The legal basis for the recognition of degrees of third country nationals in Europe is the Lisbon Recognition Convention (LRC), based on which signatory countries establish various instruments and structures for the recognition of foreign qualifications and/or study periods abroad.
The LRC’s Article VII states that “Each Party shall take all feasible and reasonable steps within the framework of its education system and in conformity with its constitutional, legal, and regulatory provisions to develop procedures designed to assess fairly and expeditiously whether refugees, displaced persons and persons in a refugee-like situation fulfil the relevant requirements for access to higher education, to further higher education programmes or to employment activities, even in cases in which the qualifications obtained in one of the parties cannot be proven through documentary evidence.”
However, a 2016 report of the LRC Committee monitoring the implementation of the convention found that in 35 out of 50 countries surveyed, this article was not formally implemented – neither through national level regulations, nor through recognition bodies or agencies at national level.
In most systems, higher education institutions are autonomous enough to make their own decision on the recognition for access to their own study programmes, and in some cases, have come up with flexible solutions to also consider the level of education in the absence of documentation. Due to the influx of refugees in the past years, in some systems, universities have also become drivers of policy change, collaborating with ministries or recognition networks and agencies in order to revise procedures, to enhance regulations and to fast-track recognition both as a means of access to higher education as well as to the labour market. Building on procedures previously developed for other types of learners, some universities have adapted their recognition services to specifically target refugees. In addition, the examples selected for this category include innovative approaches fostered by the recognition agencies themselves. In its Renewed EU Agenda for Higher Education (2017), the European Commission has made the explicit commitment to support the upscaling and transfer of good practices such as these.