Building peace in the minds of men and women

UNESCO at UNGA: Ensuring access to higher education for refugees

26 September 2018

Children, women and men fleeing conflict, persecution and natural disasters around the world. These powerful images have made countless headlines over the last few years and are still at the forefront of major global political, economic and moral discussions.

As refugees arrive in their host countries to rebuild their lives, access to education is not only essential, but it is their right. States must adapt their education systems to the arrival of newcomers and ensure that no one is denied their right to access quality education. 

Refugees have a particular hard time accessing higher education. According to UNHCR, only 1 per cent of eligible refugees today have access to tertiary education, compared to 36 per cent of global youth.

“Refugees and other displaced people face huge obstacles in completing their courses and trainings,” said Ms. Stefania Giannini, UNESCO Assistant-Director General for Education. “They are not being given the chance to demonstrate the competencies and qualifications that they have already acquired in their home countries.”

On the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York this week, UNESCO will take part in a High-Level Meeting which will bring together refugee hosting Member States, donor governments, multilateral institutions, the private sector and civil society to agree on how to accelerate and improve efforts to deliver quality education to refugees.   

Push to recognize qualifications among refugees

UNESCO is the leading force in global efforts to help all students, including refugees, to better access higher education. For many refugees, providing documentation to prove their qualifications can be difficult. As the only UN agency with a mandate in higher education, the Organization has been working at a regional level in Africa, the Arab States, Asia-Pacific, Europe and North America and Latin America and the Caribbean to revise Conventions to assess and recognize the qualifications of refugees.

Ensuring access to higher education for refugees provides a strong incentive for students to continue and complete their studies at the primary and secondary levels. It also provides the possibility for refugees to nurture their talent and gain the skills to rebuild their societies from conflict.

 

A Global Convention on higher education

In 2019, UNESCO will increase its efforts to improve refugees’ access to higher education with the adoption of a new Global Convention on the Recognition of Higher Education Qualifications. This first global Convention on Higher Education will facilitate inter-regional academic mobility and to establish common recognition practices worldwide.  A first of its kind, this Global Convention will allow for the increased movement of students, academics and researchers between regions, as well as establish common recognition practices worldwide, giving refugees an even greater chance of accessing higher education in their new countries.

As with the regional conventions, the future Global Convention will include provisions on the recognition of refugees’ qualifications, allowing refugees to access higher education.

The Global Convention will also constitute a framework for Member States to increase opportunities for building inter-cultural understanding, cooperation and peace.