Refugees and Asylum Seekers Case Studies

This page is part of the Inclusion Case Studies from the Inclusion Framework.
Universities have a vital role to play in supporting refugees and asylum seekers, by helping them to access education and employment, but also by improving awareness and understanding amongst all members of the community (on campus and beyond).

Please note that the following information is correct at the time of writing (November 2022), but is subject to change.

Vrije Universiteit Brussel

University Staff For Refugees (UNISTAR)

The University Staff For Refugees (UNISTAR) programme consists of a training course, delivered in a blended format (online and in person), aimed at guiding university staff on how to work with refugee students. UNISTAR is now an online learning platform available (free-of-charge) to university staff across Europe. 

The programme works on the principle that Higher Education is one of the most important tools for supporting refugees, and that universities need to put support systems in place to make undergraduate, postgraduate, and research programmes more accessible for refugee students.

The pilot testing phase started in March 2021, with university staff both taking the course and contributing to its ongoing development.

The course lasts for four weeks and offers four modules, which participants can choose from depending on the nature of their work. The modules, and the topics they cover, are listed below:

Module 1: Becoming a refugee

  • Words matter
  • Facts and figures
  • Refugee rights
  • Experiences of displacement
  • Stateless students

Module 2: Refugees on campus

  • Challenges and Support for refugees entering Higher Education
  • Challenges and Support for refugee students on campus
  • Racism and Empowerment on campus

Module 3: Well-being on campus

  • Awareness and Critical Thinking
  • Stress and trauma among refugees
  • Self-care for university staff

Module 4: Inclusive teaching and diversity

  • Eurocentricity
  • Diversity and intersectionality
  • Inclusive teaching
  • Inclusive counselling

Following the pilot phase, an online conference was held in April 2022, with an opening address by UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador and Syrian refugee Maya Ghazal. The conference presented the programme and its modules, outlined how it would be made available more widely, and noted that participation levels had increased since the beginning of the war in Ukraine.

The development of UNISTAR was co-funded by Erasmus+. It was overseen by the VUB International Relations Office, in collaboration with Vilnius University (Lithuania), Alice Salomon University of Applied Sciences (Germany), Universidad Alcalá (Spain), University of Applied Sciences Utrecht (Netherlands), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and the European University Foundation.  

Student Refugee Program

The International Relations Office also oversees a wide-ranging Student Refugee Programme at VUB, providing various support structures and opportunities for students with refugee status, and for the student community more widely (for instance through the buddy programme). There is a strong emphasis on the importance of individual follow-up with students, taking into account the complexity of their situation.

More than 700 refugees have applied to study at VUB, often to study English-taught Master’s programmes, especially in Social Sciences & Solvay Business School, Engineering, Languages and Humanities. The Student Refugee Programme aims to give prospective students a fair chance to start or continue their studies by providing them with the necessary guidance and support before and during their studies.

The InCAMPUS Preparatory Track is a one-year programme that enables prospective students to meet the requirements of their chosen course of study, through intensive English language preparation, study guidance, psychological counselling sessions (group and individual), and cultural orientation sessions with Bon Brussel, the Brussels reception office for the integration of foreign nationals (and part of the Agency for Integration and Civic Integration, which supports the Flemish integration policy).

In 2011, VUB joined the Scholars at Risk (SAR) network, dedicated to protecting threatened scholars and promoting academic freedom. As a member of this network, VUB commits to providing shelter and hosting threatened scholars, publicly taking a stand to protect Higher Education values, participating in advocacy campaigns, and organising awareness-raising events on campus. So far, VUB has hosted four scholars at risk, from diverse personal and academic backgrounds, in research groups in Engineering, Education Science, and Sciences.

University of Gothenburg

Mentoring programme: University Friend

The mentoring programme Universitetsvän (University Friend) aims to introduce persons with a refugee background to Higher Education. In its first round, the programme received more applications than it had places for, and it is now offered on a permanent basis. (although it had to pause during the pandemic because the programme methodology relies on physical meetings and interactions).

During the mentorship program, students (up to PhD level) from the University of Gothenburg are matched with newly arrived persons in Sweden. Initially, people were matched based on similar academic interests, but over time it was found that both the mentor and the mentee could broaden their outlook by exchanging with someone who had a different educational background. 

The mentors and the mentees receive an introductory course and subsequently meet during three group meetings (scheduled every other week) to discuss themes such as intercultural competences, leadership, decision-making processes, and more. The activities are based on principles and methods associated with the experiential learning cycle (Kolb and Fry, 1975) and the peer helper experiential training cycle (Carr and de Rosenroll, 1996). The programme is currently being developed to include activities with university study counsellors and student ambassadors from different faculties in the implementation.

When the planned thematic workshops have finished, the mentors and the mentees can decide for themselves if they want to go on meeting on their own. The programme is intended to be both fun and helpful, and to entail a mutual learning process for both the mentors and the mentees, where they share experiences and knowledge from different countries.

For the mentees, this programme enables them to:

  • Get an insight into the university system, from the application and decision-making process to student life
  • Improve their Swedish, as the workshops are held in Swedish
  • Get a clearer sense of their educational goals and what steps they should take to reach them

As one mentee commented: ‘I have learned more about how the university works with the help of people who have the same goals in life as I do. Now I want to work hard in order to begin studying as soon as possible.’

The programme also benefits the mentors, who develop their ability to work and relate appropriately in a variety of cultural contexts.

This programme involves collaboration between various units at the University of Gothenburg (e.g. Educational Affairs, Welcome Services) and some of Gothenburg’s organisations/agencies, which provide guidance and support for newly arrived migrants/refugees. 

In addition to this mentoring service, the University of Gothenburg invites prospective students to information meetings and offers individual study counselling services.

Centre on Global Migration

The Centre on Global Migration (CGM) aims to promote and support research, education and utilisation of knowledge in global migration and integration (see also the Gothenburg case studies in Anti-Racism).

The Centre facilitates a range of Research projects on these themes, including the programme Refugee Migration and Cities (SIPGI), which explores the social possibilities and limitations for urban integration in large cities in Sweden, Turkey, and Jordan. The selection of cities is based on their different political, economic and social preconditions in organizing immigration, as well as their shared experience of receiving large numbers of Syrian refugees since 2013. The programme involves close collaboration with the Governance and Local Development Institute (GLD) at Gothenburg’s department of Political Science, the Centre for Advanced Middle Eastern Studies (CMES) at Lund University, and the Migration Research Institute (MiReKoc), which is the leading migration research centre in Turkey.

The Centre also hosts international expert-speaker events, such as the recent seminar What is Home? Syrian Refugees and the Search for Belonging, by Professor Wendy Pearlman (Northwestern University).

University of Warwick

University of Sanctuary

University of Sanctuary

Higher Education Institutions in the UK have a proud and radical tradition of supporting refugees and people in the asylum system. The University of Sanctuary award recognises commitment to creating a culture of safety, solidarity, and empowerment for people seeking sanctuary within, and beyond, university campuses. Warwick has been recognised as a University of Sanctuary since 2017.

As the Vice-Chancellor, Stuart Croft, has said:

‘I am proud that Warwick holds the honour of being a University of Sanctuary and that I was able to reinforce our commitment to asylum seekers and refugees being able to access higher education by signing the City of Sanctuary and STAR pledge in 2019. Our students and staff are actively involved both in supporting sanctuary seekers, raising awareness of their experiences and the contribution that they make to student and city life.’

The Chair of the University of Sanctuary project group is Kulbir Shergill, Warwick’s Director of Social Inclusion. The main objectives of this project are to increase access to higher education for refugees by offering guidance, reviewing our admissions processes, and providing financial support, and to foster learning about sanctuary and increase awareness of the barriers and challenges faced by refugees and asylum seekers.

The project facilitates the following activities:

  • Offering Sanctuary Scholarships for pre-university diplomas, undergraduate degrees, and postgraduate degrees, covering fees and living expenses
  • Providing a named single point of contact for sanctuary students who will be available throughout their studies, to provide advocacy and liaison with services across the institution, including professional services, academics, accommodation, wellbeing, and any other relevant services
  • Working with local councils to support our local community, as well as our Community Engagement work and student volunteering projects that include teaching English and raising funds for refugee and asylum seeker charities
  • Annual Refugee Week in June (as part of a UK-wide festival held every year around World Refugee Day on the 20 June): this has included lectures, art exhibitions and fund-raising events such as music performances
  • Outreach work with local refugee communities to promote awareness of scholarships and access to widening participation support
  • Academic research, lectures, and other events on issues relating to refugees and asylum seekers

The project uses three-year action plans to help develop and embed the objectives described above. There is a regular review process to determine the renewal of the university’s Sanctuary status.

The University of Warwick is located in Coventry, which became a City of Sanctuary in 2011 to join a group of cities and towns that hold the vision that the UK will be a welcoming place of safety for all and proud to offer sanctuary to people fleeing violence and persecution. You can read more about Coventry City of Sanctuary on the City of Sanctuary UK website.

Student-led projects

Warwick STAR (Student Action for Refugees) is part of a national network of young people and university-based student groups aiming to raise awareness of refugee and asylum issues, campaign for the rights of refugees, and practically support refugees and asylum seekers through volunteering in the local community. The society runs two volunteer groups at Warwick:

  • Conversation Club, helping to teach English to refugees living in the local area
  • Youth Support Club, helping young people with their university applications and language skills
The society also works with the national STAR charity on campaigns such as:
  • Lift the Ban, on asylum seekers not being able to work
  • Families Together, reuniting families seeking humanitarian protection in the UK
  • Equal Access to education for asylum seekers and refugees in the UK

Enactus Warwick (part of the national and global Enactus network) hosts a range of student-led social enterprises, including The Gateway, which aims to empower refugees and asylum seekers in Coventry. By partnering with organisations like Coventry City Council and running workshops with local refugees, The Gateway aims to support their development of language and communication skills, and to help them find employment.

In the last few years, the Gateway has recruited over 150 student volunteers and developed partnerships with over 10 organisations. The project is currently expanding its activities by providing support in the areas of personal health and personal finance, through a combination of workshops and social events.