Recognition of education: A conference on the validation of migrants' education in the Czech Republic
In the beginning, Anna Pokorná of the MKC (Multicultural Center Prague) presented an analysis based on the research of the process of validation of education received abroad. It will be available on the information portal www.migraceonline.cz. A panel debate with a lively discussion followed, a summary of the debate can be found below. The theoretical part was followed by a practical part during which a new information tool for migrants with the need to recognize their education was presented. It is available at www.nostrifikace.mkc.cz. The web portal is inspired by, among others, an example of good practice from Germany where a similar information portal is co-financed by the federal government. It became part of the German migration policy, which, from the international perspective, is successful in its efforts to simplify the access of qualified foreign workers to the German labor market.
The matter of education recognition is vital for many migrants, as it is through the validation of education obtained in their country of origin that people coming to the Czech Republic from countries outside the EU gain access to further education in the Czech lands and to Czech labor market. The analysis presented by MKC and the panel discussion of stakeholders involved in the process of education recognition answered such questions as: What is the current practice of recognizing education acquired abroad? What does the validated proof of education really prove and what problems are faced not only by migrants, but also by validation authorities, employers and schools? How is this practice connected to the policy of foreign employment and to the economic development of the Czech Republic?
One of the main topics of the debate was the economic side of things. Andreas Antonopoulos, rector of the private University of New York in Prague, used the metaphor of an ongoing "international war for students" to point out that the complexity and length of the education recognition procedure in the Czech Republic results in the country's loss of both talented international students and subsequently also in potential economic gain, since the gains foreign students would bring to the country do not materialize. He stated that one foreign student, by his or her presence in a country, creates on average 2.5 jobs and brings to the host country about 4 million Czech crowns (both during the period of his or her studies and while returning to the Czech Republic as a tourist or businessperson). Similarly, employers represented by Michaela Vodňanská from International Business Support mentioned the economic and investment losses which the process of education recognition imposes on employers as it slows down the access of foreigners to the Czech labor market. In response to the employers' criticism, Kateřina Štěpánková of the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs pointed out the newest developments in the process of education validation for the needs of the labor market. In November 2013, a new directive was issued which does not require a validated proof of education for obtaining a work permit in non-regulated professions. Less specifically she referred to certain trends of liberalization that should lead to a more flexible practice regarding recognition of education in regulated professions as well. Regarding the issue of education recognition for the needs of the labor market, at least partial consensus was reached.
Regarding the issue of elementary and secondary education recognition for the needs of further studies, the range of views was much broader. Foreign students and their representatives pointed to the administrative inconsistencies and inadequate transparency of the Czech validation process, because of which they struggle to enroll for higher (tertiary) education in time and frequently lose a whole year due to this lengthy procedure. To avoid this, a viable strategy presents itself, however it also threatens to complicate things. In an attempt to circumvent the existing law, one can register for the validation exam in more than one region in order to try to pass to the examination faster and thus make it by the beginning of the academic year. Regional administration officials from the audience stood firmly against these complaints presented by the migrants, stressing the importance of standardization and of the protection of quality of the Czech education system. To them, validation of education guarantees that only sufficiently knowledgeable students with the necessary language skills enter Czech public universities. On the other hand, lawyer Eva Šarapatková from the Rector's office of the Charles' University in Prague pointed out that public universities ensure sufficient quality of their students through the internal mechanism of entrance exams.
With regard to the observed reactions during and also after the conference, it can be expected that although education validation will not play a great role anymore when recognizing education for the needs of non-regulated professions, it remains at the centre of growing interest. This is a consequence of the change seen in the structure of the Czech migrant population. Because of the more restrictive immigration policy of the Czech Republic, the number of people who come solely for the purpose of work is decreasing, while the proportion of those who come for the purpose of family reunion or for studies is rising. Validation of education is thus on one hand a legitimate mechanism for standardization of the education level at schools and the professions for which the schools are preparing the students, and on the other hand it is perceived by society as a restrictive political instrument for the control of migration to the Czech Republic.
An audio record and a written summary of the conference can be found on the website of the Czech Radio Plus thanks to the journalist Daniela Vrbová.