Large numbers of individuals of all ages are fleeing conflict zones, and relocating in other bordering countries in search of a better future. Many bring with them competencies and skills acquired through studies and work experience in their country of origin and intend to seek opportunities to commence higher education, continue further studies and join the labour market.
Institutions responsible for the recognition of qualifications may face key challenges in the evaluation and recognition process. These are often associated with the lack of established recognition procedures and policy for undocumented qualifications, documentary evidence of academic credentials and qualifications from the applicant and information on legal obligations.
What do you do if you should receive an application from a refugee with or without documentation of the qualifications obtained? Below you will find advice on how to determine whether the person – and potential student – meets the main requirements to enter a programme, how to communicate to potential students arriving as refugees and where to find more information on your legal obligations.
1. Set up a fair and transparent recognition procedure and policy within your institution
Most applicants appear to bring documentation on previously obtained qualifications. Applicants holding valid diplomas might contact the admission officers at the higher education institution they wish to seek admission to for more information on requirements and the regular application procedure. The institution might deem it necessary to contact the national ENIC-NARIC centre as part of the credential evaluation process.
In some cases, applicants are unable to provide documentary evidence to support the evaluation process when seeking recognition of their qualifications. The standard document requirements may need to provide flexibility in the evaluation procedure and policy, to provide the same rights to applicants in such circumstances.
To establish a standardised, accessible, fair and transparent process for applicants without documentation, institutions may:
1. Prepare a background paper
An authoritative description, that can be used to:
- detail the completed education pathway, including academic credentials;
- detail the professional background, including professional qualifications, work experience and other competencies;
- documents and supporting evidence provided by the applicant (when available);
- outline any supporting information on the:
- educational system;
- educational institution;
- academic program;
- quality assurance; and
- other relevant information.
2. Evaluate qualifications based upon the background paper
Confirming the information gathered through the background paper.
3. Arrange additional steps (if necessary)
Additional steps, such as:
- organise an examination/test, to allow the demonstration of acquired knowledge, competencies and skills;
- perform an interview, with a committee of experts who can ask specific questions to the applicant, used to gather additional contextual information;
- use a sworn statement, as a document officialised by a legal authority.
4. Complete the evaluation process
Credential evaluators determine the evaluation outcome, depending on the intended recognition purposes. It could be used for:
- admission to new studies or further studies
5.issue an official document (if necessary)
It outlines the:
- recognition decision, based on the evaluation purpose; and
- validity period.
Special measures aimed at low income groups, refugees and displaced persons and other disadvantaged groups should be considered in order to ensure that no applicant is prevented from seeking recognition of his or her foreign qualifications because of the costs involved.
In situations where the outcome is not favorable for the applicant, the institution should offer:
- information on the possibility to appeal the evaluation outcome;
- alternative pathways to recognition.
The ENIC-NARIC Networks and stakeholders collaborate to promote best practices by suggesting guidelines for institutions tasked with the recognition of qualifications held by:
- displaced persons; and/or
- persons in a refugee-like situation.
Consult additional references
Some ENIC-NARIC Centres have put in place models, and outline best practices, such as:
1. Norwegian Agency for Quality Assurance in Education - NOKUT (Norwegian ENIC-NARIC Centre). Recognition Procedure for Persons without Verifiable Documentation (UVD-procedure).
2. EP-Nuffic (Dutch ENIC-NARIC Centre). Information for refugees
3. Danish Agency for Higher Education (Danish ENIC-NARIC Centre). Background report on foreign educational qualifications.
You may also select a country listed in the right column. A section provides additional information on the recognition procedure and policy in such circumstances, with links to the country’s competent authority Web site.
You may find useful information in other international references, such as:
1. Recognition of qualification holders without documentation - European guidelines for credential evaluators and admissions officers. EAR-HEI Consortium (2016).
2. European Area of Recognition (EAR) Manual, chapter 12 and the new chapter 12 guide on access to higher education by applicants with inadequate documentation including refugees (link to chapter 12 coming soon). EAR Consortium (EP-Nuffic, UK NARIC, ENIC-NARIC France, and ENIC-NARIC Poland) (2012).
3. European Area of Recognition for Higher Education Institutions (EAR-HEI) Manual, part V, item 21.. EAR-HEI Consortium (EP-Nuffic, ENIC-NARIC France, ENIC-NARIC Latvia, ENIC-NARIC Ireland, European University Association (EUA), ENIC-NARIC Lithuania, ENIC-NARIC Denmark, ENIC-NARIC Poland and Tuning Educational Structures in Europe) (2014).
4. Guidelines for the recognition of refugees' qualifications. ENIC-NARIC Networks (1999).
2. Publish information on the recognition procedure and policy for documented and undocumented applicants
Information about recognition practices and access to higher education is crucial for refugees who wish to continue their educational path. Relevant and transparent information should be provided at an early stage to eliminate the gap between previous and continued education.
Relevant and transparent information about your institution’s procedure and policy for documented and undocumented qualifications may include:
- how to apply;
- required documents;
- applicable fees, if any;
- expected timelines for processing;
- how to appeal the evaluation outcome decision.
Such information should be made readily available to:
- applicants, in such circumstances:
- employees within your institution;
- other stakeholders with whom you work, which provide support to applicants (e.g. primary contact authorities, competent migration authorities, reception centres and refugee organisations).
Dissemination methods can include:
3. Consult additional resources to support the recognition policy and procedures
- your institution’s
- Web site;
- social media platforms;
- customer service system;
- external events, workshops, or conferences;
- other methods of communication used to advertise your services.
The Lisbon Recognition Convention (LRC) encourages a flexible approach to the recognition of qualifications held by refugees, displaced persons and persons in a refugee-like situation.
Within the text of the LRC, under Section VII, Article VII in regards to the recognition of qualifications held by refugees, displaced persons and persons in a refugee-like situation, it reads:
“Each Party shall take all feasible and reasonable steps within the framework of its education system and in conformity with its constitutional, legal, and regulatory provisions to develop procedures designed to assess fairly and expeditiously whether refugees, displaced persons and persons in a refugee-like situation fulfil the relevant requirements for access to higher education, to further higher education programmes or to employment activities, even in cases in which the qualifications obtained in one of the Parties cannot be proven through documentary evidence.”
As such, refugees, displaced persons or persons in a refugee-like situation who have formal education from a recognised and/or accredited educational institution and others who for valid reason and in spite of their best persistent efforts cannot document the qualifications they claim, should have a right to have their qualifications assessed by a competent authority responsible for its recognition.
In addition to the LRC, other international, regional and national legal frameworks may be associated directly and/or indirectly to the rights held by refugees, displaced persons and persons in a refugee-like situation, such as: