Student Refugees is a student-driven project assisting people with refugee status with accessing higher education programmes in Denmark and supporting them after they have been accepted.
The project is based on the idea that education should be inclusive of all. Therefore, the project’s web platform seeks to provide all the relevant information about how to fulfil requirements and apply for a higher education in Denmark. Moreover, the platform provides suggestions and alternative routes to overcome common obstacles that people with refugee status may face when trying to access higher education.
Issue/challenge and goal/assumption
The goal of Student Refugees is to assist potential students with a refugee background in entering higher (tertiary) education and assisting them with integrating into student life.
In 2015, the Prime Minister of Denmark invited universities and organisations to a meeting on how arriving refugees could become part of Danish society, focusing on utilising the education they already have. This led the organisation Studenterhuset (Students House) to investigate if and how students with a refugee background had access to universities, either to continue or start education. The organisation found that very few refugees were accepted into higher education.
The difficulties and barriers for people with refugee status in accessing higher education in Denmark are serious. One of the challenges is getting their education from the home country recognised, while another is the temporary nature of residence permits for refugees (maximum 2 years at a time). For some groups, there is a limited right to higher education. The migration and asylum laws are constantly changing. And of course, there is an obvious challenge with language and social networks. Consequently, the number of higher education students with a refugee background is not at the level it could potentially be.
How does it work
Student Refugees began as a student-driven project in 2017. Refugees often need guidance on entering higher education as the application process is quite complex and different from many other countries. Moreover, they often face many other life demands as they settle in Denmark. The project tries to mediate the challenges through personal guidance to refugees and collaboration with educational institutions and the Danish Ministry for Higher Education.
The project’s volunteers offer guidance to refugees at ‘application cafés’ in Copenhagen for two hours, twice a month. In addition, the volunteers communicate with and guide the refugees via email and Skype. Recently, the project also began having ‘pop-up application cafés’ in different parts of Denmark outside of Copenhagen. An important part of the guidance has been to develop the only comprehensive, online guide to Danish higher education for refugees—studentrefugees.dk.
In 2018, the project added a branch called Student Refugees Buddies to help refugees who have been accepted into a higher education programme with their adjustment into the higher education setting. A refugee student is paired with a volunteer who is already enrolled in a higher education programme in Denmark. The volunteer helps the refugee to navigate the system and learn about university culture in Denmark.
One of the more indirect yet important goals for Student Refugees is to enhance cultural understanding and social networks. Personal meetings and seeing things from the refugees’ perspectives is important for the volunteers as well, so they get a better understanding of the refugees as individuals and the struggles they are facing. The project also seeks to increase the chance that the refugees become active citizens in Denmark, as well as creating possibilities of showing successful results of higher education for this group.
Each volunteer is carefully selected based on their application and educational background. It is important to have volunteers from as many Danish universities and education programmes as possible, in order to be able to cater to each refugee’s needs. The volunteers need to have a serious commitment, as the higher education application process can take months or even years and involves many challenges that are unique for each refugee.
Student Refugees started in 2017 and has helped around 230 people with a refugee background in their process of entering higher education. There are no exact numbers on how many have been accepted into higher education.
This year, Student Refugees is expanding the application cafés to other parts of Denmark and is helping the Icelandic Student Union in opening a sister organisation in Iceland.
In April 2019, the project was the national winner of the Charlemagne Youth Prize. In May 2019, it won the Active Student Award at the University of Copenhagen.
The project has so far not been evaluated externally but conducts a lot of internal evaluation in order to improve and learn from experience. The project’s ‘parent’ organisation Studenterhusets evaluates the programme in close collaboration with the volunteers and updates the project’s supporting foundations and external partners.
Who will benefit?
The main beneficiary group are people with refugee backgrounds who wish to apply for a higher education programme in Denmark, either continuing or beginning their studies. The majority of the participants are of Syrian origin. So far, more male than female prospective students have participated in the application cafés, but lately there has been an increase in the number of female prospective students joining.
Besides refugees, volunteers also benefit from the project, as they gain more knowledge and understanding of the refugees’ backgrounds, home countries and cultures.
Source of funding and Resources used
Student Refugees is a part of the project 'Laboratory for Social Engagement' funded by Tuborgfondet and the University of Copenhagen. Additionally, Together, Moving Forward and Roskilde Foundation have supported Student Refugees with funding in 2018 and 2019. The project is currently looking for funding.
The café and mentor programme in 2018-2019 benefited from the efforts of 52 volunteers, 6 of whom were unpaid coordinators. The coordinators meet for coordination activities, responding to emails, etc. for 2 hours every week. All volunteers meet for application cafés or buddy programme activities every 2 weeks. Including mandatory volunteer education, communications activities and talks at schools, public events, etc., the project has expended about 5,000 volunteer work hours in 2018-2019.
The project pays the equivalent of 1.2 full-time jobs, which involve handling the website, communications work and project coordination.
- Student Refugees
- Jacob Ørum