Refugee qualifications: European guidelines

Refugee qualifications: European guidelines

This week on the EAIE blog, we are highlighting the spring issue of Forum magazine on the theme of ‘Internationalisation in a conflicted world’. In our highly interconnected world, conflict increasingly affects us all. How internationalisation professionals cope with this reality is a key question in our daily practice. Today’s author stresses the international legally-binding rights of refugees to have their qualifications evaluated when documentation is missing, and provides a summary of European guidelines on how to cope.

The evaluation of qualifications from refugees can be a difficult task as documentation may be missing and institutions where the qualifications were obtained may no longer exist.  Apart from a clear humanitarian need, individuals in a refugee-like situation have the right to have their qualifications assessed when applying for admissions to a study programme.  This right is clearly stated in article VII of the Lisbon Recognition Convention (LRC):
“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”.
The LRC is an international treaty arranging the academic recognition of qualifications. It has force of law in the over 50 countries that signed and ratified the convention.

A flexible approach

So how do you apply LRC article VII in practice? The guidelines of the European Recognition manual (second edition 2016) may help. This manual was developed by the ENIC-NARIC networks and relevant stakeholders such as ESU, HRK and EUA and contains a practical translation of all principles and articles of the LRC. The guidelines for article VII ‘qualification holders without documentation’ (refugees) are summarised below.
1. Reconstruct the academic achievements in a background paper

One of the most important starting points throughout the evaluation is to accept that the information provided by the applicant is not complete. In absence of documentation, try to reconstruct the academic achievements based on alternative information provided by the applicant in a ‘background paper’. This is a file that should include:

  • Detailed information on the content, level and extent of education, provided by the applicant;
  • Documents and supporting evidence provided by the applicant confirming the information given, such as student identification number(s) or code, educational documents (transcripts, school certificate(s), etc), declaration(s) of institution(s) that the qualification was awarded and testimonials of work experience (if applicable);
  • General knowledge of the educational system(s) the qualification(s) is/are from; your national recognition authority may also be able to provide useful information about the educational qualification(s) in question.

2. Evaluate the qualification using the background paper

Next, try to assess the qualification(s) using the information provided in the ‘background paper’. Adopt a flexible approach, accepting that not all required documentation and information is included in the application file. Focus on determining whether the applicant will be able to succeed in the purpose recognition is sought for, based on the five elements of the qualification: quality, level, workload, profile and learning outcomes.
3. Arrange an assessment if appropriate

 Lastly, whenever possible and/or necessary the evaluation may include an assessment procedure. This may depend on the information you were (not) able to obtain from the background paper. Choose an assessment method that is fit for purpose and feasible. Examples of methods are: interviews with admissions officers (to check coherence), sworn statements before a legally competent authority and specially arranged examinations. When undertaking an assessment, it is important to focus on the overall learning outcomes of the applicant needed to enter the fields of study.

Further resources

The above is merely a summary of the guidelines, reflecting the main steps on how to proceed. For the full guidelines and examples, I would refer you to the European recognition manual for HEIs and its spin-off brochure including the recommendations for refugees. Both are available on the website for the ENIC-NARIC networks. On the website, you can also find a page with more information on the recognition of qualifications from persons in a refugee-like situation and the latest national initiatives and reference to relevant sources.
Jenneke is Senior Policy Officer at EP-Nuffic, the Netherlands.
EAIE members will receive their copies of Forum on their doorsteps soon, but can already download the full version online. Non-members can view the editor’s pick in the Resources Library. Gain full access to Forum by becoming an EAIE member.