Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB)

Linking refugees to the diversity strategy

The Université Libre de Bruxelles’ diversity plan focuses on origin, age, gender and disability, but does not explicitly mention refugees. It  consists of a qualitative and quantitative analysis of the university’s situation, its strengths and weaknesses in terms of diversity, and sets out 26 actions to be carried out over the two-year duration of the plan. A part of the diversity plan was developed in consultation with the diversity service of the Brussels-based employment agency Actiris and targets the institution’s staff, not students.

Definition of the target group

As refugees are not explicitly mentioned in the diversity plans, they are not a defined target group.

History of the diversity strategy

ULB began working on the topic of diversity in 2016, when it was incorporated into the university’s gender policy. The university’s activities and services targeting refugees were developed independently from the university’s diversity strategy. In terms of a timeline, the university’s Welcome Desk for Refugees, actually predates the establishment of the diversity and gender policy. Similarly, ULB established a Solidarity Fund in 2016, offering support for researchers at risk, including, including asylum seekers and refugees.

Activities and services for refugees

As stated above, the university has a solidarity fund for researchers at risk, and a desk for refugees, run by the student social service with a view to accompanying refugee students through the registration process. Within ULB, the desk for refugees financially supports admission exams, French lessons and French language proficiency exams for refugees. There is also an Infor’Etudes service, providing information and guidance to all prospective students. In addition, the university’s registration service exempts refugees or asylum seekers from providing certain documents for their admissions. For example, they are allowed to provide a certificate of success if copies of diplomas are too complicated to acquire. Furthermore, refugees are exempt from registration fees if they cannot benefit from a grant from the Wallonia-Brussels Federation. ULB is also part of the Universités hospitalières project, which aims to facilitate access to studies, support migrants during their academic journey (through discussion groups, the creation of networks and intercultural activities), raise awareness among the community, and take action in society.

Coordination, monitoring and dedicated staff

The desk for refugees has dedicated staff who work and collaborate with contact people appointed to the registration service and the Infor’Etudes service. Its activities are monitored as part of the student social service.


At the central level of the university, data is only available on staff’s nationality, which gives an incomplete picture of diversity related to origin. One of the actions of the diversity plan is to improve the data on the different aspects of diversity, which will be hugely important in the fight against discrimination. The desk for refugees supported 34 bachelor and master students in 2020-2021. In addition,  there were 25 “auditors” (individuals allowed to follow courses, without formally being a student), of which 21 were taking French courses supported by the service. There were 18 auditors of Turkish nationality.

Challenges, lessons learnt and solutions

Social integration within the university is extremely challenging for refugees, who often express the need to meet people and to be supported in their studies through working groups. Therefore, the desk for refugees is considering setting up a mentoring system to better integrate refugee students into their faculties.

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

The members of staff working at the desk for refugees have been working remotely since the start of the health crisis. However, this has not hampered their support of student candidates thanks to fluid communication via email. The biggest impact of the crisis has been the severe loneliness and isolation felt by these students, much like many other students, but which has certainly been aggravated by their situation.