The Integration of Migrants to Europe: The role of higher and further education: a summary

By Prof. Dr. W John Morgan, UNESCO Chair of Political Economy and Education & Ian White, International Affairs Officer at the World Bank

The purpose of this article is to identify the importance of the further and higher education in supporting integration in Europe.

The Integration of Migrants to Europe: The role of higher and further education: a summary

The integration of migrants is high on the political agenda in Europe. In recent decades European governments, both at the national and at the EU levels have created sophisticated and wide-reaching policies to respond to the needs of this increasingly diverse group of the host populations.

The purpose of this article is to consider the role of higher and further education in supporting such integration in Europe. This is understood as a complex and a two-way process. The former implies a dilution of certain differences over time, including educational disadvantages. The latter requires the mutual accommodation of both migrant and the host populations. These can be achieved only if there is a political consensus in nation-states as well as in Europe as a whole.  

It is important to bear in mind some key issues regarding the role of higher and further education in migrant integration, such as access to education, levels of attainment, civic identity, and the demands of the labour market.


Migrants are likely to identify that they need training or further education, although they may not take up degree or other courses because of financial probable or standard entry requirements. Governments should consider measures that help to provide equitable access to education and training to remove such barriers as quickly as possible. This is important as they have a negative effect on migrant integration.

The educational attainment of migrants in Europe is usually lower than that of the native populations. Consequently, higher and further education can play an important role in eliminating barriers to achieving educational qualifications, job training, contributes to civic identity, enhances potential in the labour market.  

The Labour Market

The integration of migrants in the labour market is important as it has both civic and economic consequences. In Europe migrants are, on average, less likely to be fully employed or to have higher education qualification (OECD/ EU 2015). 

As a result, extended periods of unemployment or inactivity put migrants and their families at risk of marginalization. This could be detrimental to the economy as migrants may fill labour shortages caused by Europe’s ageing domestic population.

The European Union

Actions at an EU level have been developed through different frameworks of migrant integration, such as the 2004 Hague Programme or the five-year Stockholm Programme that succeeded it. In 2010 common indicators to monitor integration were adopted, making concrete comparison across EU member states possible. Each EU Member State remains responsible for its own educational and training systems, but there is considerable cooperation at the EU level.

A major development was the Education and Training Strategy to 2020, adopted in 2009, which defines the strategic objectives of EU education. This plan includes seven goals for further and higher education, such as, for example, that 40% of people aged 30-34 should have completed some form of higher education; and at least 15% of adults should participate in lifelong learning. The higher and further education needs of migrants should be considered within this strategic framework.


The active participation of immigrants in education, the labour market, and in public life more generally, is vital for ensuring social cohesion and the ability of migrants to function as autonomous, productive, self-realized citizens (OECD/EU 2015). Higher and further education have played a role in furthering this aim, long before official integration policies moved on this agenda.

In addition, higher and further education should play a role in addressing gaps in achieving educational qualification, job training, access to the labour market, and in other aspects of integration. It is essential that policy is made according to a rational and measured assessment of the long term needs of both native populations and of immigrants and their harmonious integration; and according to respect for European social and political agreements made democratically and consensually by governments and not by officials at whatever level. 

See the full paper published here.                                                                                      


  • UNESCO. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
  • The Catalan Association of Public Universities (ACUP)

Sponsored by

  • Generalitat de Catalunya