Specific University Integration programmes for beneficiaries of international protection

Academics & researchers

Specific University Integration programmes for beneficiaries of international protection

Contact details

Submitted by: Sophie Lair, Protection Associate

Email: [email protected]

Website: unhcr.org/be/ 

Introduction to the project




2015 - Ongoing


Most of the main Belgian universities (Brussels, Leuven, Louvain-la-neuve, Ghent, Liège, Namur, Louvain, Mons, Antwerp, Hasselt, etc.) have developed programmes to facilitate access to higher education and integration of asylum seekers and refugees. These programmes provide a diverse range of support tools such as language courses, social support (housing, transportation, scholarships, etc.), orientation, sponsorship and mentoring of refugee students. Through these programmes, efforts are undertaken to facilitate the educational and social inclusion of refugee students.

Main activities of the Good Practice

  • The VLIR (Vlaamse InterUniversitaire Raad) working group ‘Equal Opportunities’ organized eight workshops in 2017-2018 – together with refugees – to investigate how universities can contribute to their integration, either through education or in academic careers. The VLIR thereto collaborated with a wide range of stakeholders, among which KVAB (Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium), JA (Young Academy), and VVS (Flemish Students Union). The project was sponsored by the King Baudouin Foundation.
  • In 2015, the VUB launched a Refugee Student Programme. Besides its general support to refugee students, the VUB proposes an introductory class for 20 students called InClusive AcadeMic Programme for University Students (InCAMPUS programme).
  • The Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (KUL) published a practical guide for students at the KUL with a refugee status.
  • In the French-speaking Community, different initiatives were launched as well. A campaign called “Universités Hospitalières” was led by the French speaking Students Federation and pledged to advance four commitments: facilitate access to studies, support the participation of migrants students during their academic journey, raise community awareness and act as an actor in society (Universite Hospitaliere webpage).
  • All the French-speaking universities developed refugee-specific enrolment programmes. For instance, the Université Catholique de Louvain developed a programme called “Access2University”, which aimed at preparing refugees for their university studies. UMons has assisted more than 150 refugees to pursue their higher education since the creation of its refugee-dedicated program in 2015, working closely with Fedasil and the Red Cross at the local level and facilitating the integration of refugee students in the local community. For the year 2017-2018, the French-speaking Universities agreed to make the enrolment free of charge for refugees under certain conditions.
  • Involvement of students in the integration of refugee-students: Buddy systems, solidarity in student associations where students can collaborate with their institutions to support refugees. A number of Universities (UCL, UMons, KUL, UGent) have created specific buddying programmes for refugees.
  • A program Science4Refugees was launched by the European Commission in order to facilitate the networking of refugees with high-level scientific training and research institutions. Universiteit of Antwerp, KUL, UGent, UCL, ULB currently participate in the program.





  • Belgian Universities including those of Brussels, Leuven, Ghent, Antwerp, Hasselt, Louvain-la-neuve, Liège, Namur, Louvain-la-neuve, Mons.

How challenges were overcome 

  • In 2015, only 1% of refugees were enrolled in higher education in Belgium (Intégrer les réfugiés à l’unif, c’est plus qu’une histoire de cours de français).
  • The flow of information is a sensitive issue. Higher education institutions need to get a better overview of the (potential) inflow, characteristics and expectations of the target group. On the other hand, refugees/newcomers need to be ensured smoother access to comprehensive information about the opportunities offered by universities. In this regard, early counselling and adequate orientation of refugees on the choice of the right curriculum is important. All universities provide clear and up to date information on their website.
  • The financing of the programs mentioned above is also an issue. For instance, Access2University is financed by ¾ by the UCL, which has expressed its interest in benefitting from public financing for these kinds of projects.
  • Moreover, the opportunity of potential university students to pursue academic studies depends on the willingness of local social welfare centers to provide them with financial support through the social integration income and as part of the Social Insertion and Integration Program that is signed between every social income beneficiary and the local social welfare center. Stories of students being unable to continue their studies have appeared in the media. The welfare centres need to be sensitized. Practices change from one city to another.
  • Early access to intensive language classes and sufficient capacity of language schools has a big influence. Mastering the language is indeed a precondition to entering a university program. Universities often offer language programs once the refugee is enrolled (UCL, UGent, UMons, VUB, ULB). On the issue of language and culture, KU Leuven and Univertisé Catholique de Louvain have implemented a Tandem Language Project to provide two language learners who speak different native languages the opportunity to learn about each other’s language and culture.
  • The procedure of recognition of competences and qualifications can be long, sometimes expensive, and non-transparent. NARIC and other institutions need to be aware of specific challenges that refugees face. Facilities need to be able to further accelerate and simplify the processes of recognition and validation of former education. The recognition of secondary school certificates or higher degrees obtained in the country of origin often presents practical challenges: students may be forced to repeat at least part of their curriculum in order to continue their studies or exercise their profession if they were already practicing in their country of origin.
  • Structural discrimination of children/students needs to be addressed as well because in Belgium, a structural gap exists between the numbers of national and newcomer children/aged-out children enrolled in standard (versus technical or vocational) schools and higher education institutions (L'Onu plaide pour une meilleure scolarisation des enfants migrants et réfugiés en Europe).
  • With regard to social support provided to refugees at universities, more coordination and partnerships are needed between the institutions and the stakeholders. More specifically, a central information system providing useful information would be beneficial. The involvement of students in the integration of refugee-students is also a challenge. Therefore, a number of universities (UCL, UMons, KUL, UGent) have created specific buddying programs for refugees.

Results of the Good Practice

Different initiatives at the regional level resulted in a number of policy/work documents being issued by regional university councils, identifying both obstacles and concrete steps to further enhance access to higher education for refugees:

  • the VLOR (Flemish Council for Higher Education) issued an advice document for the facilitation of refugees’ access to higher education in March 2017 (VLOR advies Vluchtelingen, March 2017)
  • the VLIR (Flemish interuniversity council for university education) drafted an action plan to increase refugees’ access to higher education (VLIR actieplan vluchtelingen April 2019) 
  • the ARES (Académie de Recherche et d’Enseignement Supérieur) published a document providing an overview of all initiatives and support provided by French-speaking universities to refugees (see attachment)

There are no reliable statistics on the number of refugees that have applied to University programs over the last 4 years. However, sporadic statistics can be found about the number of Refugees selected in different programs mentioned above: