Humanitarian crises of different types lead to social movements and needs among the population. In this context, education is viewed as one of the great necessities, being an indispensable instrument for development and the best resource for potentiating anybody’s skills and talents. The aim of the UOC’s Grants for refugees programme is to offer higher education opportunities to refugees or asylum seekers that have abandoned their studies due to being forced to flee their home countries for socio-political, racial, religious, cultural, gender, humanitarian crises, armed conflicts and other reasons, and that are living in situation of financial and social vulnerability, in order to thereby improve their level of education.
In the first edition, grants were awarded to twenty-five refugee students from Syria that were living on camps in Greece. In the second edition, which starts in September 2017, the UOC has extended the offer to refugees living in Spain and other parts of the world in the form of twenty language studies grants (Catalan, Spanish and English) at Centres for Modern Languages and sixteen grants to take specialist postgraduate courses.
For many refugee students, this is their first experience of online learning. Therefore, the UOC, through RefugeESuoc volunteers, has a guidance service whereby different mentors help the students throughout the course. The main role of these mentors is to provide psychosocial support, motivate and discourage dropout for personal causes. They also help the students to enrol, present the right documentation and deal with problems caused by language and cultural barriers. In addition, to help with technical or pedagogic doubts and incidents, the UOC has set up special English language tutorial sessions to provide personalised attention.
To preselect the candidates, the UOC received support from such entities as CCAR and CEAR, ACCEM, SAIER, the Red Cross, UNHCR and CEAS Sahara and, once again, the team of volunteers from RefugeESuoc, who act as virtual mentors to host and accompany the new students.
The UOC’s Grants for refugees pilot programme contributes to the SDG of Reduced inequalities by enabling access to quality, inclusive and equal higher education for refugees and asylum seekers with fewer socio-economic resources. The programme is also clearly linked to the SDG of Quality Education and Gender Equality.
The number of beneficiaries of the pilot programme has slightly increased in each edition. The number has risen from 25 grants in the first edition to 36 grants in the second (20 for language courses and 16 postgrad programmes).
The UOC’s Grants for refugees pilot programme intends to become consolidated and be able to continue to grow and evolve in this field. To do so, the Globalization and Cooperation Area is working internally together with other areas to ensure the continuation of these international grant programmes and to define a future education grant policy. Over the next few months, the University plans to open a third grant programme with international university networks, to thereby enable the exchange of knowledge and experiences between students from different parts of the world.