How universities can help to integrate Ukrainian refugees

The conflict in Ukraine has led to over eight million Ukrainians leaving the country to seek refuge in other countries across Europe since February 2022. In the months following the outbreak of the war, host countries faced challenges in meeting the immediate basic needs of large numbers of displaced people, such as accommodation and access to healthcare.

Just over a year on, there is a need for a focus on integration, and supporting refugees to access education and the labour market. There are many measures that can be implemented by policy-makers, universities, recognition centres and professional bodies to remove barriers to the integration of refugees.

Many refugees have partially complete qualifications due to disrupted studies. An understanding of students’ prior learning is needed to enable them to transfer to a different institution to complete their studies, as well as language and pastoral support to help them integrate into a new country and different education system.

Universities across Europe and North America, including Jagiellonian University in Kraków (Poland), Tallinn University in Estonia, Riga Technical University in Latvia, the University of Bologna in Italy, the Technical University of Munich in Germany and many others, have created programmes to enable Ukrainian students to continue their studies, including support with accommodation and scholarships.

Initiatives like the Ukrainian Global University and Science for Ukraine aim to provide opportunities for Ukrainian students and scholars to help “ensure the continuity of Ukraine’s science and strengthen its presence in the international science arena”.

Mutual benefits

A survey of Ukrainian migrants conducted by the European Union Agency for Asylum (EUAA) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that 74% of Ukrainian refugees in the European Union hold a bachelor or masters degree and 76% had been employed in Ukraine.

Data collected from ENIC-NARIC centres across Europe indicate that many Ukrainian refugees hold qualifications in fields where there are skills shortages in their host countries, such as health professions and education. These qualifications and skills could be harnessed to benefit both host countries and the refugees themselves.

If this potential is to be realised, educational institutions and policy-makers need to adopt measures to facilitate access to the labour market, such as processes for the recognition of refugee qualifications and skills, temporary registration schemes for professionals and targeted training for holders of Ukrainian vocational qualifications to bridge any differences in occupational standards.

Many resources have been developed to support the recognition of qualifications held by refugees and displaced people by the European Commission, the ENIC-NARIC centres, and through initiatives such as the European Qualifications Passport for Refugees.

Many countries have procedures for the assessment of refugee qualifications. These processes have been developed to enable qualifications to be assessed without full documentation, including use of self-assessment questionnaires and structured interviews.

The Ukrainian Ministry of Education and Science also has an open access state database, the Unified State Electronic Database on Education (USEDE), which is used to verify documents and retrieve information on studies for applicants with incomplete documentation.

“The ENIC-NARIC networks are providing a wide range of support to displaced Ukrainian nationals,” says Jenneke Lokhoff, president of the ENIC Bureau.

“The Lisbon Recognition Convention lays out the principles for fair recognition, and its article VII calls for developing fair and expeditious procedures for displaced persons.

“The more flexible we can be in our approach to recognition, in line with the Lisbon Recognition Convention principles, and the more information we can offer to stakeholders, the more it is likely that Ukrainians will successfully integrate where they are temporarily residing.”

Some ENIC-NARIC centres now have procedures for the assessment of incomplete qualifications, aligning with the commitment in Section 5 of the Lisbon Recognition Convention to provide recognition for periods of study.

The Head of UK ENIC, Paul Norris, pointed to the initiatives launched in the United Kingdom as an example of measures introduced across Europe: “UK ENIC has recently produced a higher education credit transfer framework for Ukrainian studies into the UK system.

“Furthermore, with the launch of a new credit evaluation service for incomplete qualifications, statements of comparison can be provided to many displaced migrants who have not been in a position to complete their studies.

“We believe this offers the best way for UK stakeholders to understand the skillsets of Ukrainians in the UK.”

Rapid integration of fully trained professionals is another crucial strand in current recognition work. An example of a policy to support access to regulated professions is the temporary registration scheme introduced in Latvia.

Special legislation was passed to enable Ukrainian professionals to provide temporary services in some professions. Under this legislation, they are able to work under the supervision of local professionals and employers are responsible for ensuring that communication is effective, for example, by providing interpreters as needed. By November 2022, this scheme had enabled around 200 professionals to enter employment as doctors, dentists, pharmacists and teachers.

In some cases, additional training may be required for holders of Ukrainian qualifications to meet the requirements for professional recognition in the host country. Universities, colleges and training providers can play a role in delivering this training. For example, Tallinn Health Care College, a state higher education institution in Estonia, has introduced a programme for Ukrainian nurses to upgrade their qualifications to meet EU requirements.

Language support

Provision of language courses is a key factor in enabling refugees to access the labour market and make full use of their qualifications and skills, as well as supporting access to education and training.

Just over one year on from the start of the conflict, recognition centres, universities and policy-makers across Europe have used a range of innovative practices to remove traditional barriers to integration.

As many Ukrainians are highly skilled and highly qualified, integration schemes benefit not only those displaced, but significantly also the host countries.

Wider roll-out of these measures, including learning from best practice in other European countries, can therefore yield strong benefits.

Paul Norris is head of UK ENIC and vice president of the ENIC Bureau. Jodie Duffy is head of information development at UK ENIC. Valentyna Krasnoshchok is an international education analyst at UK ENIC.