By René Böhme, University of Bremen.

Germany is a country of immigration. Immigration is reflected in the labour market. According to employment statistics of the Federal Statistical Office, the proportion of foreigners in employment subject to social insurance increased between the year 2000 and the year 2016 from 6.8 to 10 percent. 

In the past 16 years, the number of foreign employees in Germany has risen from around 1.9 million to more than 3.1 million people, while the total number of employees subject to social insurance increased by only 12.7 percent. The employment dynamics of foreigners have increased considerably since 2011. In 2016, foreigners made up about half of all growth in the number of employees in Germany. It should be noted that the qualification structure of new migrants has improved significantly (i.e. newly arriving migrants are better qualified) in the 2000s. With the growing importance of foreigners in the German (and Bremen) labour market, the issue of recognition of foreign qualifications is becoming more important. To this end, the federal and state governments have developed legal measures to facilitate the recognition of qualifications that migrants have obtained in their home countries. This makes it easier for skilled workers from abroad to use their professional qualifications in the German labour market. For example, foreign professionals have the right to have a profession-specific competent authority examine the equivalence of the qualification, taking into account their existing professional experience.

However, the chances of gaining recognition vary considerably from job to job. As the results of a study on the implementation of the Recognition Act in Bremen show, the recognition of a teaching qualification is associated with many challenges. When recognizing teachers, a fundamental distinction must be made between obtaining either an official teacher certificate or just a limited teaching qualification (e.g. one subject). Only as an officially certified teacher it is possible to be employed in a public school with a considerably better pay. Those with a limited teacher qualification can, for instance, only teach in non-formal further education institutions. 

To determine which options the migrant teachers have and what they need to do to obtain a teaching permit (i.e. official certification or limited teaching qualification) the responsible authority[1] examines the applicants’ documents and certificates. Depending on the specific training needs of each ‘applicant’, the State Examination Office determines the number of credits/courses that need to be taken at the university. These may not exceed 90 Credit Points and a teaching practice of 18 months. The decision on which measures each applicant needs to take to receive a teaching qualification, is made in collaboration with the Centre for Teacher Education of the University of Bremen. After being admitted to study at the University of Bremen, applicants can take the required courses and following completion, apply for the teaching practice at the State Institute for Schools[2]. Depending on what the needs of each applicant are, the teaching practice period can be between six, 12 or 18 months. For each year of teaching experience abroad, half a year can be deducted from the 18 months. Following the completion of the adaptation measures (i.e. university courses and teaching practice) or after passing the aptitude test, a final decision will be issued by the Senator for Science on the recognition with which the concerned persons can apply for a position as a teacher.

One challenge in recognizing teachers is that there is still (as of December 2017 and even three years after the entry into force of the law) no implementing regulation on how to interpret the law if there are differences between the Senator for Children and Education and the Senator for Science and Health. And, in the absence of an administrative instruction, both authorities may have different views as to when to grant recognition and when not. Without such an instruction, it is up to the respective clerk or clerks, as to what is to be done in individual cases, and the recognition decisions have no legal certainty, so they can be corrected at any time in the administrative court proceedings. It is therefore urgently necessary for both authorities to agree on a legal interpretation.

Furthermore, difficulties arise because teachers abroad often only learn one subject or are trained for another school system. These can then not be hired as full-fledged teachers and are thereby collectively disadvantaged. To solve this structural problem, the relevant regulations would need to be adapted so that one-subject teachers can be full-fledged teachers. For example, the state of Hamburg made that possible. Thus, a flexibilisation of the right of recognition for teachers as in Hamburg for the instruction of only one school subject is a major exception, but Berlin and Bremen are discussing this possibility due to a shortage of teachers.

Specific challenges may arise for certain subjects. For example, the recognition of teachers in ‘German as a second language’ is controversial. Although demand has increased enormously due to the high level of foreign immigration, the Conference of Ministers of Education has not yet included ‘German as a second language’ in its general school curriculum. The result is that teachers of German as a second language are not given full recognition, although the need for teachers in pre-courses, for example, for refugee or migrant children is great. However, some federal states deviate from these guidelines and recognize teachers of ‘German as a second language’, but it is not the case in Bremen yet. Many ‘German as a second language’ teachers teach in language courses, but at lower wages than fully accredited teachers. Physical education teachers cannot obtain recognition in Bremen because the university does not offer this subject anymore and thus no adaptation measures exist. Cooperation with other universities (e.g. Oldenburg) would make sense here. In both cases, it seems that a sort of federal guidance or coordination would help solve these issues (for example terminate discretionary practices across States and enhance recognition in all fields). But some authorities are worried that lowering the requirements for foreign skilled workers compared to teachers trained in Germany can lead to a deterioration of the education system.

Finally, the language challenges are great. Amongst the applicants are both people with very little knowledge of German as well as people with B1 level and more, although rarely B2 level. Even if the language level is legally not a prerequisite for recognition, the applicants must ultimately reach C1 or C2 levels to cope with the necessary adaptation measures. A course that has been in place since autumn 2017 also aims to better prepare foreign teachers for the communication demands of everyday working life. 

The high complexity of the recognition procedure requires a better staffing of the competent authority (Senator for Science) in order to be able to guarantee more extensive support and advice.


[1] In Bremen, the Senator for Science is responsible for the recognition of foreign teacher qualifications.

[2] The State Institute for Schools is an institution of the Senator for Children and Education and has the task of accompanying schools in the state of Bremen in their work and supporting their development. As a centre of excellence, the Institute provides professional, educational and psychological services and support services to all those responsible for the education of primary and secondary school students, lower secondary and secondary schools and vocational schools. The tasks of the Institute are for example the training of trainee teachers and the qualification of teachers, officials and school administrators as well as other pedagogical staff in schools.

Earlier this year a delegation from Bulgaria composed of unionists, education staff and local authorities’ representatives visited Spain to share practices with Spanish counterparts with regards to integrating newcomers and refugees in education and explore joint strategies to tackle common challenges.

The peer-to-peer visit took place from 10 to 14 April 2018 in Valencia, Mislata and Aldaia where the host union FECCOO has been implementing a number of initiatives aiming to promote the education rights of newcomers since 2016. The president of the Bulgarian union SEB, Yanka Takeva and the mayor of Lyulin, a district of Sofia, Milko Mladenov, were amongst the Bulgarian delegates, together with teachers and school principals. 

The group visited the IES La Morería in Mislata and attended one of the artistic activities implemented with students and education staff by FECCOO throughout the schoolyear, as part of its programme “School without borders” (Escuela sin fronteras). The group also had the opportunity to exchange practices and pedagogical techniques with administrative and teaching staff in Colegio Santa Creu of Mislata. 

The delegation met with all partners collaborating with FECCOO in advocacy activities in favour of refugees’ rights: cultural center Ker África, the local education authorities (Consellería d’Educació, Investigació, Cultura y Sport), the mayors of Valencia and Mislata, the Accomodation Centre for Refugees in Mislata (Centro de Acogida a Refugiados, CAR) and the local section of the Comisión Española de Ayuda al Refugiado (CEAR). 

Finally, a closing “working” meeting was organized with local and national representatives of FECCOO and its confederation CCOO, to discuss the role of unions in promoting the rights of migrants and refugees and democratic values.

In the context of its  fight against the end of guaranteed pension benefits in the British higher education sector, the University and College Union had written to the Home Office to seek clarity on the exclusion of legal strike action from the annual 20-day limit for unpaid absence from work applying to migrant workers on Tier 2 visas.

At the time, the immigration minister Caroline Nokes simply responded that "full regard will be given to the circumstances" when making decisions about immigration status.

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt and shadow chancellor John McDonnell wrote a piece, stressing that migrant workers needed absolute certainty about their rights and calling for an "unequivocal, written guarantee" that days spent taking legitimate strike action would not put migrant workers' immigration status at risk.

Last week, the current Home Secretary Sajid Javid responded positively to the union’s request, saying that he “will be making changes to the guidance and Immigration Rules for migrant workers (under the Tier 2 and 5 immigration routes) and their sponsors. The specific change will add legal strike action to the list of exceptions to the rule on absences from employment without pay for migrant workers”.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'International staff make a vital contribution to our country and we are delighted that they can now play a full role at work without fear of reprisal. All workers should be able to join their colleagues in defending their employment rights.

'Strike action is never taken lightly, but the previous lack of clarity meant migrant workers who needed to take unpaid leave for other reasons could not risk taking part for fear of risking their right to remain in the country.'

Source: “Home secretary changes rules to ensure migrant workers can take strike action”, UCU, 12 July 2017.

In the frame of the ETUCE/EFEE project “European Sectoral Social Partners in Education promoting effective integration of migrants and refugees in education”, a delegation of education unions and employers’ representatives met in Madrid on 16 and 17 May 2018, to discuss good practices and challenges in the Spanish education system with regards to policies on inclusion and integration.

Throughout the study visit, participants learned from Spanish representatives about the impact of enduring budget cuts, education system segmentation and the lack of a national strategy addressing specifically the integration of migrants and refugees in schools and education institutions. While learning from the different social partners, school communities, parents and students representatives’ perspectives and good practices in the course of the first day, the delegation had the chance to visit the ACE (Aula de Compensacion Educativa) center of the La Senda high school and to witness the difficult professional and working conditions of teachers and educators dealing with students of migrant origins and from disadvantaged background. Teachers, trainers, the school leader and union representatives from the school explained the potential support they would need to deliver quality education to those students coming from the most disadvantaged background. They shed light on the biggest obstacles they face for a real inclusion in education, including the deteriorating working conditions of those teachers working in public schools from the most disadvantaged areas: precarious contracts and lack of continuity in teaching and learning was felt as one of the biggest challenge to effective integration. The study delegation had the opportunity to draw the attention of the Spanish Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport to the challenges facing schools and education institutions in this regard. 

The ETUCE-EFEE project aims to promote successful methods of migrant education in schools as well as evaluating current policies and practices, to establish a concrete set of proposals and recommendations for national member organisations and governments. Two additional study visits in Serbia and Belgium and two seminars in Denmark and Cyprus will be organized in the coming months. A research report, a video documentary, practical guidelines and a draft quality framework of effective practices are amongst the main deliverables of the project.

You can find more information about the project here.

Education is a human right and a public good helping to enable people at all stages in their lives to achieve their maximum potential. This includes the right to learn and right to teach for refugees and migrants in every corner of the world.

June 20th is an important day to recognise the hardships and challenges refugees have been through and celebrate their strength and courage. It is also imperative to continue to advocate that they are treated with dignity and demand the full respect of their human rights by governments, political actors and national institutions.
Educators on all continents have been on the foreground of refugee and migrant issues, as migrants and refugees themselves and as teachers and support personnel working to create welcoming schools and safe environments for all learners. 

This year in conjunction with World Refugee Day, Education International and a consortium of 10 partners, launches “Resilient teachers, students and education systems in South Sudan and Uganda” (BRICE), a project funded by the European Commission and led by Oxfam IBIS.

Safe, quality education for all learners

The project, which will be implemented from 2018 to 2022 in South Sudan and Uganda, will contribute to improved access and completion of safe quality education for learners in fragile and crisis-affected environments through the delivery of safe quality education models and continuous in-service professional development, as well as multi-stakeholder dialogue and data collection.

Civil war and violent conflicts in South Sudan have totaled close to 2.2 million refugees. The majority of South Sudanese refugees have fled to Uganda where the current number is close to 1.03 million. An average 2,000 refugees cross to Uganda every day and over 60 percent of the new arrivals are children.

More than 85 percent of the total south Sudanese refugee population are women and children who need education, as well as child protection and Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) prevention. In total, there are 1.8 million children out of school in South Sudan. In this project, Education International will lead the global advocacy strategy and coordinate the teacher’s professional development in Uganda.

The rights of refugee children and teachers

More than 1,000 teachers will benefit from professional development support and around 100 politicians and officials will be invited to participate in a dialogue on how to improve conditions and access to education for children and teachers in conflict affected areas.

Over the past few years, Education International and affiliates have been developing numerous activities to fulfil the rights of refugee children and teachers worldwide and facilitate their integration in their host education system.

Capacity building, research, including the compilation study Education: Hope for Newcomers in Europe and advocacy activities co-funded by OSF, have been carried out in nine European countries since 2016.

In Jordan and Lebanon, training activities were implemented with the support of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation. A regional workshop was also held in Addis Ababa in September 2017 and several affiliates from African countries have started developing work in this area.