Between 7-10 February 2019, the European Students’ Union (ESU) organised a Capacity Building Seminar in Brussels, as part of the Together Moving Forward (TMF) programme, with the aim of sharing ideas, concerns and experiences on the topic of inclusion of newcomers in the European society and access to education.
The background of the attendees was diverse: students, recent graduates, refugees and young activists of civil society organisations working with migrants, refugees and asylum seekers.
We seized this opportunity of having such a diverse group and asked the participants to identify ‘access to education’ for refugees and migrants’ with one word/concept. The responses were quite polarized. The most positive ones described access to education as ‘open knowledge’, ‘potential’, ‘opportunity’. Others identified this with negative connotations, including ‘bureaucracy’, financial problems, language barriers and difficulties of recognition of previous studies as factors burdening the access of newcomers to (higher) education and provoking situations of exclusion and segregation.
In order to truly develop sustainable societies, everyone should be granted access to education, as well as be given the opportunity to further develop their studies by facilitating access to higher education. A study on recognition of qualifications held by refugees and their access to higher education in Europe supports the argument that ‘providing access to education for refugees contributes to the country economically and societally’ and ‘helps refugees to integrate in local communities, to further their personal development’.
Furthermore, ahead of the next elections to the European Parliament, university student representatives from all across Europe are underlining the importance of education for inclusion of migrants in societies and are calling future MEPs to support and grant access to higher education for these groups: ‘to treat migrants of both refugee and non-refugee backgrounds as equal members of society who hold the same set of rights as everyone else is the only way to maintain social peace and prosperity and meet the most basic obligation of guaranteeing education as a human right for everyone.’