Higher Education

Each EU country is responsible for its own education and training system. Each member state organises and implements its own system. It is best therefore to check the policies and practices of the country where you wish to study, which you can do so on: National Education Systems

For those interested in EU decision-making as it relates to Education and Training, the Lifelong Learning Platform Guidebook provides an excellent overview.

While the responsibility for education and training systems lies with individual states, the role of the EU is to support and supplement their capacity. The EU therefore supports Member States through policy cooperation and funding mechanisms.

The Bologna Process

Launched in 1999, the Bologna Process aims to provide tools to connect national educational systems. The intention is to allow the diversity of national systems and universities to be maintained while the European Higher Education Area improves transparency between higher education systems, as well as implements tools to facilitate recognition of degrees and academic qualifications, mobility, and exchanges between institutions. The reforms are based on ten simple objectives which governments and institutions are currently implementing.

The Bologna Process is a collective effort of public authorities, universities, teachers, and students, together with stakeholder associations, employers, quality assurance agencies, international organisations, and institutions, including the European Commission.

The main focus are:

  • The introduction of the three cycle system (bachelor/master/doctor) strengthened
  • Quality assurance
  • Easier recognition of qualifications and periods of study

EU: Access to Higher Education

The Eurydice 2019 Report

More detailed information about Integrating Asylum Seekers and Refugees into Higher Education is a The Eurydice 2019 Report which is called

Integrating Asylum Seekers and Refugees into Higher Education in Europe: National Policies and Measures

This report concludes that in a majority of countries there is no specific policy approach on this matter and that only six higher education systems monitor the integration of asylum seekers and refugees into their institutions. Nevertheless, good practice can be found in a few countries on issues such as recognition of undocumented qualifications, support to language learning, provision of financial support and personal guidance services.

Germany stands out in this respect, as its approach to the integration of asylum seekers and refugees has combined policy making at several levels (federal, regional and at higher education institutions) with comprehensive measures implemented through responsible bodies, and with a clear monitoring system. This thorough approach has undoubtedly ensured a much smoother process of integrating asylum seekers and refugees into appropriate higher education provision.

Where large-scale measures exist in European countries, they most frequently focus on linguistic support, financial support and guidance services.

Recognition of previous educational attainment can be a serious challenge, particularly when asylum seekers and refugees are unable to provide documentary evidence of their qualifications.

EU: Recognition of Qualifications

If you wish to have your qualifications recognised in a particular country, it is best to contact the university in which you wish to study.

Recognise My Qualifications provides Information on academic recognition procedures for refugee students and graduates wanting to work or study.

The Lisbon Recognition Convention

At a European level, there is a specific article on recognition of qualifications in the Lisbon Recognition Convention – an overarching EU convention which EU countries should implement through national legislation.

The Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications concerning Higher Education in the European Region was developed by the Council of Europe and UNESCO and adopted by national representatives meeting in Lisbon on 8 – 11 April 1997. Most European countries have since ratified this Council of Europe/ UNESCO Convention – usually referred to as the Lisbon Convention.

Some notable sections include:

  • Section VII relates to the recognition of qualifications held by refugees, displaced persons and persons in a refugee-like situation.
  • Article VII Each Party shall take all feasible and reasonable steps within the framework of its education system and in conformity with its constitutional, legal, and regulatory provisions to develop procedures designed to assess fairly and expeditiously whether refugees, displaced persons and persons in a refugee-like situation fulfil the relevant requirements for access to higher education, to further higher education programmes or to employment activities, even in cases in which the qualifications obtained in one of the Parties cannot be proven through documentary evidence. (LRC, 1997)

According to the Union of Student of Europe, what this means in practice is that refugees who have prior education, both formal and non-formal, even if not documented, should have the right to have their qualifications assessed and recognised in a fair and transparent manner in all the countries who have signed and ratified the document. Despite a two-decade existence of those provisions, this article is yet to be fully respected and the ENIC2 -NARIC 3 centres report numerous problems with regard to a lack of or inefficient recognition procedures resulting in limited access to higher education for potential students from vulnerable backgrounds

Among the main points of the Council of Europe/UNESCO Convention are the following:

  • Holders of qualifications issued in one country shall have adequate access to an assessment of these qualifications in another country.
  • No discrimination shall be made in this respect on any ground such as the applicant’s gender, race, colour, disability, language, religion, political opinion, national, ethnic or social origin.
  • The responsibility to demonstrate that an application does not fulfil the relevant requirements lies with the body undertaking the assessment.
  • Each country shall recognise qualifications – whether for access to higher education, for periods of study or for higher education degrees – as similar to the corresponding qualifications in its own system unless it can show that there are substantial differences between its own qualifications and the qualifications for which recognition is sought.
  • Recognition of a higher education qualification issued in another country shall have one or more of the following consequences:
  • access to further higher education studies, including relevant examinations and preparations for the doctorate, on the same conditions as candidates from the country in which recognition is sought
  • The use of an academic title, subject to the laws and regulations of the country in which recognition is sought
  • In addition, recognition may facilitate access to the labour market
  • All countries shall develop procedures to assess whether refugees and displaced persons fulfil the relevant requirements for access to higher education or to employment activities, even in cases in which the qualifications cannot be proven through documentary evidence
  • All countries shall provide information on the institutions and programmes they consider as belonging to their higher education systems
  • All countries shall appoint a national information centre, one important task of which is to offer advice on the recognition of foreign qualifications to students, graduates, employers, higher education institutions and other interested parties or persons
  • All countries shall encourage their higher education institutions to issue the Diploma Supplement to their students in order to facilitate recognition. The Diploma Supplement is an instrument developed jointly by the European Commission, the Council of Europe and UNESCO that aims to describe the qualification in an easily understandable way and relating it to the higher education system within which it was issued

Systems used to recognise qualifications

  • The ENIC-NARIC guide for credential evaluators assist with the recognition of qualifications presented by refugees.
  • The European Recognition Manual for HEIs is a recognition manual for credential evaluators. It has been developed as part of the European Area of Recognition Project (EAR). The manual contains shared standards and clear guidelines on all aspects of the recognition of foreign qualifications. It aims to provide credential evaluators from higher education institutions with a practical tool informing them how to apply the principles of the Lisbon Recognition Convention, including the recognition of refugees
  • Information on academic recognition procedures for refugee students and graduates wanting to work or study
  • This toolkit is to help evaluators to introduce fair and streamlined procedures for recognising qualifications held by refugees. The toolkit provides profiles of the education systems of relevant third countries, e-learning modules and a set of detailed guidelines for introducing effective procedures.

The ENIC-NARIC centres have indicated the following challenges regarding the recognition process for applicants with refugee backgrounds:

  • Lack of information about the education systems and qualifications from countries in conflict
  • Questionable authenticity of the documents provided
  • Lack of documentation
  • Incomplete qualifications
  • Number of applicants

In addition to the challenges that have to do with the applicants themselves, there is also a set of issues that the centres have to deal with internally, such as staff training, more efficient procedures, or broadening the staff’s language base.

The European Qualifications Passport for Refugees

The European Qualifications Passport for Refugees is a document providing an assessment of the higher education qualifications based on available documentation and a structured interview. It also presents information on the applicant’s work experience and language proficiency. The document provides reliable information for integration and progression towards employment and admission to further studies.

It is a specially developed assessment scheme for refugees, even for those who cannot fully document their qualifications.

EU: Policy on Integration in Higher Education

The “Integrating Asylum Seekers and Refugees into Higher Education in Europe: National Policies and Measures” report was planned in the wake of the refugee crisis and aims at assessing to what extent national systems are able to respond to the needs of asylum seekers and refugees in higher education. While there is a strong potential demand for higher education among refugees and many have previously been enrolled in university programmes in their home country, it cannot be taken for granted that this demand is easily met.

This report is divided into two main parts. The first presents a selection of indicators on migratory flows which provide the context for the report. Building on this, the second part offers an overview of policies, strategies and measures that exist across European countries for the integration of asylum seekers and refugees into higher education. Although in a majority of countries there is no specific policy approach, good practice can be found in a few systems on matters such as recognition of undocumented qualifications, support to language learning, financial support and personal guidance services.

Cooperation Policy

This is called the Strategic Framework for European cooperation in Education and Training (or ET2020). ET2020 is a forum which allows member states to exchange best practices and to learn from each other.

Building a European Education Area

The EU is also helping to build a European Education Area to strengthen educational outcomes and learning mobility, promote common values and facilitate the mutual recognition of diplomas across borders. Education and training are a critical facet of the EU’s broader socio-economic agenda. This agenda included the Europe 2020 strategy and the European Semester for the coordination of Member States’ economic policies.

The role of the EU is therefore mainly a supporting and coordinating one. The main objectives of Union action in the field of higher education include encouraging mobility of students and staff, fostering mutual recognition of diplomas and periods of study, and promoting cooperation between higher education institutions.

Monitoring Education and Training

The Education and Training Monitor is responsible for comprehensive, yearly evaluation of education and training systems across Europe. It gathers a wide range of evidence to indicate the evolution of national education and training systems across the European Union (EU).

A yearly report measures countries’ progress towards the targets of the Education and Training 2020 (ET 2020) strategic framework for European cooperation in these fields. It also provides insights into measures taken to address education-related issues as part of the European Semester process.

The Monitor offers suggestions for policy reforms that can make national education and training systems more responsive to societal and labour market needs. Furthermore, the report helps to identify where EU funding for education, training and skills should be targeted through the EU’s next long-term budget, the Multi-annual Financial Framework (MFF). Finally, the Monitor comprises a cross-country comparison and 28 in-depth country reports.

Refugee Education 2030

According to the UN, in 2019 only 3 percent of refugees have access to higher education. UNHCR and partners have committed to ensuring that 15 percent of young refugee women and men can access the benefits of higher education by the year 2030—the 15 by 30 target.

The UNHCR’s education strategy, Refugee Education 2030: A strategy for refugee inclusion aims to foster the conditions, partnerships, collaboration and approaches that lead to all refugee, asylum seeker, returnee and stateless children and youth and their hosting communities – including internally displaced persons – to access inclusive and equitable quality education, including at the tertiary level.

It is effectively a global refugee education strategy which guides the implementation of agreed targets under Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4) (quality education) and the Global Compact on Refugees. The strategy promotes refugee inclusion in national education systems and safe environments for all students. It aims to enable learners to use their education towards sustainable futures. The strategy contains many examples of successful efforts to improve education opportunities for refugee and other displaced children and youth around the world.

The document sets out recommended actions for all education actors, including governments, intergovernmental and regional organizations, donors, multilateral and bilateral organizations, NGOs, the private sector, and individual philanthropists. Five appendices provide a breakdown of objectives and expected results, approaches to achieving the objectives, and details of relevant international policy frameworks.

The Commission funds projects and disseminates successful practices in the field of education for migrants and refugees. Among the many initiatives coordinated, language skills and the recognition of qualifications, in particular those from outside the EU, are key issues.