By the end of 2018, there were 70.8 million refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced people worldwide. 50% are under the age of 18. In coherence with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the European Students’ Union (ESU) also believes that education is integral to building refugee self-reliance, fostering inclusion in host societies, and in recovery and rebuilding processes post conflict. Yet displacement has a direct, and destructive, impact on equitable access to quality education. Only 63% of refugee children have access to primary school, dropping to just 24% at the secondary level. And, at the end of 2018, only 3% of young refugees were enrolled in higher education, compared to the global average of 37%.
Although the right to education is enshrined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, this right is far from being realised for many people, especially in the context of higher education. Even with major international conventions (e.g. the 1997 Lisbon Recognition Convention), global targets (United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, 2015) and regional commitments (e.g. the 1999 Bologna Declaration) that reinforce the right to access quality higher education, persistent institutional and societal inequalities are still excluding marginalised groups of potential students from accessing and completing higher education.
ESU acknowledges the following reasons as key barriers to people with refugee backgrounds and displaced persons in accessing and completing higher education:
Guaranteeing that any and every person who wishes to further their education can exercise their equal right to do so requires stronger commitment and holistic collaboration from all educational stakeholders including higher education institutions (HEIs) and governments at the community, regional, national and European level. Commitments and actions must be universal, but should also recognise the need for different levels of support proportional to the number of refugees, displaced persons, and people in refugee-like situations within the respective European countries.
The Together, Moving Forward (TMF) programme (https://www.esu-online.org/?project=together-moving-forward) has provided ESU the vehicle to support student-led actions and projects around Europe aimed at breaking educational and societal barriers, and to amplify the voice of students advocating for a better perception of EU citizens toward migration challenges. The programme engages with several youth and student activists, elected student representatives, European institutions and other international organisations working in the field of access to higher education.
Based on the main findings and good practices from the TMF projects’ portfolio, TANDEM (Towards Empowered Migrant Youth in Southern Europe) project recommendations1 and the recommendations from the European Commission for member states to adopt Validation of Non-formal and Informal Learning (VNIL)2 in all national education systems, ESU resolves to support the following recommendations and comprehensive and proactive policy measures at national/ regional and HEI level in enhancing accessibility and completion of Higher Education.
Recognise the potential of the higher education sector’s contribution to integration:
Include the perspective of higher education access in integration and language courses for asylum seekers, refugees and displaced persons.
Ensure equal treatment of national/EU students and refugee students in higher education policy and practice.
Address the information gap and streamline recognition procedures
*Document providing an assessment of the higher education qualifications based on available documentation and a structured interview. It also presents information on the applicant’s work experience and language proficiency. The document provides reliable information for integration and progression towards employment and admission to further studies.
Validation of non-formal and informal learning (VNIL) as a way of overcoming legal and practical barriers to accessing higher education.
Broadening access and academic success by providing targeted funding
Consider integration as a two-way process
ESU calls on all educational stakeholders at the institutional, Ministerial and European level to thoroughly review and suggest tangible targets and action plans to the list of policy recommendations detailed in this resolution. Although an exhaustive list, universities cannot afford to be exclusive at a time when society is evolving quickly and awareness of different dimensions of diversity, and their potential social, political and economic rewards, grows. As labour markets change, becoming more informal, transient and global, universities must respond accordingly, embracing and actively ensuring the inclusion of all members of society, that can and will benefit from being part of the university community.
Addressing these issues is not be considered an act of charity or philanthropy. Realising these demands is a political responsibility that upholds access to education as a fundamental human right, guaranteed in law, to every person in the world, regardless of their citizenship status.
List of References:
Proposed by: EC
Seconded by: NUSUK, SFS, CREUP, USI, UDU, NSO, DSF, POFEN, EUL, SRVS, LSVb, SSU, UNEL, FZS
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