Terms & Concepts on the Move

“People on the Move – Handbook of selected terms and concepts”, a UNESCO publication dated 2008, justifies the need for such a glossary due to the emerging interest and the intense debates on migration issues. As pointed out in the Introduction “words matter for labels impact people’s views and inform policy responses”. As a matter of fact, in a field in which so many new topics have emerged in recent years due to an ever evolving world, while, at the same time, the future of international refugee protection and standards of national asylum policies appear uncertain and some times fragilized, it is important to get a good understanding of definitions, concepts, terms and what is behind the words.


The following are key notions:



According to the World Bank “Higher education, also known as tertiary education in some countries, refers to all post-secondary education, including both public and private universities, colleges, technical training institutes, and vocational schools”. This definition is interesting since it embraces the concept of education as a continuum showing how much education is a process in which each stage builds upon the previous one producing a mutually reinforcing effect.

Still it is well known that within the humanitarian and development sectors, there is a kind of fierce competition between those who support primary education as a main priority for action and those focused on tertiary education, the secondary level being rather ignored by both and remaining a huge neglected sector.

Another important point regards the variety of learning options covered by tertiary education which, in general, “refers to all post-secondary education, including both public and private universities, colleges, technical training institutes, and vocational schools” (World Bank). However, it must be underlined that within these various options, “vocational training” remains a somehow blurred area, sometimes included in the secondary level or seen as a post-secondary level in accordance with more traditional views and practices. It is worth noting that “World Bank’s reports tend to suggest that vocational should be moved to post-secondary level, whereas the EU’ spapers seem to call for a relaunch of vocational education primarily through a closer link with higher education” (JEAN-RAYMOND MASSON, EFT2009).

In any case, again a certain competition exists between those who argue that vocational training is the main priority in order to provide young people with the skills and competences relevant to the labor market and their future lives, whereas others are rather focused on promoting access to higher education. A last point to be addressed regards the increasing role of a variety of higher education providers further to the public education system made up of universities, colleges and polytechnics. 


In 2008, the first UN Report on “the right to education in emergency situations” was issued by Vernor Muñoz, the then special rapporteur on the right to education. As he explains in the introduction, 1) “emergencies are a source of serious violations of the right to education, one that affects a large number of people”; 2) emergenciesare “any crisis situations due to natural disasters such as earthquake, tsunami, flood or hurricane, or to armed conflict, which may be international (including military occupation) or internal, as defined in international humanitarian law, or post-conflict situations which impair or violate the right to education, impede its development or hold back its realization”.


It is also interesting to note that in spite of recognizing the multiplicity of definitions of “emergencies”, the Report’s focus is on “the period from early response to an emergency to the initial stages of reconstruction for this is when what are perhaps the worst violations of the right to education occur. It is during this periodthat educational systems and opportunities are destroyed, and that the limited attention paid by the humanitarian agencies involved, and the relative absence of clear programmatic principles, indicators or funding, are most clearly revealed”. It is however important to underline that though the concept of “emergency” is often associated with the short-term and as requiring immediate action, armed conflict situations might last more than a decade and so, when dealing with “emergency situations” in this context, short, medium and long term perspectives have to be properly combined.

Another important point to highlight is that “over the past two decades, education in emergencies has become established as a field and basic education has been increasingly considered to constitute a “fourth pillar” of humanitarian response (Nicolai and Triplehorn 2003) quoted by SAMSON MILTON, 2018.

In other terms, for a variety of factors mutually reinforcing “education in emergencies” was exclusively focused on primary education and “higher education, by contrast, has not received significant attention as a component of humanitarian response” (SAMSON MILTON, 2018) until recently.


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