Sapienza University of Rome

Linking refugees to the diversity strategy

The Scientific Technical Committee on Diversity and Inclusion, created by Sapienza, comprises professors, technical-administrative staff and students. Members were appointed on 29 January 2021 by Rectoral Decree. The committee aims to implement strategic plans and projects to enhance individuals’ potential, support equality and integration, promote collaboration, and create new networks, both internal and external, to foster inclusion policies. As far as refugees and migrants with a refugee(-like) background are concerned, Sapienza University of Rome has adhered to the UNHCR’s Manifesto of the Inclusive University since 2019, which aims to support the admission of refugees to university education and research, and promote social integration and active participation in academic life. Evidence suggests that all these elements are feeding into Sapienza’s inclusion policy and strategy, creating a unique set of aims and values.

Definition of the target group

There is no specific definition of target groups such as refugees, scholars at risk or migrants with a refugee(-like) background, but Sapienza pays special attention to inclusive policies and strategies aimed at avoiding any form of racism and discrimination, as well as at backing integration and inclusion.

History of the diversity strategy

Sapienza has a long-standing experience in strategies and services dedicated to physical disabilities and specific learning difficulties. Attention to refugees has grown in importance over the recent years. Since signing the manifesto, a working group has been established which identifies the different emerging needs of students or prospective students who are refugees or have a refugee(-like) background. In addition, as stated above, in February 2021, a Technical and Scientific Committee on Diversity and Inclusion was set up which promotes the processes of inclusion and fights any form of direct or indirect discrimination within the university.

Degree course on Global Humanities

Moreover, in line with the Manifesto of the Inclusive University, Sapienza has launched a BA in Global Humanities. This is a three-year degree open to Italian and international students wishing to pursue careers as journalists, as well as careers in public bodies, cooperation and humanitarian organisation. The course focuses on global citizenship, allowing students to expand their knowledge on:
  • the complex historical processes affecting the global transformation of contemporary societies;
  • the history of religions, anthropology, sociology, migration studies, global health, legal studies and political sciences.

Services and activities offered to refugees and migrants

The working group is engaged in a wide range of activities, namely:
  • the UNICORE 3.0 project, backed by the UNHCR which is the implementation of university corridors for refugees from Ethiopia to some Italian universities;
  • advocacy within the Scholars At Risk initiative;
  • the development of a set of services specifically aimed at helping refugees and migrant students with a refugee(-like) background with academic and socio-civic issues;
  • research on the situation of refugees and migrants with a refugee(-like) background in academia, such as the invisibility of migrants during the Covid era and the mobility of migrant students in 2019;
  • the project “Mentorship – Towards an Italian network of inclusive universities” which aims to encourage student participation and develop dialogue on the role of young people as key players in promoting inclusion and multiculturalism, and which involves tutoring activities for foreign students.
In addition, the university offers:
  • recognition procedures for refugees and migrants with a refugee(-like) background;
  • orientation on admission policies to study programmes;
  • some places for international students on a bridging or foundation year, to get acquainted with the Italian education system and culture;
  • the HELLO International Student Help Desk, which caters for international students, students with a refugee(-like) background and refugees alike.

Coordination, monitoring and statistics

Currently, within Sapienza there is no central coordinator of all ongoing activities aimed at supporting refugees and migrants with a refugee(-like) background. However, coordination takes place through the engagement and commitment of the manifesto’s working group and through the previously-mentioned technical committee. As for statistics, refugee students are not identifiable through the registration system. Some data is available, however, through projects and programmes: A joint initiative of the Ministry of Interior and Conference of Rectors provides 100 scholarships every year to young refugees and migrants with a refugee(-like) background, allowing them to enrol on a Bachelor’s, Master’s or PhD programme, out of which an average of six or seven scholarship holders are enrolled at Sapienza. Thanks to the Mentorship Project launched in Sapienza in September 2020, 48 students (30 male and 18 female) have been supported, mainly from countries outside Europe, such as Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Yemen, Iran, Colombia, Afghanistan, Brazil, China and Japan. In the 2020-2021 academic year, there were 9,863 migrants from all over the world who registered as students and accessed the university’s integration services.

Challenges and ways to overcome them

Sapienza University of Rome has found the identification of refugees and of migrants with a refugee(-like) background extremely challenging. As for existing gaps, there is a real need to collaborate more actively with different local agencies and entities specifically dedicated to refugees and migrants with a refugee(-like) background. There is also an urgency to create a structured set of services devoted to refugees and students with a refugee(-like) background managed by the Central Administration of Sapienza. A central-level strategic document, as an expression of the commitment of the university’s governing body, can play a crucial role in overcoming challenges relating to the inclusion of refugee and migrant students. Therefore, the top-down approach in this regard is extremely important, if not imperative.

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

The Covid-19 crisis has affected refugee students and students with a refugee(-like) background in a hard-hitting way. At the beginning of the pandemic, the university received many requests for help, mainly from students who relied financially on part-time jobs, sometimes even undeclared work. The university is therefore increasingly aware of the difficulties that refugees and migrants with a refugee(-like) background face today and there is evidence that the situation post Covid-19 could improve, also due to the European Commission’s policies on inclusion.