Access2University (A2U): a preparatory year programme for refugees students

Improving language skills, immersion in academic courses, and individual support.

Access2University (A2U): a preparatory year programme for refugees students

Improving language skills, immersion in academic courses, and individual support.
Access2University (A2U)_pic from video.JPG

The project in brief

Implemented by

Access2University Programme, Université Catholique de Louvain (UCLouvain)




The project started in October 2017. 

The project is still ongoing and it will be renewed next year.


The Access2University (A2U) programme prepares asylum seekers and refugees to university studies by:

  1. Improving language skills in the French-speaking Belgium part
  2. Their immersion in some academic courses, in order to familiarize oneself with the university method
  3. Providing individual support

Project aims 

Education: access to university, as an inclusion response in the host society

1) Access2university wants to reach a larger number of talented young people whose access to university is made difficult or even impossible. Only 1% of refugees have access to higher education, while statistics mention 30% of the rest of the general population.

2) Intensify language courses (French on academic material) and become familiar with academic culture and learning in the Walloon Federation Brussels (FWB), which is the only way to integrate and later on find a job

3) Integrate a stronger support and re-orientation component, including for those who have important professional experience to enhance

4) Intensify opportunities for intercultural exchanges and the enhancement of the cultural background of refugees for the benefit of non-refugee groups, through citizen tandem (a formula that has already attracted the Belgian UNHCR office in Brussels, which recently came to meet us in November)

5) Strengthen collaboration with universities and other structures involved in the reception and support of refugees.


VIDEO with A2U students, produced by Placet partner.

Resources used 

1) Authorities involved commitment from the UCLouvain authorities who provide financial and administrative support for almost the entire programme. In Belgium, some HEIs waive fees for refugee students who meet the income requirements (which are the same as for other Belgian students).

2) Networking and availability of the coordinator, who is the contact point.

3) Atmosphere of trust and kindness so that each student can progress at his or her own pace. A unifying, human program that personalizes each step.

4) Enthusiasm and extraordinary collaboration between different services. Flexibility of the intervening parties to make the programme evolve. From 2017-2018 to 2018-2019, the number of actors involved in the programme increased significantly. Interactions and extra-academic activities are very much appreciated by students. These collaborations have resulted as an indication, in extra-academic training, meetings for the exchange of experiences, facilities for the transfer, re-orientation of students, starting with an immersion phase in isolated courses (in the preparatory year).

5) Learning French through several methods: class room, conversation table, monitoring and citizen tandem with Belgian students.


  • L’AUF: Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie
  • Fédération Wallonie Bruxelles (FWB) and Pôle Louvain
  • MIGRAKOT, Centre PLACET, Collectif des Femmes, CIRE , CGEI as local associations partners
  • FOREM and Duoforajob , about access to job trainings and information
  • Others HEIs in Belgium: Helha, VINCI School,  EPHEC, ECAM, HEH Mons, etc.

Challenges and how they were overcome


  1. Low level of involvement (regional, national, EU)
  2. Lack of funding towards refugee initiatives and similar actions of our partners
  3. Complexities of procedures, recognition diploma and degrees, especially for asylum seekers who go to another higher education institution after A2U
  4. New context and codes for learners, lack of prerequisites studies
  5. Language difficulties and some psychological and fragility cases

How they were overcome

Through advocacy at different levels, for the integration of refugees through access to education:

1) At European level first, the A2U programme was presented in a policy hub of the European Parliament in Brussels in November 2019. Many other opportunities/missions have always been initiated to share this experience with others European colleagues through training week or workshop groups, consortium of several universities such as Coimbra group, the guild, Circle U, and so on.

2) At the local level, a mapping initiative to welcome and integrate refugees and asylum-seekers students was published by the Academy of HEIs in Federation Wallonie Bruxelles (ARES), with a major contribution of UCLouvain.

3) A spring and summer school preceding admission to the preparatory year to show other possible ways and offer a welcoming and secure atmosphere so that candidates can develop serenely, make a clear choice and evolve at their own pace. This being enough to serve as a safety net for a foreign person who is starting higher education after a conflict context.

4) A positive evaluation: at the end of each year, an evaluation of the programme, via an anonymous questionnaire, allows it to be further developed. It is carried out by beneficiaries and stakeholders, all of whom are more than 80% satisfied with its content.

5) To raise the very low language level at the entrance (A2): we organize an average of 10 hours of French courses and activities per week, divided into :

  • 4 hours of a French course with a university objective, all year round
  • From 2 hours in 2017-2018, we have increased to 4 hours of French lessons per level of each student, defined by a placement test. This category of course is also open to the international public (exchange students, researchers, etc.)
  • 2 hours of supervision with the supervision of Belgian students
  • 2 hours of conversation tables led by Belgian students

Results of the Good Practice 

  • Access and inclusion to a big and open community, with more than 120 nationalities
  • Specific support for access to housing, socio-medical and financial assistance (asylum seekers who do not have sources of income to travel, pay for course materials, etc.)

How the project meets the GCR Objectives

Objective 2: Enhance refugee self-reliance

Via mastery of the language and better inclusion, an effective access to studies for some, access to a job for others.

Objective 3: Expand access to third-country solutions

The main task of our spring / summer school which precedes the start of the preparatory year is to provide information on several others possible routes in Belgium, such as the different types of training in higher education, social promotion, mentoring for jobs, for access to housing, employment, etc., the functioning of the university in the European context.

Objective 4: Support conditions in countries of origin for return in safety and dignity

Access to the scientific knowledge enables refugees to rebuild their countries when return is possible (and even before). While waiting for return, peace and security, knowledge is shared easily between former colleagues remaining in the country of origin and a remotely trained refugee. This is the case of a Syrian A2U laureate who will be graduated in July 2020 at UCLouvain master in pharmacy and whose experience is regularly shared with young platform’s friends (interwiew in local media, TVCom, Le Soir).

Next steps 

Re-launched for a third consecutive time during the current academic year ending in September 2020, Access2University will continue and a new call for applications for 2020-2021 is scheduled for January 2020.