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Qualifications passports issued to EU refugees

The first groups of refugees have received European Qualifications Passports after successfully passing an evaluation process to verify their higher education credentials.

"We hope it will help them get access to the tests to get those qualifications"

Fifty-four refugees, mostly from Syria, living in refugee camps in Attica, Greece have received the documentation through the first two rounds of the Council of Europe’s “Recognition of Qualifications held by Refugees” pilot program.

The document gives information on their education qualifications and presents information on the refugee’s work experience and language proficiency.

The project aims to provide refugees with an authorised assessment of their credentials that they can carry from one country to another, according to Sjur Bergan, head of education department at the Directorate of Democratic Citizenship and Participation for the Council of Europe.

“We do fact finding beforehand. It’s easy to know if a story is credible or not”

“It’s less good than if they had the original documents but it’s still better than not using the qualifications they have,” said Bergan.

The scheme was specifically developed for refugees who do not have original documents proving their education qualification. The methodology is based on that used by Norway’s quality assurance body NOKUT and the UK’s NARIC.

Students begin by filling out a self-assessment questionnaire. Then, any documentary evidence they may have including transcripts, photos of coursework or photos of them studying from social media is assessed.

Finally, students undergo an interview with a professional credential evaluator in English or their native language.

“In the interview, students tell us about their experience studying,” said Stig Arne Skjerven, director of foreign education at NOKUT. “We do fact finding beforehand. It’s easy to know if a story is credible or not.”

The successful assessments are then stored at the National Information Centre (CIMEA) in Italy.

Ten students who participated in the first two rounds of the pilot phase didn’t pass the assessment, a failure rate on par with a similar program in Norway, said Skjerven.

So far, Greece is the only country which has agreed to accept the assessment but the Council is working on widening acceptance among universities and employers across Europe, said Bergan.

“We’re optimistic but see that it will take time,” Bergan said. “We don’t expect that the passport will get access to regulated profession. We hope it will help them get access to the tests to get those qualifications.”

The Council of Europe is working with the Greek Ministry of Education and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to recruit students for the free assessment. The third round of assessment is set to take place in September with at at least 20 more refugees.

The Council of Europe is also working to expand the scheme to be available in more refugee recipient countries, using a wider pool of credential evaluators with the language skills and knowledge of the education systems in countries where refugees come from.

It is also putting together a policy recommendation to implement Article 7 of the Council of Europe/UNESCO Lisbon Recognition Convention that calls for fair and fast assessment of higher education credentials of refugees, displaced persons and persons in a refugee-like situation.

The policy change will be vital to the project, Bergan said. “In some countries there could be laws saying no qualification can be recognised unless it’s fully documented.”

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