be an important step for refugees, universities, the labour market and society as a whole.

Terje Mørland is director general of NOKUT (Norwegian Agency for Quality Assurance in Education – Norwegian ENIC-NARIC). Email: Stig Arne Skjerven is director of foreign education at NOKUT. Email: