Access to studies for refugees: a fundamental right too little respected


Around the world, the rate of access to the university is progressing. From an average overall level of 36%, it rises to 76% in regions such as Europe and North America. A movement whose refugees stay away. Of the 65 million refugees registered worldwide in 2018, 61% are young. But only 1% of them are enrolled in higher education. In the United Kingdom, the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) has highlighted the extent of this difference between refugees and the rest of the population. Overall, referring to the 2016 Unesco report, refugee status reduces by five the chances of being in school.

However, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 states that “access to higher education must be open to full equality for all according to their merit” (Article 26.1). To facilitate the exercise by refugees of this fundamental right, the European countries ratified in 1997 a joint text of the Council of Europe and of Unesco, called “Lisbon Convention” , specifically devoted to “the recognition of qualifications higher education in the European region “, inviting the fifty-three countries that have ratified it to take

“All feasible and reasonable measures … to develop appropriate procedures to assess fairly and effectively whether refugees, displaced persons and persons assimilated to refugees qualify for access to higher education, the pursuit of complementary higher education programs or the exercise of a professional activity, even when the qualifications obtained in one of the Parties can not be proved by documents certifying them “. (Section VII, Article VII)

Despite these commitments, the legal and regulatory systems of the various countries fail to guarantee this right to training, thereby slowing down the integration of refugees and asylum seekers into the labor market.

Physical obstacles

In fact, the members of the European Union are in a paradoxical situation. At a time when institutions, under the pressure of global rankings and the hegemony of the Anglo-American model, are increasing efforts to recruit more international students, the European space continues to generate barriers for this particular category of potential international students who are refugees.

While most economic studies highlight the positive impact of migrants on the growth of host and home countries, there would be a strong interest in removing these barriers. Especially since the slowness, in particular the lengthening of the treatment of the asylum application, creates a psychological discouragement and hinders the possibilities of future socio-economic integration.

Among the most visible obstacles are the language level and the financial means. In addition to a good general level of comprehension and expression, access to higher education also requires mastery of administrative and academic codes, as well as various assessment tests. The costs associated with these tests are in addition to tuition and registration fees, which vary by country. State agencies such as the German DAAD or the Dutch Nuffic , private foundations and various non-profit organizations have set up dedicated scholarship funds. However, many refugees do not have the necessary budget to cover even the expenses of their daily lives during their studies.

Gaps related to information, guidance and counseling systems are also a hindrance. Understanding the host country’s education system involves learning about assessment and rating criteria, transportation support systems, and other aspects of student life. Finally, there is the discrimination related to the perceptions that nationals of the host country have of the migration phenomenon, as indicated by the European Network Against Racism (ENAR).

Equivalence problems

Over the past decade, many programs have tried to remove these barriers. The Refugees Welcome Map , an interactive map created by the Association of European Universities (EUA), aims to identify, document and update all initiatives. Supported by the institutions, it brings together more than 250 initiatives in 31 countries and has served as a model for many other cards now offered by associations and local authorities.

To facilitate the transition of refugees to the host country’s university system, digital platforms and hybrid programs, such as the “LearningLabs InZone” of the University of Geneva, the “Coursera for Refugees” initiative or the project Jamiya  “from the University of Gothenburg (originally designed for refugee camps on the African continent and Jordan) have been redeployed and adapted to offer language training and individualized coaching.

Founded in Berlin in March 2015, the Kiron Open Higher Educationstart-up has contributed to a better link between these first-level courses and the European degree programs. Its strength: a network of partnerships with the most prestigious institutions, NGOs and the largest international suppliers of MOOCs.

While these bodies, which are in control of the legal complexity of the refugee situation, are essential for individual support, the main difficulty nowadays lies in the ineffective and incomplete recognition of credits and qualifications, especially in the absence of official proof. . This recognition is provided for by the Lisbon Convention, but it comes up against the heterogeneity of practices and means within the European zone.

A lack of coordination

The European Network of National Information Centers for Education (ENIC-NARIC) is responsible for coordinating the establishment of a “European Passport of Qualifications” . Specially developed for refugees who do not have original documents proving their degree, this paper should provide a certified verification of linguistic, professional and academic skills. Its delivery would be based on a process of interviews and consideration of a wide range of evidence and self-assessments. While country centers such as Germany (Base ANABIN), United Kingdom (NARIN) and Norway (NOKUT) have been able to define clear procedures for this certified assessment, the scheme remains largely inoperative in most countries. country.

On the ground, a multiplicity of actors mobilized. In France, these interventions, often uncoordinated among them, were first carried out by higher education institutions, usually on the initiative of groups of student volunteers . While they play a major role in the integration of refugees at the local level, none has yet been the subject of a real impact study allowing the transfer of knowledge and the adoption on a large scale.

More than an objective in itself, access to higher education remains a first step towards socio-economic integration and the empowerment of migrants. These major political and economic challenges require a greater participation of beneficiaries in the evaluation and monitoring of interventions and their impact.

Author Bio: Alessia Lefebure is Director of Studies at EHESP at the School of Advanced Studies in Public Health (EHESP) – USPC