University of Jyväskylä (JYU)

Linking refugees to the diversity strategy

Refugees, or migrants with a refugee(-like) background, are not explicitly mentioned in the university’s Equality Plan for 2019–2021. The strategic document notes that, “The diversity of students is acknowledged in the development of student admission.” Linked to this action area in the plan, adapted admission criteria and dedicated counselling services are offered to potential refugee students. These measures also receive funding on the basis of the strategic development programmes that emphasise equality and non-discrimination.

Activities and services for refugees and asylum seekers

There are three main lines of support available at University of Jyväskylä:
  • The Supporting Immigrants in Higher Education in Finland initiative (SIMHE) offers guidance and counselling for migrants interested in academic studies in Finland. It was created in 2016 at the university in collaboration with Metropolia University of Applied Sciences, and now spans 10 of the 35 Finnish higher education institutions. It is coordinated by the University of Jyväskylä. Counselling is open to anyone, even those wishing to study at an institution that is not part of SIMHE.
  • In recognition of the challenging position of refugees and asylum seekers as degree-seeking applicants, the university offers adapted admissions criteria that enable refugees to apply without documentation of their prior learning. The faculty that they apply to evaluates the educational background based on a summary report.
  • The INTEGRA programme combines academic language training (English and Finnish, worth 45 ECTS credits) with university studies in the participants’ own disciplines. It can be accessed by refugees and asylum seekers as a bridging course. SIMHE guidance is offered as part of INTEGRA training, and an individual follow-up plan outlining next steps is created for each student towards the end of the course.

Action at national level

The Finnish government is supportive of the measures offered at the university for refugees: SIMHE was founded in response to the proposal by the Ministry of Education and Culture in 2016 to establish nation-wide projects that identify the competences of highly educated migrants and guide them towards study and career paths. The INTEGRA programme continues to be funded by the Ministry of Education and Culture. Admissions criteria are now adapted for refugee applicants across the Finnish higher education sector, based on an agreement between all institutions. Diversity and inclusion are high on the Finnish policy agenda. A national Action Plan to enhance access to higher education has been developed in consultation with all stakeholders, including migrants themselves. A draft of this policy was about to be presented to higher education institutions at the time of the interview and was launched in June 2021. This new action plan will impact the university funding frameworks and therefore enhance the funding for support for all disadvantaged learners. It proposes a number of concrete initiatives involving positive discrimination and further adaptation of admissions. The plan will likely also lead to enhanced monitoring.

Definition of the target group

The university Equality Plan does not explicitly define the target group of refugees and migrants with a refugee(-like) background – rather it promotes the overall equality and non-discrimination of staff and students from different language and cultural groups. The specific support measures are open to different target groups: while only potential students with a full refugee status can apply and benefit from the adjusted admissions criteria, the INTEGRA and SIMHE programme are also open to asylum seekers.

Implementation and monitoring

The Equality Plan is implemented, monitored and newly drafted every three years by the university’s Equality Committee. SIMHE is part of the university admissions services. The INTEGRA programme is led by the university language centre. The Equality Plan does not set concrete targets or quotas. However, its next version will link to the national Action Plan and therefore a clearer definition of target groups is expected to be introduced. The SIMHE counselled close to 400 potential students between 2016 and 2020. Around half of these had a refugee background. The progress of refugee students cannot be tracked once they are enrolled, as legally the institution cannot collect such information on their students’ background.

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

SIMHE’s guidance and counselling services are open to anyone, anywhere in Finland. Therefore, they were always online and largely not impacted by Covid-19. INTEGRA has moved 100% online due to Covid-19. This was challenging for some participants: it is an intensive 45-ECTS programme over nine months requiring a lot of online work. Teachers report that especially oral language learning has decreased.