“Coming to Europe as a student was liberating, a dream turning into reality. However, refugee students cannot be considered simply as international students”.
Yohannes, first cohort UNICORE programme
The virtual roundtable on Refugee Sponsorship and Student Pathways, co-organized by the SHARE Network and Caritas Italiana on 30 June 2020, brought together over 130 participants from 39 countries representing governments, universities and civil society organisations engaging in, or considering, higher education programmes for refugees.
The event was also attended by a significant number of students potentially interested in these pathways and represented a great opportunity to learn more about the offer available, and the challenges and lessons learned to provide young people with both protection and opportunities to pursue a higher education in third countries.
The presentations and interventions provided insights into some of the programmes currently implemented in both Europe and Canada, outlining the existence of two main approaches in education pathways for refugees:
- Giving refugees access to mainstream student pathways, via partnerships between the national government, tertiary education institutions and civil society organisations;
- Admitting refugees under resettlement-based refugee sponsorship schemes.
The German DAAD Leadership for Syria and Africa and the Italian University Corridors implemented with the support of Caritas Italiana (UNICORE) are examples of the first approach, with prospective students applying for programmes in Germany or Italy and, if selected, receiving a study visa as well as pre-departure and post-arrival orientation and support to help them succeed within the programme and eventually find a job after completing their studies.
Alternatively, the Student Refugee Program (SRP) in Canada, managed by WUSC (World University Service of Canada), is operated under Canada’s private sponsorship of refugees programme. This means that admitted candidates receive international protection upon arrival, and continuous financial, academic and social support by sponsoring groups made up of students, faculty members and staff from the postsecondary institutions. Likewise, King’s College London is currently piloting an initiative to resettle a refugee family through community sponsorship and to offer a fully-funded undergraduate scholarship to one family member, hoping to pave the way for similar actions from other universities in the UK.
Both approaches contribute greatly to increasing the number of opportunities for refugee students wishing to continue their studies in Europe and Canada. Yohannes, one of the first to arrive in Italy trough the UNICORE programme and a speaker at the event, confirmed the importance of opening complementary student pathways and continuing to expand and improve them, ensuring that refugees become aware of their existence.
Having arrived in Italy in September 2019, he is now studying Automation Engineering at the University of Bologna and planning to find a job right after graduation to kickstart his professional career in Europe; and hopefully get the chance to contribute to the community.
He is extremely grateful for the opportunity and for the helpful pre-departure and post-arrival support he received from the partner organisations involved. Having almost completed his studies, his feedback is pivotal to tackle the challenge of transitioning to post-student life and ensuring the programme identifies and addresses the particular needs refugee students might have, so they can successfully complete their academic journey.