Grenoble School of Management (GEM)

Linking refugees to the diversity strategy

Currently, there is no formalised diversity strategy at the Grenoble School of Management (GEM). However, the institution is in the process of acquiring the legal status of a société à mission, which involves bringing solutions to the challenges of the 21st century. This status change mandates that a strategy be in place for a number of core areas linked to the UN’s SDGs, e.g. to promote quality education for all (SDG 4) and others including diversity. On top of a currently more project-based approach, the institution will be devising a diversity strategy in the near future. In addition, GEM has signed the French national Charte de Diversité of the Grades Écoles de Management.

Definition of the target group

Refugees are considered to be those with the official legal status of refugee. Asylum seekers do not fall under this category.

Refugee Grant Programme and Refugees Working Group

The Grenoble School of Management began working with refugees in 2015. Refugee Grant Programme Recognised refugees who are qualified and who have certified that they have a B2 level in French are eligible to apply for the institution’s international and grandes écoles programmes. Ten refugees can be accepted each year: however there are rarely this many who apply. The first intake took place in 2016 with three enrolments. Since 2016, 13 refugees have been accepted. If the refugee is accepted onto the programme, their fees are waived by the institution. Refugees Working Group The Refugees Working Group comprises the local higher education community [1] as well as several non-education-based organisations. Within this consortium, many activities and support services are organised and offered. The role of each consortium partner, and the support they might offer to all local refugees aligns with the specific competencies of the institution and their students. Activities involving higher education institutions include the following:
  • The Université Grenoble Alpes created the DU pass in 2015, which is a pathway to accelerate refugees’ French language skills allowing them to continue or begin their studies.
  • To facilitate the application process, the consortium has also created a special portal for refugees where they can find out about the entry processes for the different higher education institutions in the area;
  • All refugees in the local higher education community can take part in four-part Career Booster workshops aimed at personal and professional development. In particular, these workshops help participants write their CV and understand the French job market. Career Booster workshops are organised by GEM’s diversity coordinator and the student association Ensemble, which organises intercultural activities for refugees;
  • Students at Science Po are involved in a legal project helping refugees get their legal papers from the French Office for Immigration and Integration;
  • Refugees have the possibility to audit courses (not for credit) at GEM (on a case-by-case basis) and the other institutions of the consortium, so they can find out more about the schools and programmes they are interested in attending.
Activities involving non-higher education institution organisations include:
  • The student support network, the CROUS, offers assistance to refugees regarding accommodation, canteen passes, grants and social assistance;
  • The local antenna of SINGA helps refugees and other newcomers to build social, professional and entrepreneurial projects.
The Refugees Working Group has also been involved in the Migrants dans l’Enseignement Supérieur (Migrants in Higher Education) network since 2017. In addition to the work carried out by the consortium, they work with the local metropolitan area, which has access to a larger number of refugees and is particularly active when it comes to refugees’ employment opportunities.

Dedicated staff

GEM has a dedicated Diversity Coordinator who is also in charge of the Career Booster and the accompaniment of “atypical” student profiles. The Diversity Coordinator works on the topics of gender, disability and refugees. In an informal capacity, the Head of Sustainability also acts as the refugee contact person and represents GEM in the Refugees Working group consortium, assisting ad hoc with academic or financial problems faced by refugee students. There is also a dedicated student financial advisor for all GEM students who need assistance.

Challenges and lessons learnt

Although refugees can apply for the institution’s international and Grandes Écoles programmes, the vast majority go down the international route. The Grandes Écoles selection process – the “concours” – is rigorous both academically and culturally. GEM is currently exploring with other Grandes Écoles whether it would be possible to waive some of the requirements. The selection process for the international programmes is more straightforward and the classes are taught in English. Nonetheless, pursuing the international programme can cause difficulties for refugee students. For example, they may not have the visa required to undertake an internship abroad, which is a compulsory component for many of these programmes. Furthermore, for those wishing to stay in France long-term, finding employment straight away can be problematic as they may not have the required level of professional French, be familiar with French work culture, or have an appropriate profile for the local French job market. Refugees face many other challenges such as administrative, academic and financial issues. Firstly, getting refugees into the programmes is, of course, a long and drawn-out process. When they are enrolled as students, many have to work alongside their studies, leading to less time for their education. In addition, as the majority are mature students, it is more difficult to get a grant from the CROUS.

How to overcome these challenges

With such a small sample of refugees, solutions tend to be found on a case-by-case basis. That being said, it is clear that there is a need for more structured, targeted support in the future. Professional mentoring programmes are currently being developed within the consortium which could be a big help to refugee students in the future. Also, GEM would like to reach out to refugees who are currently not eligible to apply for higher education programmes, such as unaccompanied minors.

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

As human contact is crucial for this target group, supporting refugees remotely has been challenging. The university is planning to collect informal feedback from the refugee students at the end of the academic year to see how they fared academically in the face of the pandemic. [1] Grenoble School of Management, ENSAG School of Architecture, Crous Grenoble Alpes, Universités Sans Frontières Network, CUEF Université Grenoble Alpes, Grenoble INP (School of Engineering) and Science Po Grenoble