From students to students: students and refugees uniting for integration in society and education

Local Integration

From students to students: students and refugees uniting for integration in society and education


Students connecting with each other

Encouraging students to develop and implement projects which support refugee and migrant access to education and social inclusion.

Contact details

Submitted by:

Fanchon Lefevre “Together, Moving Forward” programme manager (European Students’ Union)


[email protected]


Social media : 

Twitter: @ESU4Refugees




Instagram: @OBESSU

Introduction to the project




2016 – 2019 with a possible further two year extension


Both the Moving Forward and Seeds for Integration programmes aim at encouraging students to think of, develop, implement and improve grassroots projects to support access to education for refugees and migrants and support social inclusion.

Bearing in mind that worldwide only 24 per cent of refugee children are enrolled in secondary school, and only 3 per cent of refugees access tertiary education, the challenges remain very high. The projects implemented are solutions-oriented and focus on grassroots issues, so are very adapted to the local reality. The innovative solutions are mostly sustainable and in some cases have been extended to other cities and regions.

Depending on the country and region, the projects focus on awareness raising activities to tackle hate-speech toward migrants and refugees or concrete activities to support refugees and migrants to access (higher) education.

For example some projects feature mentoring programmes where host students support refugee students to apply to university, map the appropriate field of study, prepare their CV, train for interviews and take their first steps at Uni (e.g. the Student Refugee programme in Denmark, UniR in France); to develop language skills (e.g. the Taalmaat programme in Belgium); or support refugee children to do their homework (e.g. the Refugee Kids programme, in Poland).

ESU and OBESSU play a central role in the selection of the projects, whilst also ensuring constant mentoring and support to the selected projects. Access to funds is not always easy for students and students with a refugee background, so OBESSU and ESU organise peer-learning activities. Both organisations also organise seminars to reflect on migration issues and allow the participants to adopt a human-rights based approach and make the distinction between key concepts such as integration vs. inclusion or charity vs. solidarity.

Participants can be agents of change in their local community: adopting the appropriate vocabulary and approach can have a significant snowball effect to the peers and surroundings. ESU and OBESSU also encourage student activism and civic participation (including for refugees and migrants) through several activities which also have positive impact in society and the host community.

Project aims

  • Explore new student-led ways to move towards truly inclusive higher education systems and communities, mindful of the potential of refugees and asylum seekers and of the challenges that hinder an equal access to education opportunities and full participation in community life.
  • Build and upscale existing promising initiatives focusing on refugee education and inclusion in society.
  • Empower and build capacity for students, refugees and asylum seekers to take up an active role into calling for and developing successful approaches to inclusive participation in education systems.
  • Foster and support initiatives that are designed and implemented as a joint effort of university students and secondary school students (and where possible teaching staff) around the topic of the educational inclusion of migrant and refugee students, having a potential impact on national policy-making.

Resources used

  • Funding for micro-grants for student-led projects (up to 10.000 EUR). Since 2016, OBESSU has funded 46 projects focusing and ESU has funded 36 projects.

Both programmes are fully supported by the Open Society Foundation.

Main activities of the Good Practice 

  • Re-granting to local and national student-led projects.
  • Capacity building seminars for students to meet and to learn how to develop and run effective projects and share practices and experiences
  • Collection and review of project experiences by students and production of a Good Practice Guide/Toolkit to inspire other students to participate
  • Use of experiences from the projects to develop policy recommendations for the ESU and OBESSU on inclusive education for refugees and migrants.


Both umbrella organizations of national (school) students’ unions, ESU and OBESSU have been running their education support programmes, with the support of the Open Society Foundation for almost 4 years now, respectively named “Together, Moving Forward programme” (focus on higher education and university students) and “Seeds for Integration” (focus on secondary school students).

How challenges were overcome 

One challenge is overall coordination of many projects running at the same time, since sometimes 20 small projects can be running at the same time in many different countries. This was addressed by ensuring a high level of organizational skills and good monitoring systems in the team to ensure efficient feedback and support to all student-led projects.

A further challenge was that of relying on a volunteer workforce: all central activities, such as the evaluation and selection panel or the taskforce for the Good Practices guide/toolkits, are composed of students and young volunteers, who can obviously drop out at any moment if they are not interested in the mission anymore or have other commitments.

This challenge was addressed by setting up motivational objectives for the volunteers. It is very important to always keep a direct contact with the volunteers, as much as possible through phone calls and not only through emails. It is equally important to recognise and reward their engagement by inviting them to events and conferences organized by the partners.

Results of the Good Practice

Access to (higher) education was supported through grassroots projects which were accessible and matched local realities (e.g. mentoring, language peer support groups, social activities).

Students were empowered through accessing funding and technical support to run projects at local level.

A pan European network of (refugee) students active on the field of inclusive education was developed.

Projects contributed positively and concretely to the life of the host country and in changing the predominant narrative on refugees.

Policy recommendations on inclusive education were made, on the basis of learning form the project, to ESU and OBESSU.

Next steps

  • 16-21 September 2019: Seeds for Integration evaluation seminar in Mollina, Spain, as part of the University Youth and Development coordinated by the North-South Center of the Council of Europe.
  • 1-7 December 2019: Participation of the ESU Together Moving Forward Taskforce to the ESU Board Meeting in Malta to present the result of their work and the good practice guide. Discussion with ESU Board members and draft of policy recommendations on inclusive education. Participants of the taskforce will be both students with and without refugee/migrant background.
  • 14-16 December 2019: ESU & OBESSU, together with other regional students’ union (All African Students Union and Commonwealth Students Union): 3-days meeting on Global Students’ Perspective on migration challenges and access to education. The event will be organised right before the GRF. Grantees and students’ activists will take part to the discussions. a certain expertise on the topic will be required.
  • Until December 2019: Small projects are still running throughout Europe.