Alexandra Panek, as representative of the Viennese Counselling Centre for Migrants in Vienna, won for presenting her work in The Austrian contact points for people who have gained professional qualifications abroad (AST).
The Austrian contact points for people who have gained professional qualifications abroad (AST) are hosted by the Counselling Centre for Migrants in Vienna (incl. AST-coordination), Zemit in Innsbruck, Zebra in Graz and Migrare in Linz. The AST-network was established in 2013 to inform migrants about the formal recognition of their prior qualifications, how to make the best use of their skills and how to improve their integration into the Austrian labour market. By providing information, counselling and helping set professional goals, the contact points promote better employment prospects for migrants. Once they settle in Austria, the aim is to reach the migrants as soon as possible to help them find out what their career prospects are. The activities of AST-network are the result of long-term cooperation with related NGOs, authorities and support systems for migrants/refugees.
Austria implemented the Recognition and Assessment Law Act in 2016. This act ensures the right to counselling and the right to assessment of foreign degrees. AST-network provides counselling services according to § 5 of this regulation and is lobbying in favour of further regulations on recognition adaption, especially the adjustment of degrees from third countries to EU standards (focus on refugees).
The counselling on recognition procedures is a specific form of professional advice, on gaining formal equivalence for a foreign diploma, as well as employment appropriate to the prior qualifications. This kind of counselling is an interface between labour market-counselling, education counselling and career guidance. The aim of empowerment through counselling is essential for the improvement of migrants’ prospects on the labour market.
The number of newcomers and refugees who reach Europe, escaping from wars or critical life conditions and looking for new life opportunities, has increased dramatically in recent years. These people face many challenges in settling in Europe, and among these challenges are the obstacles to accessing the labour market or to continuing their studies. Migrants and refugees are in practice often prevented from enjoying their rights by many legal and practical barriers. This is also an obstacle to their integration into hosting societies. One of the main challenges newcomers face is that, although they are often educated and skilled, their competences may not be recognised in the host society. Sometimes they even reach their destination without documentation to prove their educational level in their countries of origin. Taking into account this reality and wishing to facilitate the integration and the inclusion of newcomers in our societies, Eucen (European university continuing education network) launched a project aimed at giving professionals working in the validation of non-formal and informal learning (VNIL) in higher education (HE) a set of tools to deal with the extra difficulties of assessing migrant and refugee cases of validation. The project was funded under the Key Activity 3 funding programme “Support for Policy Reform – Social inclusion through Education, Training and Youth” (Call EACEA-05-2016).
The consortium, including SOLIDAR Foundation, concluded that early and effective recognition of newcomers’ qualifications and skills is a fundamental step towards ensuring that refugees and migrants are able to access the labour market or pursue further studies as quickly as possible, thus facilitating their process of inclusion and integration in the host society. Higher education institutions have a key role in making this process possible. Providing higher education professionals and validation staff in particular with the necessary training and tools to address the specific needs of this category of learners is key to adapting the current European VNIL procedures to the reality of newcomers. However, improving current VNIL procedures also require decision-makers to introduce measures that can facilitate the implementation of VNIL processes for newcomers and give enough visibility to VNIL opportunities so that potential users are adequately informed about them. The concerted efforts of all concerned actors can make a big difference to the possibility of newcomers being able to benefit from and contribute to the society they live in.