University of Trento

Linking refugees to the diversity strategy

Equality and cultural diversity are among the founding principles of the University of Trento and are embraced as part of the institution’s daily life. In order to achieve this objective, the University of Trento approved a Three-year Plan for Positive Action (2017-2019) which includes tools and measures aimed at identifying and removing any discrimination based on gender, religion or belief, racial or ethnic origin, sexual orientation and sexual or gender identity, disability, age, and occupation. Linked to this strategy is the university’s reception programme, which targets asylum seekers and/or those under international humanitarian protection who have the necessary qualifications to attend university.

Definition of the target group

The target group is composed of asylum seekers and refugee students who are already in the Province of Trento.

History of the strategy and the refugee initiatives

The strategy on equality and diversity has been in place since 2014, and the engagement on refugees’ issues started in the same year. Linked to the strategy, the project UniTrento for Refugees (2016-2021) on the reception of asylum seekers at the university has been launched. The project began with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding in July 2016 as a joint commitment between the university and the Province of Trento to guarantee the right of access to university education to applicants and/or holders of international protection.

Impact of refugee initiatives on the International Migration Laboratory (IML)

The University of Trento is also home to an International Migration Laboratory (IML), which is not part of the UniTrento for Refugees project, but has some overlapping activities. It promotes training, research and informed debate on migration and its consequences for departure, transit and arrival. This involves collaboration with the main actors in the field of immigration of the Trentino region. The IML coordinates research activities on the subject of international migration across the various departments of the University of Trento. To fulfil the project’s objectives,  representatives of the different university departments cooperate with the Vice-Rector for Equity and Diversity Policies and the Equality & Diversity Office.

Activities and services for refugees

The UniTrento for Refugees project offers five study places for a full degree course to refugees and asylum seekers each academic year. There is a four-step selection procedure involving:
  • pre-selection of eligible candidates in collaboration with the local authorities;
  • selection of candidates by the Equality & Diversity Office through an interview to learn about interests and previous studies;
  • orientation about the choice of degree course and support in the registration phase;
  • access to free courses in Italian, computer science and peer tutoring before taking the entrance test.
The main activities of the project are:
  • providing guidance on academic choice;
  • assessing the students’ foreign qualifications;
  • exempting students from tuition fees for single courses and Italian language courses;
  • reserving a number of places for asylum seekers;
  • helping students apply for scholarships and accommodation at Opera Universitaria.

Coordination, monitoring and statistics

A working group coordinates, implements and monitors all activities relating to refugee students. Actors include the student welcome office, psychological support services and the Study and Tuition Service Office. Since 2016, 22 students have benefited from the refugee reception project. More specifically, this concerns 11 students from West Africa, one from Central Africa, two from the Middle East, seven from South East Asia and one from Latin America. In terms of status, one student has been a recognised refugee, two have been subsidiary protection holders, one has been a humanitarian protection holder and 18 have been applicants for International Protection. 

Challenges and lessons learnt

The limits and challenges facing refugee students are profound, including lengthy recognition procedures, juggling family life and studies, high dropout rates, difficulties meeting admission requirements, poor skills in basic disciplinary areas, access to accommodation, poor materials, and lack of financial support.

Enhancing refugee initiatives into the future

The university would like to widen the programme to include refugees from outside the province, and to provide further support, such as:
  • foundation courses in basic subjects;
  • orientation meetings and buddy support;
  • scholarships and grants;
  • more flexible enrolment procedures;
  • part-time study options for working students;
  • creating a permanent and coordinated working group to meet and balance support needs;
  • dialogue on common challenges and good practices with all actors involved.