Help students make their way from the asylum centre to the lecture hall
We offer refugees education, but they also add value to the university. They broaden our horizons and contribute knowledge, skills and perspectives that we don't have, Ragna Senf explains. Senf works as project manager at Incluusion. Incluusion is a Utrecht University programme offering education to refugee students. At Incluusion, it doesn't matter whether you've been in the Netherlands for one day or a bit longer: all refugees are welcome. Asylum seekers with a residence permit can also take part in a traineeship programme.
Incluusion offers students who have fled their countries the opportunity to take undergraduate-level English courses free of charge. Participating lecturers offer one or more refugee students the opportunity to attend their courses.
Quite a lot of lecturers take part every year and they really appreciate Incluusion students, Ragna explains.
I'm happy they appreciate the value of Incluusion.
A normal life
The programme is called Incluusion for a reason; students taking part in the course are welcomed into the UU community.
The students really appreciate the fact that they can immediately pick up their studies here in the Netherlands. As Ragna explains, it’s also important that they can just be students.
We want them to be able to develop themselves as students, regardless of the situation they happen to find themselves in.
Over 1,100 refugee students have taken a course at UU in the six years since Incluusion was launched. Incluusion introduced the two-day Restart induction programme earlier this year to help students prepare.
Just imagine being a student and a refugee. You’re suddenly surrounded by mainly Dutch students who know exactly how everything works: Teams, Blackboard, interacting with the lecturer. It all takes some getting used to. The students can be in for quite a culture shock:
For example, there are countries where you have to stand up when you address the teacher. If you did that in the Netherlands, you’d definitely get some strange looks. We also expect our students to be critical thinkers, and that applies to everything their lecturers teach them as well. That’s certainly not common practice in a lot of other countries. Restart tries to prepare the refugee students for these unfamiliar situations.
Just imagine being a student and a refugee. You’re suddenly surrounded by mainly Dutch students who know exactly how everything works: Teams, Blackboard, interacting with the lecturer. It all takes some getting used to
Like a rolling stone
As a refugee, you don’t get to choose which part of the Netherlands they’ll send you to. You might be staying in an asylum centre in Groningen, get transferred to Zwolle three weeks later, then have to go somewhere else again when your procedure starts. That’s why we can’t and don’t want to limit our focus to refugee students living in Utrecht. For example, there’s a large group that doesn’t have any cash in their pocket or can’t access their bank account. Travelling to Utrecht can obviously be a problem under those circumstances. Thanks to the Utrecht University Fund donors, we can cover part of their travel expenses.
For the past two years, Incluusion has also been targeting asylum seekers with a residence permit, who are able to attend traineeships at a UU department. The aim is to help trainees gain work experience in the Netherlands and improve their Dutch along the way.
We hope they will then find paid positions within or outside the university. After all, even highly educated people struggle to find suitable work if they don’t have perfect Dutch language skills or a network here. The efforts are starting to pay off: Of the five first-wave students to complete a traineeship, four found jobs and the fifth decided to do a Master’s
Ragna Senf (MSc), Incluusion project manager:
I worked as a teacher for many years, my heart’s in education. I think it’s incredibly important that people can keep developing, especially if they end up in a new country due to unforeseen circumstances.
Elias fled from Lebanon
Taking a course through Incluusion has opened so many doors for me. I want to let everyone know that such a small thing can make such a huge difference. Elias Abou Chaaya is from Lebanon and decided to flee to the Netherlands because he wasn’t free to be himself in his native country due to his sexual orientation. Having first started his journey at Incluusion as a refugee student, he is now pursuing a Master’s degree and is proud to be an Incluusion trainee at Utrecht University’s EDI (Equality, Diversity & Inclusion) programme.
While Elias is free be openly gay here in the Netherlands, he also lost part of himself during the asylum process:
I went through seven asylum centres in two years’ time. That was really tough, and I didn’t really have a lot to do. For example, I wasn’t allowed to get a job. Incluusion gave me the opportunity to be a student and a professional. Incluusion made me feel like I had value as a person again, even though I only started doing it to escape life in the asylum seekers’ centre for a while.
As an Incluusion trainee at EDI, he worked with Utrecht University of Applied Sciences to organise a shared boat for the Utrecht Canal Pride. As he stood there on the deck of the boat he helped organise, Elias finally felt he could both be himself and contribute something meaningful through work.