On 12 September 2017, prior to the EAIE Conference in Seville, a networking event on the integration of refugees into higher education was hosted. The difference between this event and prior events is that this time it wasn’t about HEIs sharing best practices, but about bringing together different stakeholders to talk about next steps. Which projects can be scaled up, how can we institutionalise projects, what is the next step? This blog post, part of the ‘Refugees in focus’ series, focuses on the outcomes of the event and how these are inevitably linked to a multi-stakeholder approach.
“Education is a weapon for mass construction” – Ahmad al Rashid, a Syrian refugee student studying at SOAS University in the UK
Which stakeholders were in attendance?
There were 25 participants from a multidisciplinary background. Refugee voices in the shape of students, entrepreneurs and as a delegate from the Council of Europe were present. Besides the representatives from Council of Europe, UNESCO Beirut, EUA (European University Association), which is in charge of Refugees Welcome Map, representatives from national agencies and HEIs were present. In fact, one could say that the full quadruple helix was in attendance. Knowledge institutions, industry, government and civil society were together in one room to talk about scaling up initiatives and looking for new kinds of collaboration.
“Wow how great to see refugees, entrepreneurs and even UNESCO!” was one of the first comments made. Participants felt enthusiastic about the variety of backgrounds represented. It’s not just about higher education (university) or refugees (citizens), it’s about integration into civil society as a whole – and industry and government are inevitably part of that as well.
What did we discuss and why?
We decided to focus on three topics:
- Recognition and qualifications for refugees, including portability of recognition decisions
- Admission of refugees into higher education institutions
- How to create a win-win situation and focus on talents instead of needs
With these three topics we touch upon the different stages a refugee goes through, from arrival up to the point where they feel included in society as educated, independent and integrated individuals.
Conclusions and takeaways
After our final group discussions, we formulated the following conclusions and takeaways which could help all stakeholders take the integration of refugees to the next level:
- Stakeholders: Whenever there is a discussion about the integration of refugees into higher education, make sure that all stakeholders are there. You can’t talk about what refugees need or what they can deliver if they aren’t there. The same goes for other stakeholders as well.
- Qualifications and portability: Identifying the refugees’ qualifications is important. In order for this to work efficiently across borders, this needs to be streamlined into a system. The European Qualifications Passport for Refugees, a project run by Council of Europe in Greece, is one such tool for assessing refugees’ qualifications.
- Golden opportunity: “What about stop calling it a crisis and start calling it a golden opportunity with so much talent coming to Europe?” This remark was made by Ahmad al Rashid and has a clear message that we should focus on the positive effects of refugees coming to Europe. It might solve many problems, eg a lack of engineers, new business ideas/opportunities, etc. Refugees are great agents of change and good ambassadors for transnational business/exporting products to countries of origin.
- Positive stories: There is a strong need for positive real life stories. Media seems to focus on the negative side, but higher education institutions as well as other stakeholders can play a role by gathering and sharing the success stories.
- Funding: Through Erasmus+ or another organisation, it could be possible to create a funding scheme to help refugees integrate into higher education, civil society or stimulate becoming an entrepreneur.
- Institutionalising initiatives: “Stop treating us as refugee students, treat us as students with special needs!” In many ways, refugees are the same as any other international student coming to Europe who, sometimes, also need extra help. Treating them like international students will bring a positive flow to your institution and the potential for them to succeed will definitely grow.
- Everyone involved should further facilitate mutual learning by sharing the experiences from relevant projects from Europe and beyond.
- To stimulate upscaling of current and new initiatives we need to develop a toolkit and an active network of relevant stakeholders.
- We should build a platform for all to collaborate in a more efficient, multi-discipline and interactive way.
The elements discussed at the meeting will remain a priority for all stakeholders involved in order to continue working toward a promising future for all refugees.
This post is part of the EAIE’s ‘Refugees in focus’ series, which covers refugee integration from a variety of angles.
Elke is Adviser Internationalisation at Fontys University of Applied Sciences, the Netherlands, and Stig Arne is Director of Foreign Education at NOKUT /Norwegian ENIC-NARIC, Norway. Jeroen Ouburg, Policy Adviser International at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, also contributed to this blog.