In a statement issued this week, EUA urges that “urgent action is needed” by all sectors across society, including universities, to address the humanitarian crisis in the Middle East.
“Many institutions basically they do these activities out of their own means. They need better resources for this and that they need support”
Describing the crisis as “not a regional problem but an emergency with global implications and a matter of the utmost concern for Europe”, the statement outlines how universities and policy makers can increase access to higher education for refugee students.
As well as ensuring the “broad provision of information” about the opportunities available to refugees, it suggests guaranteeing access to education for school-aged children and waiving or shortening waiting periods for higher education or financial support.
In terms of programming, it recommends that institutions develop foundation or bridging programmes to enable refugees to gain the skills needed for higher study, and to provide language teaching as a “key element of social integration” and as prerequisite for study.
The statement notes that in order to provide this kind of support for refugees, institutions themselves require access to funding and structural support.
“What we see at the moment is many institutions basically they do these activities out of their own means – voluntary initiatives of staff and students, with the money they have at hand,” Michael Gaebel, head of the Higher Education Policy Unit at EUA, told The PIE News.
“It is important to point to the fact that they need better resources for this and that they need support,” he said. “There will come the moment, as in other areas, where the voluntary means will no longer be sufficient.”
The statement urges policy makers to provide additional funding support for refugee students and scholars, as well as ensuring that education institutions have financial support through existing bursaries and structural support through existing programmes such as Erasmus+, Horizon 2020 and the European Social Fund.
EUA made the decision to issue the statement both in order to highlight to policy makers the role that higher education is playing in the refugee crisis, and to address the fact that there are “no clear national or institutional policies” on how higher education should respond to refugee crises such as the one in Syria.
It formulated the recommendations based on information its members provided about the initiatives they are already undertaking to support refugees, Gaebel said.
“Given that they’re very young and have to find a professional career later on, this is what most of them need”
“We found that in practically every country, there’s something ongoing – the core points we tried to capture through this statement,” he explained.
“There are already numerous examples of universities, their staff and students responding to the current emergencies by providing support to refugees,” the statement notes.
“Still, universities can do more.”
One of the key challenges the statement aims to address is that some young people fleeing the crisis in Syria are not yet registered as refugees, Gaebel said.
Some universities have addressed this by accepting non-recognised refugees into open learning courses, but enabling them to enroll on degree programmes is preferable, according to Gaebel.
Ensuring these students can continue their education is crucial, he said, which is why the statement also urges institutions and policy makers to offer non-recognised refugees access to higher education.
“Given that they’re very young and have to find a professional career later on, this is what most of them need,” he commented.