Integration of refugees in higher education in Europe
Author: Ola Mostafa
Shedding the light on the refugee crisis is an intriguing aspect that many European institutions are taking into consideration recently. After the huge influx of refugees in Europe in 2015, many international and national organizations have taken the initiative to be involved actively in helping refugees better integrating in the new host country. Although many attempts have been sought to accelerate the chances of integration refugees, little has been done to consider how important it is to provide education to those who were forced to drop out due to war situation. The role of higher education is crucial in embracing the refugee crisis. However, this role should not be restricted to merely language improvement. Facilitating educational opportunities for refugees would enhance their chances of not only being well-integrated in the society but also enable them to have better careers in the future. On the other hand, ‘Brain Gain’ and investment of human capital is a critical side of the refugee crisis where European HEIs have to exert more efforts to enhance the potentials of refugee which will bring about more economic growth.
In my opinion, many European countries considered this matter of refugees’ integration which is called also ‘civic integration’ as a priority in their political agenda. Thus, access to higher education for refugees is supposed to be a crucial attempt to better integrate them in the society. Many politicians even suggest that the integration of refugees in higher education would prevent them from participating in radical violence attacks and will help them to be better citizens (Magaziner, 2015). This topic is a current critical issue among most of the European countries. Many stakeholders are involved in establishing constructive solutions to this issue. The European Union holds the responsibility towards the member states, especially when it comes to policy-making. Another type of stakeholders are university leaders who should exert some efforts towards changing the organizational culture of European universities that would enhance better educational opportunities for refugees’ students. European universities should develop strategic plans which involve all stakeholders in order to come up with comprehensive agenda that facilitate the process of refugees’ integration. Most importantly is the position of refugees of both students and academic staff in understanding the dimension of their integration in the educational systems. As main stakeholders, they have to acknowledge their roles and responsibilities since they are in a better position to identify their educational needs.
In an attempt to take part in finding effective solutions to the refugee crisis, EAIE organized a conference ‘Spotlight Seminar: Integrating refugees’ which tackled major issues related mainly to integrating refugees in higher education in particular. Access to higher education, recognition of prior qualifications, campus support, language development and employability development were all highly relevant topics that were discussed in the seminar. One of the interesting presentations about recognition of prior learning suggested creating ‘European passport’ which acknowledge the previously attained qualifications and facilitate their recognition by all European countries. Consequently, if this suggestion is applied, it would even provide more educational opportunities for refugee students to study based on their personal interests regardless destinations. On the other hand, since language development is a crucial aspect to accelerate the integration of refugee, Erasmus+ has established Online Linguistic Support (OLS) for refugees to facilitate language learning without charging any fees. Another major accomplishment that have been initiated by some universities is student counselling service. Some universities in Romania (West University of Timișoara) and Germany (TU Berlin) have provided support to refugee students, not only through facilitating their access to language courses but also by helping them to decide on their future study plans. However, there are still many HEIs that are reluctant to take any initiative to assist refugees since there is no direct policy on the national or European level that guide universities towards integration refugees in their system. That is why, in my opinion, universities themselves, since they are the main stakeholder in such crisis, should push the policy makers to regulate the procedures of integration. This will bring about more fruitful results that would definitely benefit both refugees and HEIs as well.
About Ola Mostafa
Ola Mostafa is a MARIHE student who is doing her master degree in higher education management. Her bachelor degree was in English linguistics and translation. Her work experience was mainly as administrative coordinator in several universities in Egypt.