Efforts to integrate refugees into higher education in Europe continue to be present on the agenda of higher education institutions throughout the continent. Sharing best practices and new initiatives helps institutions adopt unique solutions within their own particular contexts. Yet there are still many challenges to be conquered in order to really help refugees integrate into European societies. Following a Spotlight Seminar and a full conference track of this issue, the EAIE will be covering refugee integration from different angles in a brand new blog series: Refugees in focus.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reports that over 1 million refugees arrived in Europe in 2015. In 2016, as many as 361,709 refugees reached Europe by sea. Even this year alone, in the first weeks of January, UNHCR reports 1121 newly-arrived refugees. And while the flow may be slowing down, the existing refugee population will need to be integrated into different facets of European society. The higher education sector is in a key position to contribute to this process. Our community of international educators – with our unique knowledge and experience – can be particularly helpful in facilitating the inclusion and integration of refugees into Europe’s higher education system.
Recognising this vital role to be played by our community, the EAIE has been working tirelessly on covering this issue and sharing information across our many platforms. Several posts have been published here on the blog highlighting different initiatives throughout the continent. Since February 2016, a working group within the EAIE has made a concerted effort to organise activities that facilitate the sharing of best practices and the creation of new networks related to the integration of refugees. In June of 2016, a Spotlight Seminar brought together 150 practitioners working on the integration of refugees. Equally important, a full refugee track was organised at EAIE Liverpool 2016.
During the course of the events hosted and facilitated by the EAIE, the following topics surfaced as the most important:
- Admission processes and recognition
- Capacity-building initiatives in post-war conflict zones (empowering people to rebuild their countries)
- Employability and career development
- Language development
- Integration into the higher education institutions (once students are admitted)
- Hosting scholars
- European-level recognition of qualifications
Upon identifying these sub-topics, key questions remained: Are we addressing the right issues, sharing the optimal best practices, raising the challenging questions, and facilitating in-depth discussions? Are there other topics relevant to this subject?
In order to respond to the refugee situation more effectively, participants at both events were asked about their needs. The following ideas stood out as potential action points:
- To create a platform where individuals can learn about one another’s initiatives, locate the right partners, and begin to cooperate for better solutions (such as the EUA’s Refugees Welcome Map).
- To bridge the gap between higher education institutions and the labour market. Employers and other types of organisations need to be involved in the discussion.
- To listen to the refugees themselves: What are their opinions about what we as higher education institutions are doing, and how would they would like to collaborate? How can we empower them to guide us to better integration?
- To establish a more comprehensive standard-setting tool for the assessment for refugees based on the European Qualifications Passport for Refugees, a tool which will be tested in Greece in 2017 in a pilot project financed by Council of Europe.
- To use an innovative combination of online and offline learning for refugees, in order to provide accessible, sustainable, and cost-effective education. This could be based on the model that Kiron University has presented.
The EAIE’s role in this debate thus far has been to facilitate events, connect individuals and institutions, encourage networking, and offer communication channels for members to share best practices. How can we continue to add value to this debate? How can we give attention to important sub-topics identified by our community, as well as to the topics not yet addressed?
Feedback from EAIE members and the international education community as a whole is vital to continuing the organisation’s work and focus on the key issues that need attention in order to better integrate refugees into higher education. Society is ever changing and we need to ensure that we remain up-to-date and flexible, and open to innovative co-creative strategies and solutions to complex issues. Through this new blog series over the coming year, the EAIE will to continue to focus on the integration of refugees into our societies and our institutions. Stay tuned!
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.