Fanshawe College in London, Ontario is one of Ontario’s largest colleges. The college provides “flexible learning arrangements and experiential education opportunities” to ensure students are prepared for an ever-shifting labour market. In 2015, as Syrian refugees began arriving in Canada, Fanshawe saw a similar influx in their admission offices: “each of our admissions advisors was regularly seeing refugees from Syria who wanted to study at the college,” says Kate Day, admissions and pathways advisor at Fanshawe.
At that time, the college, alongside private donors, committed to providing scholarships to 10 Syrian refugees to study at Fanshawe. As Day says, “this was an exciting time because we really felt like there was a wave of support with action behind it in supporting our newest neighbours to pursue the life they had dreamed of in Canada.”
A harsh reality set in as the admissions team began to face issues recognizing the credentials of refugees: they didn’t have access to documentation of their previous academic qualifications in order to prove their accomplishments for admittance or credit transfer. There were some who had photocopies of transcripts, or a picture of a diploma; others had to flee with very little. The institutions back in Syria were closed, destroyed, or unresponsive; contacting them for documentation was not an option. Evaluating and recognizing previous credentials is a normative practice in admitting internationally educated students to Fanshawe.
A community member from North Park Community Church reached out to the college. He was working with Syrian refugees in helping them settle in London. Ron connected the office of the registrar to WES, a familiar organization, now conducting a pilot project specifically designed to solve the issue of access to credential evaluation for Syrian refugees. “In Ron’s work with individual refugees, he was able to submit what they had in-hand to WES so that they could, in turn, evaluate their credentials and share that with Fanshawe for admissions,” says Day.
“WES’ pilot project was so helpful and instrumental to me and my colleagues at Fanshawe College. Our community welcomed many Syrian refugees and as much as we all wanted to help, we learned quickly that we were missing some of the tools we needed to help these newcomers transition to post-secondary education.”
The registrar at Fanshawe College accepted the credential assessments without fail given the circumstances and ongoing trust they had in WES. This solved a big problem for Fanshawe: “we were looking at alternative ways to verify their education, including testing,” says Day.
“Working with applicants that were unable to provide any sort of transcript or educational record posed a significant challenge for Fanshawe College but with the reports from WES’ refugee pilot project, we were able to accept many of these refugees into programs at the college to retrain for new careers in Canada.“
Fanshawe College saw many refugees apply to the college; a good portion of them using the assessment available through WES’ pilot project. Some took short-term courses to upgrade skills; four students who received scholarships are currently studying at Fanshawe pursuing diplomas, advanced diplomas, and certificate programs.
The registrar at Fanshawe will continue to recognize credential evaluations from WES as part of the expansion of the pilot project, now known as the WES Gateway Program. “This allows Fanshawe to live up to our commitment to provide equal access to education; we can trust the work of our colleagues at WES which permits us to eliminate barriers for newcomers who want to study here,” said Day.
WES looks forward to continuing work with Fanshawe College as the WES Gateway Program grows to meet the needs of displaced individuals.