The new European Commission “Action Plan on Integration and Inclusion” frames migrant integration under the overarching theme of “Inclusion for all”.
Like the previous plan, there is a strong emphasis on the role of education and training (particularly early education) in the integration of newcomers. EUA welcomes the Action Plan, published on 24 November 2020, and its widened and more integrated approach, but reminds the Commission that the higher education sector can also make a strong contribution to migrant integration.
Unlike its predecessor, the new Action Plan addresses not only newly arrived third country nationals but acknowledges that steps need to be taken towards the further integration of EU citizens with a migrant background. The document puts strong emphasis on the potential of schools as “real hubs of integration” for migrant children and their families.
With regard to higher education, the Action Plan emphasises the need for improved recognition of degrees, which would enhance labour market access and, generally, the social position of migrants. It acknowledges that in Europe today, a quarter of migrants are highly educated, and that 40% are overqualified for the job that they do. EUA has previously pointed to this and related issues in the wider context of the Europe’s migration and refugee policy.
Much progress has been made in the recognition of academic degrees in line with the Lisbon Recognition Convention, but more can be done to enhance and streamline admission for further study, and recognition of professional qualifications to access the labour market. However, beyond the recognition of degrees, the Action Plan should have addressed the role of higher education more broadly, for example in view of its contribution to lifelong learning as many migrants need up- and reskilling.
The benefits that migrants bring to their higher education institutions, as well as to society and the economy, are widely acknowledged. For universities, migration underpins the quality of their education and research. International staff and students are important in enhancing their talent pool and in ensuring global connectedness. This includes students and academic staff who are persecuted in their home countries. Though small in number compared Europe’s total population of academic scholars and students, they are estimated to count for 80% of the world’s at-risk academics. A recent study from the Inspireurope project confirms that hosting universities view researchers at risk very much as any other international researcher: as assets, who contribute to internationalisation, in particular “internationalisation at home”, and to diversity, with tangible benefits well beyond the academic community.
There are numerous examples of how higher education institutions successfully support the integration of migrants, including those with a refugee-like background: Many institutions directly address migration as part of in their diversity strategies, as a matter of societal responsibility. For instance, they provide language training, mentor newly-arrived migrants interested in higher education and provide bridging courses and other support to facilitate access to their programmes. There are also examples of community engagement and cultural exchanges with migrants organised by higher education institutions. A small number of such measures are co-funded by the EU, mostly though the Erasmus+ programme, but often higher education institutions finance them through their core budgets.
Like the new EU Action Plan on Integration and Inclusion, the forthcoming Erasmus+ programme sets inclusion as one of its overarching policy aims. Erasmus+ is mentioned as one of the potential funding sources for activities covered by the Action Plan. This needs to translate into adequate Erasmus+ funding of collaboration activities among higher education institutions that support migrants and, more broadly, diversity. The EU must also ensure that the role higher education institutions play in local integration efforts is duly recognised at the policy level.