Education is a fundamental necessity for participation within a society. It is often viewed as one of the most important rights due to its strong connection with the realization of all other human rights. The current wave of refugees and migrants into Western Europe offers us a unique chance to re-evaluate higher education, its connection to human rights, and the principles of what should be a non-discriminatory system. Researching exposes this populations trials and challenges in accessing higher education using their lived experience and the biases of a system that desperately needs to re-root itself in the recognition of all learning. A 2015 survey by the UNHCR conducted at various border locations around Greece and the most frequently mentioned occupation of those fleeing was ‘student’. Many of these Syrian students were forced to leave their student status with only one or two years left until graduation, however gaining recognition for the work they have completed has proved very difficult. This particular population and all those holding university degrees or skills in specific professions requires and deserves the attention of universities in developing ways to recognize the knowledge that they bring. While special attention and research efforts need to be made towards those college-aged refugees to assist them in accessing and understanding the Western European higher education system, it is equally important to educate and inform universities regarding their discriminatory policies that are preventing this population from furthering their own education. Some of these include: certifying and paying for translation services of former transcripts, having access to transcripts or certificates to prove their educational background, competency exams being fairly scheduled and accessible to vulnerable students (i.e. cost), cost of applications, IELTS requirements and the lack of professional English teachers within the refugee camps that would allow these students to achieve the level of English required in this test to continue to higher education. Another huge limitation for these students is timing. They are stuck in limbo in Greece and unsure how much longer they have to wait for their asylum process to move forward. They are also unsure which country they will be sent to which prevents them from applying to any universities for admission due to the restriction on travel they face once they are relocated.
It is important as we look to re-shaping and re-thinking about our higher education system that we do not forget the very large population of refugees that are desperate to access the system and how we can aid in breaking down the barriers that are currently preventing their achievement.