Council of Europe Picture_Refugee.jpg

© Council of Europe / Gloria Mannazzu
Sjur Bergan and Stig Arne Skjerven - @coe and @Stig_Arne
19 August 2019

A recent monitoring report regarding implementation of recognition of refugees’ qualifications under the Lisbon Recognition Convention brings good news. The report was presented at a meeting of the Convention Committee in Paris on 28 June. The Lisbon Recognition Convention sets the standards for the recognition of qualifications in the European region.

The report shows that the signatory countries have, as a whole, significantly improved their practices. It is fair to assume that the recommendation on refugees’ qualifications under the convention, which was adopted in November 2017, has contributed to improving national practices.

The starting point is Article VII of the Lisbon Recognition Convention, which was adopted in 1997 and entered into force in 1999, 20 years ago. The Article states that all countries shall develop procedures to assess whether refugees and displaced persons fulfil the relevant requirements for access to higher education or to employment activities, even in cases in which the qualifications cannot be proven through documentary evidence.

survey in 2016 on the monitoring of the convention concluded that only six countries provided evidence of regulations along the lines of Article VII. Therefore, it is positive that in 2019 the new survey concludes that 22 out of the 54 countries that have ratified the convention can document national level procedures for the recognition of undocumented qualifications held by refugees. 

Besides that, the report indicates, countries without regulations may have practical arrangements serving the same purpose. Still, one may also read the survey as disappointing as many countries cannot document having such procedures in place 20 years after the convention entered force.

Good practice

Good practice on the recognition of refugees’ qualifications does exist. We would like to highlight the two examples mentioned in the recommendation to the Lisbon Recognition Convention on Article VII. Both examples, which already have had a substantial impact, aim at making portability possible, meaning that an assessment taking place in one country will have validity or usage across borders.

The first is the Council of Europe’s European Qualifications Passport for Refugees or EQPR, which the authors described in an article in University World News in 2018.

The EQPR has a double aim: to provide a methodology for assessing refugees’ qualifications even when these cannot be adequately documented, and to provide a format for describing the qualifications that can easily be accepted in other countries if and when the EQPR holders move. 

Assessments have so far taken place in Greece, Italy, France, the Netherlands and online. So far, 357 refugees have had their qualification assessed and, of these, 298 have received the EQPR. This document describes the qualifications, work experience and language skills that experienced credentials evaluators consider it likely the refugees have. 

The EQPR is based on an in-depth interview as well as on any available documentation; even if refugees do not have their diploma, they may have other documents that support their claims. The methodology was first tested in Norway, and currently nine countries are involved in this advanced recognition project overseen by the Council of Europe. Additional countries have stated their interest in joining.

The second example is the comprehensive Toolkit for Recognition of Refugees’ Qualifications, described in an article in University World News in 2019 and financed by the European Commission (Erasmus+). 

A follow-up project, REACT – Refugees and Recognition – also financed under the umbrella of Erasmus+, includes participation from ENIC-NARIC recognition offices in Europe and Canada, selected higher education institutions in Europe, the European University Association, the European Students’ Union and KIRON Open Higher Education for Refugees

Increased interest in and commitment to recognising refugees’ qualifications have led to action. International agreements are starting to reflect this, even if progress is uneven across Europe. 

Further action, such as adoption of national regulations or the introduction of new recognition tools and methodologies combined with capacity building in higher education institutions and recognition offices, will be essential in the coming years.

Global recognition

The recognition of refugees’ qualifications is not a European issue alone. 

Outside of Europe, both newer UNESCO regional conventions – the Tokyo Recognition Convention for the Asia-Pacific region of 2011 and the Addis Ababa Recognition Convention for Africa of 2014 – include similar provisions recognising the qualifications held by refugees and displaced persons. 

In addition, the upcoming and ambitious global recognition convention, which is set for adoption at UNESCO’s General Conference in November 2019, aims to establish an obligation on parties to ensure the recognition of qualifications held by refugees and displaced persons.

The lack of systems for the recognition of prior learning and qualifications is one of the main obstacles facing refugees in a new country, according to the 2019 UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Report. The issue is receiving increasing attention, and the 2018 intergovernmental Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration includes the facilitation of mutual recognition of skills, qualifications and competences as one of its 23 objectives.

A discussion on the need to establish a robust global tool to recognise the qualifications held by refugees is under way. 

The authors of this article do not only believe this would be timely. Equally important is the experience in developing the refined methodology we have witnessed in the last few years, which will provide a solid starting point for considering a global approach to what is obviously a global challenge. 

Recognising refugees’ qualifications is not a luxury nor indeed just an option. Refugees who, for good reason, cannot document their qualifications today are unlikely to be able to do so tomorrow. 

If their qualifications are recognised, refugees can put their talents to use, to their own benefit and that of their host society. They will continue to develop their qualifications, they will feel valued and motivated and they will be well placed to help reconstruct their home countries when they are able to return home. This is a virtuous circle. 

The alternative is a vicious circle in which host countries effectively tell refugees that their qualifications are of no interest and in which refugees are kept passive and demotivated. And they will lose their qualifications: as we know only too well, qualifications that are not used, will wither away. 

Whether refugees use or lose their qualifications is of enormous importance to the refugees themselves, but no less so to their host countries and their home countries. Article VII of the Lisbon Recognition Convention, the European Qualifications Passport for Refugees and the Toolkit for Recognition of Refugees’ Qualifications are instruments that allow us to do our moral duty as well as to see to our own self-interest.


Sjur Bergan is head of the Education Department at the Council of Europe. He has been central in both the development of the Bologna Process/European Higher Education Area and the Lisbon Recognition Convention. Stig Arne Skjerven is director of foreign education in NOKUT – the Norwegian ENIC-NARIC. He is the current president of the ENIC Network and was a member of the drafting committee of UNESCO’s global recognition convention.


This blog post was orginally posted on University World News and has been cross-posted with the permission of the authors.


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