On the EAIE blog this week, we are highlighting responses and best practices to the refugee crisis in Europe. Today’s blog post revisits Norway’s country-wide response, in the context of the current crisis. Earlier blog posts this week have looked at both Hungary and Germany, and tomorrow we will be zooming in on a Norwegian case, at the University of Oslo. Stay tuned!
Europe’s refugee situation is one of the most pressing challenges the international community is currently facing. Each individual tragedy affects us all but it is also a strain, both economically and socially, on the host countries. Early and effective evaluation of refugees’ qualifications and skills, including those without proper documentation, can be a critical measure to ensure that refugees are able to enter the labour market or pursue further studies as quickly as possible. As a result, the society and the individual can benefit from rapid and effective integration processes.
As a signatory country of The Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications concerning Higher Education in the European Region (The Lisbon Recognition Convention), Norway is committed to the establishment of a system for recognition of qualifications held by refugees, displaced persons and persons in a refugee-like situation (Article VII).
Recognition of qualifications
Since 2005, Norway has attempted to implement a special recognition procedure for this target group. In 2012, based on experiences gained from the pilot project led by NOKUT in cooperation with Norwegian higher education institutions, NOKUT developed a recognition model where it takes responsibility for the entire recognition process, including obtaining the necessary expertise by appointing expert committees. The advantage of such a model is that it is possible to carry out the expert assessments in a more efficient and streamlined manner.
NOKUT’s recognition scheme for refugees, displaced persons and persons in a refugee-like situation (UVD-procedure) is a centralised recognition procedure administered by NOKUT and financed by the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research. The applicants in this recognition procedure come from 18 different countries, but mainly from Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia. The number of applications from Syria has been steadily growing in recent months. While the UVD-procedure is in many ways an optimal recognition solution for the Norwegian context, steadily growing numbers in the refugee population make the demand for developing new solutions evident.
NOKUT has, since May 2015, been in the process of developing a fast-track recognition procedure, in close cooperation with the Norwegian Directorate of Integration and Diversity (IMDi). The fast-track procedure would be applicable to refugees settled in reception centres in Norway and refugee camps elsewhere. The rationale is to ensure that Norwegian immigration authorities receive the necessary information concerning refugees’ educational background in order to be able to facilitate a suitable settlement municipality, and to provide sufficient information about the refugees in order for them to start Norwegian language training with others at a similar educational level. We envisage a procedure that takes as little time as possible, that ensures equal treatment and gives the possibility to evaluate refugees’ educational backgrounds, including those without proper documentation. The outcome of the procedure is an assessment/evaluation statement, containing necessary information for the authorities to find a suitable municipality for settlement, for instance.
Demand for a multi-national recognition scheme
A well-functioning recognition procedure for refugees, displaced persons and persons in a refugee-like situation is advantageous both for the receiving countries and the individual. However, a well-functioning recognition procedure developed within one country’s existing legal framework, within a framework of a given educational system, and based on needs and financial and human resources available might fail if copied in another setting or country. In addition, it is important to take into consideration that establishing an appropriate recognition procedure for this group can be time-consuming and resource intensive in other countries.
Given the likelihood that a high number of refugees will move from one European country to next, it is necessary to look for an overarching European framework on how to cope with this situation in a fair and effective fashion. Based on our experiences since 2005, we would propose to establish a common framework in Europe to set up a fast-track scheme to evaluate refugees’ educational and training backgrounds – which can contribute to enhancing their mobility within Europe.
A European qualification ‘passport’
To support and ensure that the newly arrived refugees will be able to participate in the job market and/or pursue further studies in Europe, NOKUT and UK NARIC have proposed the idea of establishing a scheme called the European Qualification Passport for Refugees. Bearing in mind the legacy of the Nansen passport, it will have the effect of establishing a multi-national framework in Europe to organise and constitute a fast-track scheme to evaluate refugees’ educational and training background while still enhancing their mobility in the European single market.
The result of the evaluation process is an advisory statement, containing the necessary information concerning the refugees’ qualifications, as well as recommendations for further steps concerning formal recognition, authorisation or studies. Establishing the European Qualification Passport would enable relevant authorities and higher education institutions to prepare for assisting incoming refugees in fulfilling their aspirations of attaining further education and work in Europe.
Stig Arne is Director of Foreign Education and Marina is Senior Advisor at Norwegian Agency for Quality Assurance in Education (NOKUT), Norway.