How do we take advantage of people’s skills so that newly arrived and others can begin studying or working? With the large number of refugees that have arrived in Europe in recent years, that question has gained focus. Throughout the European Union, efforts are being made to develop higher education institutions’ and government agencies’ work in this area.


”The biggest challenge we currently have in Europe is how refugees can gain access to education when they arrive” said Liva Vikmane, Vice President for the European Student Union,  at an international conference organised earlier this year by the Swedish Council for Higher Education (UHR), Malmö University and the Ministry of Education and Research. ”They have foreign qualifications that are new for most countries.”

More ways to access higher education

During 2015, approximately 1.3 million refugees crossed the EU’s borders. Half of them were between the ages of 18 and 34. This increased migration has brought to prominence the issues of how newly arrived and other groups’ qualifications can be recognised, and how to provide better access to higher education. It is about assessing foreign education, but also about measuring an individual’s skills whether or not they have formal documentation of their acquired knowledge.

”Society’s challenges aren’t just about migrants, but even non-traditional groups of students,” said Ana Tecilazik Gorcik from the Ministry of Science and Education in Croatia. ”In view of that, we really need to work to change the traditional, accepted pathways to admission to higher education.”

Validation a priority within the EU

According to the Lisbon Convention, refugees have the right to have their qualifications assessed and recognised. Throughout the European Union, this is a prioritised issue for 2018 and all member countries are required to  develop frameworks for assessing an individual’s prior learning. Prior learning refers to a person’s aggregate, actual skills regardless of how they acquired them.

In Sweden, UHR was tasked by the Government to facilitate higher education institutions’ work in this area. Currently, a pilot project is underway where 30 universities and university colleges are participating and developing frameworks in order to assess skills that individuals have acquired both within and outside the education system. Starting 2019, the new work methods will be implemented at all of Sweden’s HEIs.

Importance of routines and incentives

In June of this year, UHR, Malmö University and the Ministry of Education and Research arranged a conference with focus on European countries and how they could, in light of increased migration, be better att recognising the skills and experiences of newly arrived and other groups. The importance of HEIs having clear routines was one issue that was raised.

”It was noted that universities and university colleges need incentives in order to prioritise working with the assessment of prior learning. Another key factor is that individuals who have their skills assessed be given access to guidance during the assessment process,” said Anders Ahlstrand, researcher at UHR.

In view of what is currently taking place throughout Europe, Liva Vikmane from the European Student Union is positive about the future.

”If everything progresses in the right direction so that there are resources allocated and employees working on these issues, then I think that in two or three years, we will have increased refugees' access to education and secured their integration into society.

In the above film, academics, officials and student representatives from across Europe share their perspectives on how newly arrived’s qualifications can be recognised and how access to higher education can be made easier.