Ghent University

Linking migrants with a refugee(-like) background to the diversity strategy

Ghent University has a comprehensive Diversity policy and action plan which strives to create an inclusive university where everyone feels they belong and can develop their talents. The university’s strategy is therefore all-encompassing and includes migrants with a refugee(-like) background without specifically targeting them

Definition of the target group

Ghent University opts for a mainstreaming approach, grouping recognised refugees with all newcomers, which includes all those who have recently arrived in Belgium. Recognised refugees are awarded exactly the same rights as Belgian students. However, asylum seekers have a separate status and due to federal law, are not awarded these same rights. The university def ines students with a migration background as those of whom at least one parent did not have Belgian nationality at birth. A distinction is made between EU and non-EU. International students, with an address outside of Belgium, are not included in this category.

History of the diversity strategy

Ghent University began working on the topic of diversity in 2008, and before this, a specific gender policy already existed. Refugee students and students with a migration background are included in the work of the diversity strategy without being singled out as a target group. Nonetheless, specific projects aimed at newcomers and migrants were launched in 2012, which increased in 2015 after the onset of the refugee crisis.

Enhancing the diversity skills of students and staff

As part of the Diversity policy and action plan, the university is working on several key projects. These include:
  • A diversity scan, launched in February 2021, involving five faculties which aims to help lecturers screen and adapt their learning materials to ensure a more diversity-sensitive education;
  • A coaching trajectory for staff in collaboration with students, as part of the diversity scan;
  • Support and training for teachers, launched in April 2021, to ensure that they incorporate diversity as much as possible into their teaching practices.

Activities and services for refugees and asylum seekers

Ghent University supports refugee students in the following ways:
  • A contact point for refugees with one dedicated staff member was set up in 2015;
  • A preparatory course for potential students who are newcomers to Belgium was launched in 2012 in collaboration with the city council. It aims at supporting those wishing to pursue higher education, including academic Dutch classes for refugees for a minimal fee;
  • They help refugees get recognition of their diplomas in collaboration with the city council;
  • An elective course for mentor students entitled “University-wide course: Coaching and diversity”, worth three credits. All students, including refugees and those with a migration background, can take part in this mentor project, coaching a mentee for a whole academic year. The mentees tend to be students, and activities include social and study guidance, such as learning to take notes during courses, overcoming language barriers, making study plans and preparing for exam questions, dealing with ICT and learning platforms, and overcoming the fear of failure and uncertainty;
  • As refugees are entitled to the same support as Belgian students, the social support centre of Ghent University can assist refugee students based on their financial situation by providing them with a grant or helping them with accommodation.
Ghent University caters for asylum seekers in the following ways:
  • Students who are in a particularly vulnerable position, including asylum seekers who have completed two years of secondary school in Belgium, can benefit from a study fund at Ghent University;
  • The university has launched the Reno project, which would, from September 2021 onwards, allow asylum seekers to avail of courses at the university worth 24 credits while waiting for their refugee status to be approved.
In addition, there is also the Centre for the Social Study of Migration and Refugees (CESSMIR) at Ghent University, which focuses on the social impact of migration and fleeing.

Statistics and monitoring

No official statistics are gathered on refugees. However, every year, Ghent University gathers statistics on students with a migration background (EU and non-EU, those who benefit from a grant, those who speak a foreign language at home). As for activity-related statistics, approximately 10 out of the 20 students who attended the higher education preparatory course for newcomers in 2019-2020 were refugees. In 2018-2019, 11 out of 18 were refugees.   Furthermore, in 2020-2021, there were 93 mentors and 148 mentees taking part in the “University-wide course: Coaching and diversity”.

Challenges and ways to overcome them

The recognition of diplomas is a time-consuming process that needs to be accelerated. Asylum seekers face long waiting times and it can be frustrating if they are finally not granted refugee status and are therefore unable to register as fully-fledged students. Such administrative procedures are out of the university’s control. However, the university itself can improve the integration of refugees and migrants by making diversity, inclusion and equity a core part of the university’s organisational culture.

Impact of Covid-19 on the institution’s diversity activities

The pandemic forced Ghent University, like all universities, to move the majority of their classes online, including language classes for newcomers. This affected refugees and migrants who would have preferred face-to-face interaction with their teachers. Likewise, the pandemic delayed the above-mentioned “Reno” project.