Placing diversity at the heart of organisational culture improves the inclusion of migrants and refugees in the university
Since the outbreak of the so-called refugee crisis in 2015, European Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) have made considerable efforts to facilitate access for newcomers, through a constellation of actions in different domains: financial support, admission procedures, recognition of qualifications, language and psychological support, to mention a few. Most of these initiatives took a bottom-up approach, as an immediate and emergency response to a crisis situation. Although they have undoubtedly contributed to building more inclusive HEIs and connecting universities with civil society actors, few of them have been underpinned by a central strategic approach and planning, paving the way for a holistic and sustainable institutional response.
In the last three years, four organisations – Sapienza University, the Mediterranean Universities Union (UNIMED), Fundació Solidaridad of the University of Barcelona, and the European Universities Association (EUA) – have been working in collaboration with IOM, in the project UNI(di)VERSITY – Socially responsible university for inclusive societies in the era of migration, co-funded by the Erasmus+ programme of the European Union.
The project has fostered dynamics of collaboration and knowledge exchange to promote the social inclusion of migrants and refugees, and it produced an original set of instruments to support university staff and services in their efforts to integrate issues related to migration and diversity in different areas, and to act as agents of change in their own institutions and academic community, and throughout Europe.
The main highlights and results over the 3-year period include:
- Atlas of Inclusion, a comparative analysis of 13 European Higher Education Institutions’ strategies for migrant and refugee inclusion as part of their social responsibility and diversity approach. The report showcases examples of support offered for migrants in a refugee(-like) situation, and it discusses how these examples link to the overarching diversity and inclusion strategies, and how this link influences both the day-to-day implementation and the overall impact of the programmes;
- Awareness campaign which actively engaged approximately 350 participants, and was aimed at building socially responsible universities by creating a culture in which diversity is valued and social inclusion of migrants and refugees is achievable and composed by an Instagram campaign and the documentary film Refugee Students which tells the story of three university students who are refugees in Rome and Barcelona. The awareness campaign goes well beyond the duration of the project, which is why universities and other institutions are always invited to suggest local screenings of the documentary;
- Toolkit for University Staff and Services, a set of instruments that seek to support HEIs, and in particular, their university staff and services (international relations office, student services, faculties, research departments, etc.) in their efforts to integrate or develop actions on issues related to migration and diversity through universities’ social responsibility;
- Strategic Framework, a methodological instrument designed to support the university leaders in their effort to further develop and strengthen the strategy for inclusion of their Higher Education Institutions (HEIs);
- Staff training week organised by Sapienza university on 7-10 June 2022, which provided 36 participants from 26 universities in 16 countries with a set of instruments and hands-on activities to develop strategies aimed at integrating migration issues at all levels of institutional activities;
- A series of online and onsite events which involved 363 participants, and it was intended to multiply the project message and results:
- Awareness events at Sapienza University of Rome on 16 December 2021, and at the Fundació Solidaridad on 25 November 2021;
- Outreach event “Inclusive universities in the era of migration” at Sapienza University of Rome on 7 June 2022;
- Widespread final event, composed by a workshop “Socially responsible university for inclusive societies in the era of migration” at the Fundació Solidaridad of the University of Barcelona on 14 December 2022, the screening of the documentary “Refugees Students” at Cinema Farnese in Rome on 15 December 2022, and a webinar “The social responsibility of universities in the era of migration” organised by EUA on 16 December 2022.
We are grateful to everyone who has contributed to our project and insightful discussion, and we encourage key stakeholders in the field to further support the inclusion of migrants and refugees in higher education by leveraging the project’s results.
The UNI(di)VERSITY partners remain available to support the inclusion of migrants and refugees in higher education, both by supporting universities in their efforts to integrate or develop actions and overarching diversity and inclusion strategies, and by continuing the collaboration and synergies with ongoing initiatives supporting migrants and refugees in education.
To continue the collaboration and sharing of information on the integration of migrants and refugees in higher education, we have created a mailing list where members share stories from their own projects, event invitations, and new publications on the theme. If you would like to join the conversation please email us at email@example.com. Additionally, you can follow the project’s Instagram @uni4diversity and check out our previous campaigns and posts.
We look forward to staying connected and continuing the important work towards more inclusive and diverse higher education institutions.