Welcome to the Academic Dugnad
This is my opening speech at the Information Day for Refugees and Asylum Seekers, 1 December 2015. The speech was given in the Science Library at the University of Oslo.
As president of the University of Oslo it is an honor to welcome you all to campus, to The Science Library and to our Information Day for Refugees and Asylum Seekers.
Access to education: few things are as important as this. Equal access to education is one of the most fundamental values in our society and one that the universities should safeguard, not only in speeches at festive occasions, but also through action. This is what our Academic Dugnad is all about. It’s about an initiative to help qualified refugees and asylum seekers gain access to higher education in Norway. Many of you present here today have had your education interrupted due to conflict or war. Many of you harbor a strong wish to resume your education. Our Academic Dugnad is a means towards this end.
The international refugee crisis is the backdrop and the reason we are gathered here today. The vast numbers of refugees coming to various countries in Europe and also to Norway has made us realize that ordinary measures are not enough. Without extraordinary effort many of those arriving in our country will be queuing to get their education evaluated against the Norwegian degree structure. I am therefore glad that the Norwegian Agency for Quality Assurance in Education, NOKUT, already in May began a process of developing a fast-track recognition procedure, in close cooperation with the Norwegian Directorate of Integration and Diversity (IMDi). NOKUT is here today to explain in detail The Norwegian system of Higher Education.
Our Academic Dugnad is an extraordinary effort to welcome refugees and asylum seekers into our educational system. Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences has been our partner from the very beginning and rector Curt Rice is with us here today. The University of Life Sciences is also represented here. So are numerous other partners that you will be meeting during the day.
Many of the refugees have missing documents, and many will experience language barriers. To meet these challenges we must be creative. Those who lack documents may get their knowledge tested. Those who struggle with language will need training. A successful integration of refugees in Norwegian universities and colleges will require a partnership with all involved authorities and organizations.
Our University Libraries have collected books – textbooks, novels and children’s books – from our students and staff. We hope to have books for all. Later today, our students will tell you about student life and education in Oslo. Our students have shown an impressive eagerness to take part in the Academic Dugnad. I am truly proud of them. And I am truly proud of all of our staff members – about 20 in all – who with devotion and stamina have worked to make this happen.
UiO is advocating for what we call ‘Academic Passports’. After WWI, Nansen passports were issued as travel documents for stateless refugees – refugees who had lost their connection to their native country. In the same vein, Academic Passport could be issued to refugees who have lost their connection to their own educational system. Such passports could ensure that once a refugee has been accepted for admission to a specific higher education institution in the European Higher Education Area (AHEA), the same recognition should be given by other institutions throughout this area. This is for the future: it is a difficult task, and it requires cooperation at the European level.
However, we should not let this get in the way of creative thinking. For Europe is now being tested, and with it, our humanistic ideals.
Let me end by saying that today is a very special day for the University of Oslo. Never before have we created a venue for refugees and asylum seekers, as we do today. Our efforts are fueled by the idea that there is just one academy, and that’s the global one.
Welcome to the Academic Dugnad.