The higher education sector must continue to develop initiatives aimed at increasing access for refugees, to prepare universities for the “next crisis”.
That is the view of Einar Meier, senior adviser at the Norwegian Agency for Quality Assurance in Education (NOKUT), who warned that, while the number of new refugee arrivals in Europe had “plummeted”, the need to assess and recognise a large number of individuals’ qualifications quickly, remained a pressing issue.
In 2016, NOKUT launched a pilot project to test a new method for evaluating refugees’ qualifications in Norway.
The scheme, which issues passports for refugees that contain information about their highest completed qualification, their work experience and their language proficiency based on an interview with the applicant, is now in a pilot phase with the Council of Europe to become a Europe-wide project.
Speaking to Times Higher Education at the European Association for International Education (EAIE) conference on 13 September, Mr Meier said: “There is a sense in the media and among politicians that the problem is solved, but it’s not really. So we really need to get a good system in place for the next refugee crisis, whenever it is.”
Stig Arne Skjerven, director of foreign education at NOKUT, who was jointly awarded the EAIE’s 2017 Bo Gregersen Award for Best Practice for the refugee scheme, added that the pilot with the Council of Europe provides an opportunity to test and implement the project early.
“[This would mean that] when, not if, we get the next refugee crisis somewhere in Europe, we can actually start very fast to have the qualifications of the refugees recognised and assessed so that they can start their journey into higher education,” he said.
So far, 54 refugees have been awarded passports after two rounds of interviews in March and June this year, Mr Skjerven said. The third round will take place at the end of September.
While academic recognition centres in Norway, Italy, Greece and the UK currently participate in the scheme, the Council of Europe said that there has also been interest from Armenia, Germany, the Republic of Ireland and the Netherlands to take part in the second phase from next year.
Marina Malgina, head of recognition of refugees’ qualifications at NOKUT’s department of foreign education, who also shared the best practice award, said that the scheme provides more than just a document for refugees, universities and employers.
“Many [refugees] coming to the interviews [say] they value talking to a person who understands the value of the qualifications from their countries,” she said.
“They feel themselves very empowered by the process and by the opportunity to speak to a professional in the field. Recognition is a very important part of integration within society.”