The UOC is running a pilot scholarship programme to allow refugees to study
Photo: UOC

For this first extraordinary call for applications taking place this February, which is being used as a pilot programme, the University will offer language classes at the UOC Centre for Modern Languages to 25 refugees aged between 19 and 34, 24 of whom are from Syria and one from Afghanistan. Of the 25 refugees, five currently reside in Catalonia and the other 20 are in refugee camps in Vasilika, Derveni, Oreokastro, Sinatex and Elpida or in refugee apartments in Athens, Axioupoli or Thessaloniki. “From the application letters sent for the scholarships, it is clear that although they spend their time as volunteers in the refugee camps, doing translations and giving classes to young children, they have nothing to do all day and feel that they are wasting their time,” explained Gemma Xarles the UOC's Director of Globalization and Cooperation and the person promoting the scholarship programme. “Studying online gives them more options and the opportunity to continue what they started in their country,” she added.

Next semester – as the second phase of the project – the UOC is planning to extend the courses on offer to the group with master's degree, postgraduate and specialization courses and to increase the number of scholarships. The call will also be opened to students who find themselves in extreme or special financial situations, owing to unforeseen circumstances, in addition to refugees.


Volunteer mentors

For many of the refugee students, this will be their first online learning experience, which is why the UOC, through volunteers and RefugeESuoc, will activate a mentoring service in which 25 mentors will guide the scholarship holders throughout the course.

The main role of the mentors will be to offer these students psychosocial support, motivate them and prevent them from dropping out for personal reasons. The coordinator of the RefugeESuoc volunteer association, Slvia Pairet, explained that they would also guide them through the enrolment process, help them present the required documentation and deal with problems resulting from language or cultural barriers.

In addition, to resolve any technical or educational queries and incidents, the UOC will make a special tutor classroom available to the students, offering personalized attention in English throughout the course. The refugee students will also be able to attend an exclusive streaming session to show them how the classrooms and learning tools work.


Studying from the refugee camps

No fewer than 80% of the students live in militarized refugee camps with only basic facilities and an unstable internet connection, or in apartments or shelters in Greece, waiting to be transferred. “As they are constantly on the move, e‑learning is the ideal alternative for bringing education to places where face-to-face courses cannot go,” RefugeESuoc volunteer Marta Flaqu pointed out.

In this regard, the Xarles insisted that “it makes no sense” giving refugees grants if they cannot be guaranteed conditions in which to study. This is why the UOC will send each student a laptop computer with the operating system pre‑installed and the necessary tools to follow the course.

The operation is possible thanks to the collaboration of the Labdoo social network, which operates in 117 countries, refurbishing discarded computers. The UOC Technology department has provided ten of the computers required and the other fifteen will come from Berlin and from the Vedruna School in Vilafranca del Peneds.

Regarding the autumn call, Xarles said that the aim of the project is to establish partnerships with Greek universities, public libraries and schools to provide study areas with a Wi-Fi connection.


Sharing other life experiences in the classroom

For UOC Vice President for Globalization and Cooperation, Pastora Martnez, the scholarship programme does not only benefit the refugees, since other UOC students will be able to share the classroom with people who have experienced a “situation very different from the one here” and this will add value to the theoretical and practical skills they acquire.

In this regard, the University seeks to train professionals with a critical vision, who are aware of other situations and ready to face the global and social challenges of an increasingly changing world. “It is about fostering skills related to human rights, gender equality, promoting a culture of peace and non‑violence, global citizenship, cultural diversity, etc,” she said.


#UOCwelcomes

UOC students, faculty members  and staff have been working on this project for over eighteen months. It arose from the human catastrophe in the Mediterranean and the urgent humanitarian need to respond to the over 290 million people who have been forced to relocate for political and socio-economic reasons.

Students of the Bachelor's Degree in Social Education organized themselves to welcome the refugees arriving in Catalonia and created the RefugeESuoc group, which subsequently received institutional support, involving the entire university community in the process of welcoming the refugees.

Via the Catalan #UniversitatsRefugi network, the UOC is working in an institutional capacity to make Catalonia a place of inclusion and peaceful co‑existence and in a political capacity to do away with the bureaucratic obstacles that impede refugees’ access to university studies.

 

Pastora Martnez

Expert in:

Gemma Xarles

Expert in: the person promoting the scholarship programme.

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