By Terje Mørland, Director General in the Norwegian Agency for Quality Assurance in Education (NOKUT) and Stig Arne Skjerven, Director of Foreign Education / Norwegian ENIC-NARIC in NOKUT and elected president of the European Network of Information Centres in the European Region (ENIC).
Worldwide, forced migrants face major obstacles in getting their qualifications recognised. It is time to have a fresh look at our current procedures for granting recognition. The Qualifications Passports for refugees are now being rolled out in Europe and forms a tangible, transparent, fair and effective solution based on collective action.
Recognition of qualifications as a key component of global mobility
The paper, published in partnership with Education Above All and UNHCR, underlines recognition of qualifications as key for facilitating the integration of migrants and refugees into host countries’ labour markets. It also deems today’s practices as inadequate. Both individuals and countries can benefit when skills and competencies are fully utilised. Hence, professional methods for qualification recognition must be accessible on a wide scale, which they currently are not. More flexible and simpler approaches are being called for. There is also a very clear commitment along these lines in the Brussels Declaration, adopted at the end of UNESCO’s Global Education Meeting in December 2018.
The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, adopted in Marrakesh last week, not only mentions recognition of qualifications but also contains a commitment to action: Objective 18 commits countries to “facilitate mutual recognition of skills, qualifications and competencies”.
European Qualifications Passports for Refugees
One way to meet these commitments is with a new scheme, a European Qualifications Passport for Refugees, which is currently being coordinated by the Council of Europe. The methodology, developed in Norway, draws inspiration from the Nansen Passport in the 1920s and 1930, which were ID documents that served as provisional travel documents for refugees and forced migrants.
So far in Europe, hundreds of refugees have received European Qualifications Passport for Refugees, which gives education institutions, employers and the refugee a statement about his or her qualifications. It can help refugees continue their education and training or find work. Equally important is guidance: the Qualifications Passport offers advice on the road ahead, outlines opportunities and is easy to understand.
The first Qualifications Passports were issued in Norway, and subsequently other countries have joined in: Greece, Italy, and the Netherlands. Ministries and national centres for information on recognition and mobility (ENIC-NARICs) in nine countries have laid down vital contributions to the scheme. The Qualifications Passports have received very positive feedback.
Small-scale tests of the methodology have also been performed in Armenia, Germany, Lebanon and Turkey. It is essential that assessments are available in the refugees’ first countries of arrival. The experience so far is that the Qualifications Passports do not only serve their main purpose of documenting qualifications but also have a substantial positive side-effect of building capacity in modern recognition methodology in higher education institutions and recognition agencies locally. As a structural element, it supports and strengthens global, regional, national and local initiatives for the inclusion of refugees into society, education systems and the labour market. Increasingly important, the Qualifications Passport is designed to have value across borders, in cases where the forced migrant is being resettled.
Methodology for the Qualifications Passport
The process of applying for a Qualifications Passport involves a refugee’s qualifications and related competencies being identified, assessed and presented in a statement written by professional evaluators. The methodology includes the use of a self-assessment and a structured interview.
The methodology is built on five principles: accessibility, fairness, professionalism, relevance and fast processing. The procedures are intended to be easy to understand and free from bottlenecks. Qualifications Passports should be made available to as many as possible, so differences in language proficiency, systemic trust and a whole range of other factors are taken into consideration.
There is now a potential to work together within a common framework to make the Qualifications Passports a global scheme for forced migrants. Increased cooperation within the field of recognition may in itself contribute to better systems for global recognition of qualifications. Collaborative efforts create trust between governments, higher education institutions and recognition offices, and trust is the foundation for the entire practice of recognition. With a UNESCO Global Recognition Convention scheduled for adoption in 2019, an introduction of a shared tool to recognise qualifications held by refugees would be timely.
It has become clear that commitments made by governments concerning migration and education policies intersect. Qualifications Passports take this into account. They offer a viable solution, based on collective action, with the potential for global implementation. UNESCO, possibly in cooperation with other UN agencies and international organisations, could be seen as the international actor with sufficient legitimacy to implement a new structural tool of this kind.
The idea of Qualifications Passports for Refugees is ambitious – so are the SDGs. Both are achievable if there is sufficient political will.