Towards global recognition of refugees’ qualifications

Europe has a major challenge to ensure that refugees can use their previous education to access jobs and higher education. This is especially difficult for those refugees who lack the necessary documentation of their previous education and training.

From 2016 to 2018 NOKUT (the Norwegian ENIC-NARIC) led a European Union-funded Erasmus+ policy reform project to develop a toolkit for recognition of higher education qualifications for refugees, displaced persons and persons in refugee-like situations.

Bringing together the national recognition bodies from the ENIC-NARIC centres of Norway, Armenia, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Germany and Sweden, the project was a joint effort to assist the centres in developing practical approaches to credential evaluation and recognition of the qualifications held by refugees.

The project has demonstrated the clear and tangible benefits of European cooperation in an area where national systems vary significantly and has provided an example of successful cooperation and mutual learning among ENIC-NARIC centres.

Despite major differences in their national legal mandates, previous experience and current approaches to the recognition of refugees’ qualifications, the partners were successful in identifying a set of common practical tools for qualification recognition professionals.

Passport or paper

The toolkit also outlines two main systematic approaches to combining the tools in recognition work: in the form of a qualifications passport, which is the methodology used in the Council of Europe’s European Qualifications Passport for Refugees, or in the form of a background paper. The tools and approaches were presented in three webinars, which are available online.

The project was recognised as an example of good practice in collective European action in the 2017 Recommendation on Recognition of Qualifications Held by Refugees, Displaced Persons and Persons in a Refugee-like Situation under the Lisbon Recognition Convention.

Next steps include higher education institutions

To sustain and build on the results of the completed project, NOKUT has received further funding through the Erasmus+ programme for a follow-up project that will run from 2018 to 2020. The new project, named REACT – Refugees and Recognition, involves the ENIC-NARIC offices of Norway, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany and Ireland.

The ENIC Bureau president, the European University Association, the European Students' Union, KIRON and the Canadian Information Centre for International Credentials make up the steering group of the project.

A central objective of the REACT project is to develop and adapt the toolkit to the needs of higher education institutions that wish to develop systematic approaches to the assessment of qualifications held by refugees.

During 2019, our partner universities Oslo Metropolitan University (Norway), University of Limerick (Ireland), LUISS University (Italy), University of Bremen (Germany) and Utrecht University (the Netherlands) will test and further develop the assessment tools for local implementation in different country settings.

After testing, the project team will draw up recommendations for higher education institutions in the European Higher Education Area.

Potential for global impact

Globally, the education sector has shown great commitment to the issue of forced migration. Numerous local and national initiatives have been put into action to make education accessible to people affected by forced migration. However, mass migration is, and will remain, a global issue, and we need to look for global solutions.

The lack of systems for the recognition of prior learning and qualifications is one of the main obstacles facing refugees in a new country, according to the 2019 UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Report. The issue is receiving increasing attention, and the recent intergovernmental Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration includes the facilitation of mutual recognition of skills, qualifications and competences as one of its 23 objectives.

On the legal side, existing regional recognition conventions are being revised, and some have already come into force. UNESCO is also preparing the first Global Recognition Convention, where issues of recognition of refugees’ qualifications will be directly addressed.

We are pleased to see these new developments taking place – but could the international community do more? In our view, it is now time to consider establishing a robust global tool to recognise the qualifications held by refugees, based on the methodology of the qualifications passport. Our experience so far shows that it can be done.

Marina Malgina is head of interview-based evaluations in NOKUT (Norwegian ENIC-NARIC). Stig Arne Skjerven is director of foreign education, Norwegian ENIC-NARIC in NOKUT and elected president of the European Network of Information Centres in the European Region (ENIC).