Migrants: a globe in a blurry background

Displaced Migrants in Higher Education: Findings from a study on Pathways and Support

This article is part of a Special Issue highlighting sessions held at ESOF 2018 Toulouse (9-14 July 2018) and proposed by the Marie Curie Alumni Association (MCAA) members.

Attend this session on 11th July at 10:15.


In January 2018 the University of Manchester, in collaboration with MCAA, launched a survey on the practices and attitudes in higher education institutions with regard to displaced students and academics. The aim of the survey was to identify the best practices to integrate displaced students and academics into higher education institutions. In addition, the study investigated the difficulties encountered by displaced people in accessing higher education. The survey was disseminated through the MCAA channels, including social media and personal email, and was sent to members of the association and of international networks. The study recruited a total of 2,384 respondents.

A similar study was conducted by the European Commission in 2015. The 2015 survey identified several initiatives already taking place in different European countries to support the integration of displaced students in higher education. Such programs vary from improving the recognition of students’ skills to access to higher education systems to academic and social integration of researchers in the host countries. Together with previous work, the current study highlights the need to raise awareness among researchers and institutions about the various existing practices adopted in Europe to integrate displaced students and academics.

Main findings

Most respondents were unable to answer questions regarding the inclusion of forced migrants in their host institutions. There were also 115 respondents who identified themselves as forced migrants. Only about a quarter of these were aware of any initiatives from their host institution to support them. Most of the forced migrants who responded to the survey originate from countries such as Afghanistan, Syria and Turkey. For many of these individuals, their prior academic and professional experience did not adequately prepare them for a successful career in European academic institutions.

Furthermore, self-identified forced migrant respondents overwhelmingly indicated that there are barriers which prevent forced migrant academics from accessing higher institution in Europe. These include, but are not limited to, language and cultural barriers, financial barriers, and their migration status. Similar results were found in other studies regarding forced migrants and educational systems. A majority of respondents, particularly who were unaware of the support structures of their university, said that institutions should ‘deliver targeted support’ for displaced academics (79%) and displaced students (76%). Among respondents who said that no additional support was needed, a variety of reasons were given. Some felt that a meritocratic system should be used, rather than providing extra support for any particular group.

The respondents who identified as forced migrants included those who migrated from non European countries, such as Afghanistan, Iran, Syria or Turkey, but also respondents who identified themselves as displaced students or academics from European countries. This was an unexpected finding, and needs more investigation. It reflects differences in how respondents perceived their displacement – whether it was due to war, or rather to economic or environmental pressures.

Finally, some respondents reported that they are directly involved in initiatives to help forced migrants and have indicated a willingness to be contacted to share their experiences. One future goal of the study is to disseminate some of these experiences and ‘best practices’ across the sector.

Conclusions and Invitation to ESOF 2018

The results of the survey show that most respondents were unaware of what pathways and support systems are available at their universities and research centers for forced migrants. Respondents identified several critical barriers to the integration of displaced students and academics into higher education systems, such as language and cultural barriers, financial barriers, and their migration status. Academic institutions and organizations that deal with forced migrants need to coordinate efforts that go beyond addressing the basic resettlement requirements of forced migrants and facilitate their integration into academic institutions. There are currently a number of large-scale initiatives conducted by academic institutions in several European countries. However, there is not yet conclusive evidence that these initiatives have reached their designated audience in the most efficient way.

Moreover, the survey results indicate that some European citizens identified themselves as displaced students or academics. This begs the questions: ‘what specific factors are related to the identification as a forced migrant’.

The outcomes of this survey will be presented at the EuroScience Open Forum 2018 (ESOF 2018) in Toulouse. The panel: “How best to integrate academics and students refugees into higher education” is scheduled on the 11th July at 10:15. The invited speakers to the panel are representatives of different organizations and entities, including the EURAXESS Services Network of the European Commission, the Helena Kennedy Foundation, Kiron Open Higher Education, the University of Grenoble Alpes, and a member of an association helping Syrian refugees in Toulouse region, in France.

We welcome MCAA members and others to contribute in the roundtable discussion with their questions and experiences.

Miguel Antonio Lim, Andreina Laera, Rebecca Murray, Soheil Shayegh

Go back to the Special Issue: ESOF 2018

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