Location/geographical coverage

Italy, national territory, 32 Italian Universities

Background and description

The UniCoRe project was created starting from the experience of two Ethiopian graduated refugees who arrived in Bologna in 2019 to attend a specialist degree course.

The idea of creating University Corridors for Refugees was born from the need to help these young people to overcome the difficulties encountered and to facilitate them in the continuation of their higher studies.

The project aims to facilitate the access of refugee university students to specialised studies in Italy, helping them economically and socially.

Thanks also to an extensive network of partners, scholarship and mentors the students are supported in entering academic life and integrating into the local social fabric.

Main stages

2019, October: UNHCR launches the Manifesto for Inclusive Universities, including recognition of foreign university degrees and university corridors for refugees in Italy.

2020: 10 more Universities join the project for the second year, despite the Covid pandemic.

2021: 24 Italian Universities decided to join the third edition of the project, allowing 45 Ethiopian students to continue their higher education studies in Italy.

2022: version 4.0 of the UniCoRe program is underway. 69 students will be selected to begin degree courses in September 2022. The selected students will be exempt from tuition fees at the universities participating in the programme and will receive financial support for plane tickets and visa-related expenses, as well as a study grant to help them during their stay in Italy.

Stakeholders and Partners

UNHCR Italy is the project coordinator.


  • Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation
  • Manager Italia and Federmanager business unions for the selection
  • Archdiocese of Bologna
  • Regional Agency of Emilia Romagna
  • Caritas Italiana,
  • Diaconia Valdese,
  • Centro Astalli,
  • Gandhi Charity,


  • University of Bari Aldo Moro,
  • University of Bergamo,
  • University of Brescia,
  • University of Cagliari,
  • University of Campania Luigi Vanvitelli,
  • University “G. Dannunzio” Chieti – Pescara,
  • University of Firenze,
  • European University Institute,
  • University of Salento – Lecce,
  • University of Messina,
  • State University of Milan,
  • University of Milano – Bicocca,
  • Commercial University Luigi Bocconi,
  • University of Modena and Reggio Emilia,
  • University of Palermo,
  • University of Padova,
  • Luiss International University of Social Studies Guido Carli,
  • University of Rome La Sapienza,
  • University of Sassari,
  • University for Foreigners of Siena,
  • University Iuav of Venezia,
  • University of Eastern Piemonte Amedeo Avogadro,
  • University of Verona
  • University of Tuscia – Viterbo.

The 2022 UNICORE 4.0 project is open to students who:

  • Have been recognized as refugees in Cameroon, Niger, Nigeria, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe and are residing in one of those countries.
  • Have obtained a qualification eligible for admission to the Second Cycle Degree Program;
  • Have obtained a degree in or after 2017 and no later than April 30 2022
  • Have never been enrolled by one of the partner universities. Have Grade Point Average (GPA) of at least 3.0 according to the Ethiopian tertiary education grading system or equivalent.

32 universities participating

69 places available for students

300 courses offered

The gender issue is very delicate but subject to attention.

Some universities make separate rankings for female and male candidates precisely at the suggestion of UNHCR.

During the first year of the project no girl applied for the selections. The second year there was a female application and in the third year, in 2021, there were 10 female candidates out of 45 total applications, with an average of 20% which is very high compared to the world average.

In reading this data there are a number of factors to consider.

The target is already graduated students in possession of a three-year degree. At that age, women, especially in these developing countries, already have very burdensome family commitments and you need to pay close attention to them, also because their needs are different from those of men, even married ones.

Therefore, we are thinking about possible developments, looking at other experiences such as the Canadian one which involves the transfer of the whole family, while at the moment UniCoRe is intended only for students.

A fundamental factor of this program is the focus on the university specialization path and on the contribution of the partners, each of which is active on an aspect of the operational support, such as the language course, the computer, the clothing, the subscription to public transport. .

To allow the extension of the benefits to the family unit, it is necessary to ensure their economic sustainability.

Methodological Approach

The entire project has been evolving since its launch in 2019.

In 2022 it can be said that the Agency has so far refined and fine-tuned a successful model and methodology, which could be further improved over time.

The methodology used to verify expectations and needs of the selected students and to establish changes and improvements in the quality of the project offer foresees these phases:

  1. Selection process
  2. Arrival of students
  3. Assessment with universities
  4. Focus group discussion
  5. Drafting a document
  6. Checking strengths and weaknesses and improving the offer

Each year to develop the project UNHCR carries out assessments with universities and partners, always involving refugee students in several meetings, using its own tools to evaluate the project, improve it, refine it.

One of the main tools is the focus group discussion, used at least once a year to gather feedback from the beneficiaries of the project the year before with pre and post support.

For example, one implementation of the project, based on suggestions made during the focus groups by the refugee students themselves, was the use of local radio stations to disseminate the opportunity to apply for the selection and the activation of 40-hour Italian courses (which in the 4th edition became 120, offered by three universities) available upon the students’ arrival in Italy.


The project UniCoRein 2022 offers 69 refugee students the opportunity to attend a master’s degree programme at an Italian university.

This year, since there were many, an online tool was used to collect their feedback which was very high and no critic elements emerge at the time, only some requests for improvement of some aspects such as post arrival care, aspects that certainly with the covid, delays in obtaining residence permits, which is a critical procedure in Italy in general, or that the scholarships are of different entities among the universities have worsened. UNHCR has set a minimum cap on the scholarship, but there are universities that have decided to give more. As the project is unique, students confront and discover these differences, which depend on the decisions of the individual participating universities.

The Agency requires from partners a minimum support for two years or at least up to the specialist degree.

The scholarship is provided either by external partners identified by universities as partners, such as foundations or by the universities themselves on their own funds, or by the university institution for the right to study.

Students apply in July before arriving.

UNHCR only asks that there be a Plan B in which the student or female student is given support in each case.

Of the first and the refugee students who arrived, the first three are graduates, the others are completing the master’s degree course overcoming the difficulties of the language, Covid and the different study method.

This year in Perugia there is the first graduate in two years.

The choices of study paths are very varied, for example:

  • Business management
  • Scientific subjects
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Engineering
  • Computer science
  • Political and international sciences
  • Human rights

Innovation potential

The idea is to have an ad hoc path for refugee students in the context of the complementary role of the UNHCR.

The project is the first Education Pathway in Italy, moreover created without changing the legislation, because the students arrive with a study visa.

It is a project with strong economic, institutional and political coverage at all levels, since international organizations, institutions, universities and local associations are part of it.

On the Italian model, other European countries are developing similar paths in France, Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg.

Therefore the Italian model is an autonomous and pilot channel.

The selection is based not on protection needs but on motivation, on the skills acquired in previous degree courses.

There are already similar Corridors in Germany, but in that country the central authority prevails, while in Italy the strong partnership between various actors involved (volunteer doctors, libraries, small municipalities) prevails across the board.

Success Factors

One of the main success factors of the project is the involvement of partners at all levels, institutional, cultural, social, religious, of the third sector.

Partnership collaboration and activism is key in following the needs of students from their home country.

The choice of the country in which to disseminate and start the selection procedure is also decisive, because the acceptance of the project is subordinated to the importance that country assigns to the protection and facilitation of studies also by refugees.

It is known that there are many refugees in the world and as many countries that play the role of primary asylum (Source: Education 2030: A Strategy for Refugee Education) but it is necessary to identify a good starting country because there are a series of factors to consider such as the policies of access to university.

Ethiopia was chosen because in that country there are policies considered to be of a good standard for access to university and a certain type of university and also for the favour towards refugees in terms of scholarships, exemption from academic fees and other benefits.

It must also be considered that refugees may wish to return to the country of first asylum rather than stay in Italy and therefore contribute to the development of their communities in the countries of asylum and also for this reason the choice of the country in which to start the selections is important because not in all countries allow the return of refugees once they have left.

The project was addressed to Ethiopia in the first 3 years.

Since 2022, there are 8 recipient countries: Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique, based on the numbers of refugees present in them. But since the proposal is extremely distant from their reality, it takes some time for refugees to get the idea that it is a really viable opportunity, the first year is always a pilot.


The constraints and challenges to be faced depend on each country: the ability to move, to obtain the documents to leave the refugee camp, to have an internet connection, to have a computer (many refugees only have a mobile phone).

Even if the colleagues of the partner associations on the spot are very helpful and active, there are many problems. For example, in Nigeria where refugees are mainly urban, free to move, paradoxically they are more difficult to reach than those allocated in the refugee camp.

UNHCR has set up contact channels via social networks such as Facebook, whatsapp groups to disseminate information, but it is very complicated in these contexts.

The admission procedure for the selection of candidates will be carried out individually by the universities and is not under UNHCR’s responsibility.

Admission requirements

Application is open exclusively to candidates who:

Are residing in Cameroon, Niger, Nigeria, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe and have been recognized refugee status in these countries in collaboration with UNHCR (candidates are strongly advised to check individual university pages as country of residence criteria may vary);

Hold a qualification valid for admission to the chosen Second Cycle Degree Programme;

Have a Grade Point Average (GPA) of at least 3.0 according to the country of graduation tertiary education grading system or equivalent according to the comparable table issued by the Italian Ministry of Education;

Hold a degree obtained in or after 2017 and no later than April 30th 2022;

Meet the specific admission requirements of the Second cycle degree programme;

Have never before been enrolled in a degree program at any of the Partner Universities.

Proficiency in the English language is required.

Selection criteria and application documents

Students will be selected on the basis of merit.

The evaluation will be carried out by Committees of Experts nominated by each university individually.

Selection process

The participating universities will each identify a Committee of Experts to conduct the selection process, which will be divided into two steps:

Step 1: Evaluation of the documentation. The Committee of Experts will evaluate the documentation according to the following criteria:

  • Academic background and GPA (score: 0-20);
  • Evaluation of CV: professional experience and personal skills (score: 0-10);
  • Coherence between previous studies and selected Second Cycle Degree programme (score: 0-10);

Candidates receiving a score of less than 25 will not be admitted to step 2 of the selection process.

Candidates admitted to Step 2 will be notified by email.

Step 2: On-line interview. Candidates admitted to step 2 will be interviewed by the Committee of Experts, who will evaluate their technical skills, knowledge of the subject and level of English. Interviews will be graded on a scale of 40 points.

Interviews will be held on-line.

Candidates will be notified by email about the date and time of the interview.

Candidates are requested to present themselves for interview with the Ration Card Number or the Refugee Identity Card used during the on-line application. A third party must be present at the beginning of the interview to identify the candidate.

Participation in University Corridors, including the application process, is free.

Lessons learned

It is a successful project, also given the response of the Italian ones.

The children who have arrived are following successful study paths, demonstrating that refugee children can not be a burden but a resource for the countries that welcome them (internships in Banca Etica, at the Canadian Embassy in Italy, …), therefore seeing the refugee in a different perspective, with a profile and skills thanks to which he can access the job for which he studied.

The project aims not only to guarantee a safe legal entry to the refugee, but to build a welcome project around him.

This was the most important message to get to the universities.

For example, a strong point of success, the added value of the project is a great attention to the individual, not only to bring these young people, but also to accompany them in their integration: every refugee lives in the student residence, in the university residence, has a mentor at the university and a volunteer family as a tutor to familiarize him with the environment and the social context.

The family is a bridge between the refugee and the society that surrounds him, as attention to the individual in addition to material equipment (clothes, computer, bicycle or subscription to vehicles).

Caritas has a great role: volunteer families are selected through local partners such as diocesan Caritas and guide them, calling them often, inviting them to lunch on Sundays, taking them to the mountains or the sea, becoming points of reference and in some cases them support in the search for some chore to round up.

The informal network works very well in Italy.


The project is active on a national level.

We intend to work on the economic sustainability of the project.

The idea is to enhance the project by looking more and more for a link between the world of study and that of work: a company finances a boy’s scholarship for two years and then makes him do an internship after graduation.

This is to make the entire project sustainable and self-financed. At the moment, in fact, Caritas has made a large investment, dealing with airline tickets and legal and social protection at the local level in the countries of origin.

In 2022, the local Lions Club was involved in Padua on a proposal from the UNHCR, which financed a city association that was responsible for providing local social assistance, guidance and accompaniment in the area. Having more subjects involved and above all companies to enter the project is one of the sustainability objectives.

Replicability and/or up-scaling potential

The project is being studied to be replicated in France and Belgium.

Similar but not entirely identical models are active in Canada and Germany, but the Italian project is characterized by the richness and articulation of the support offered to the student who exceeds select it.

The conditions to be respected for the replicability and success of the project are:

  • identify a country of first – reception of refugees with favourable study support policies
  • initiate an adequate selection process for the recognition and equalization of qualifications
  • interact with motivated and active partners at all levels: institutional, cultural, economic, social.


Conclude specifying/explaining the impact and usefulness of the good practice. When possible, use anecdotal evidence such as a storytelling or testimony of a man or a woman showing the benefit of the good practice.







Contact details

Andrea Pecoraro, UNHCR Italy, Holy See and San Marino

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