Current events

The UOC welcomes some 20 students who are refugees in Lebanon

  Photo: Kyle Glenn / Unsplash (CC)

Photo: Kyle Glenn / Unsplash (CC)

Virgnia Snchez Romn
The beneficiaries of these language scholarships are Syrians, Palestinians and Pakistanis

The Government of Catalonia’s Secretariat for Equality, Migration and Citizenship, in collaboration with each and every one of the Catalan universities, has launched a reception programme which will enable eighteen refugees displaced to Lebanon to pursue university studies in Catalonia. The UOC has participated by offering language scholarships; seventeen students pre-selected by the UNHCR began studying Spanish online from Lebanon last semester, prior to their arrival in Catalonia.

In total eighteen individuals, whose ages range between 18 and 31, will participate in this Government of Catalonia assistance programme. The first four have already arrived in Catalonia, and the rest are expected to arrive before the end of September. They are all coming from Lebanese refugee camps and are of differing nationalities: the majority are Syrian nationals, but there are also refugees from Palestine and Pakistan. The group of 17 students studying at the UOC is made up of 13 men and 4 women. In order to be eligible for the course they were all required to demonstrate their knowledge of English, needed for communication with the UOC teaching staff.

The project is being jointly coordinated from a global perspective by the various Catalan universities. The Ministry of Equality, Migration and Citizenship will be providing support to the beneficiaries in terms of accommodation, living expenses, transport and allowances, as well as organizing a team of mentors from the Catalan Refugee Programme. The Catalan universities will cover any course fees for the newcomers, who will be studying architecture, biology or a master's degree in English, among other programmes.

"We are participating in this Government of Catalonia assistance programme because, as a university, it is our responsibility to play an active role in the defence of human rights and respond to the global challenges facing us", explains Vice President for Globalization and Cooperation Pastora Martnez Samper. "The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development presents us with a direct challenge in the form of Goal 4, which promotes inclusive, equitable, quality education for all. This type of project enables us to contribute towards meeting that challenge", adds Gemma Xarles, Globalization and Cooperation director.

E-learning to facilitate access

The UOC's online learning model allows students access to quality education by removing the obstacle of distance and therefore adapts to the needs of people who are victims of forced displacement. “Online education offers them opportunities to resume their educational studies under circumstances in which access to classroom learning is very limited due to their transient situation", explains Martnez Samper. The granting of scholarships facilitates access to higher education for under-represented groups and promotes diversity in the online classrooms, where students with a wide range of profiles are able to interact and share a mutually enriching experience.

An inclusive university

This is not the first time the UOC has opened its doors to refugee students. In 2017, the University launched its own scholarship programme for refugees, offering 91 places on language and specialization courses. The first call for applications was held in February 2017, and the initiative led to 25 individuals being offered scholarships to study languages, the majority of whom were of Syrian origin residing in Greek refugee camps.

The second call offered 20 scholarships to study on language courses as well as 16 specialization courses in the areas of humanitarian action, nutrition and health, translation and development cooperation. The students, from all around the world, benefited from the support of a UOC student mentor to facilitate their adaptation to the online learning model.

A total of 98 candidates have applied for the third call, which for the first time has offered students the chance to select not only from a range of language and specialization courses, but also from the UOC's open courses. The idea is to help them become familiarized with the UOC model of learning. In this third round of applications, 27 refugees from various origins including Venezuela, Honduras, Angola, Cte d'Ivoire, Colombia, Togo, the Sahara, Palestine, El Salvador, Mali, Morocco and South Sudan have been awarded grants and will begin their studies at the UOC between September and October.

The country with the most refugees per capita worldwide

Lebanon is a small country which, in 2011, was home to just over four million inhabitants. Since then, however, it has seen its population increase by 25%, with more than one and a half million Syrians flooding into the country to escape a civil war that has now been raging for seven years. This has led to Lebanon becoming the host country with the highest number of refugees in relation to its population: one in four of its inhabitants is a refugee.

The migratory pressure over recent years in this small country has prompted an unprecedented rise in housing prices, and access to basic services such as water and food represents a growing problem. According to the Vulnerability Assessment of Syrian Refugees in Lebanon produced by the UNHCR in 2017, 76% of households are living below the poverty threshold, and 58% in extreme poverty. It is a situation which makes access to education in general and to university education in particular extremely difficult.