It was a great honor to be approached by the Swiss Students’ Union (VSS-UNES-USU) in 2019, regarding a possible collaboration for their “Perspectives-Studies” project which has now been in existence for 3 years and has already met with a considerable measure of success (see table below).
Refugees considering further studies are confronted to many challenges, whether to begin a cursus or complete studies disrupted by their forced departure from their home country.
Amongst those are language requirements, missing documents and university attestations, recognition of prior diplomas and experiences, but also accessing information about study options and integrating into the Swiss University system.
The project aims at supporting student refugees’ higher education endeavors by acting in 3 distinct areas:
– the provision of an information hub for refugees about study options, scholarships and registration procedures through a dedicated website;
– local peer-to-peer mentoring programs in different higher education institutions where volunteer students serve as mentors to ensure students are integrated into the social life of the University they attend, that they gain a perspective on how to best navigate the local higher education and teaching environment, but also support with attending classes as auditors and assistance assessing their chances to gain access to higher education institutions and other professional paths;
– and last but not least a systematic sensibilisation program for key actors from the integration sectors and university educators, to the challenges faced by the refugees and the advantages of getting refugees integrated through higher studies.
Along with support in these 3 areas, “Perspectives-Studies” holds the belief that higher education should be available to all including refugees and has developped a lobbying approach both in government and educational spheres to support this belief.
How SIETAR Switzerland will help and how you can help as an individual member: Our Association’s support will focus on the provision of material to add to the existing toolkit provided by “Perspectives-Studies” to mentors. This will not only include reading material but the development of intercultural communication workshops are also considered and a community of practice to support mentors and mentees will be put in place. A tentative program of support has been established for 2020, taking into consideration the current pandemic and its incidence on University life and close exchanges.
A leadership group has been formed following a presentation of the project at our 2020 Annual General Meeting and this group is currently at work to gather the articles, materials and tools we will use to deliver on intercultural communication training. Our plan is also to build a community of practice who can support this joint project. The community of practice is also designed as a vector of change, so it is hoped it will include insiders (i.e. people who work within HEI or in the area of integration/education who are open to change strategies from within) and as a place to exchange good practices and communicate on initiatives to inspire others. So if you are a member of SIETAR Switzerland, working for a Higher Education Institution, or a stakeholder in integration and education and wish to contribute time on a volunteer basis to this joint project, you are cordially invited to contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
It is also a great pleasure for our Association to welcome the Swiss Student Union (VSS-UNES-USU) amongst our Institutional Members.
If you are working for a University or Higher Education Institution and your organisation would like to learn about possible participation in the UNES project, please contact email@example.com
This report has been prepared jointly by Anne-Claude Lambelet, SIETAR Switzerland’s Project leader and Ruth Thommen, Co-Projektleitung «Perspektiven – Studium»