Location/geographical coverage

The initiative is open to all the universities based in France (mainland).

Background and description

This initiative fits into the Memorandum of Understanding between UNHCR and the Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie (AUF) of February 2021 which aims to facilitate access to higher education for refugees and include the development of education pathways.

University corridors fall within the Three-Year Strategy on Resettlement and Complementary Pathways[1] as well as within the Refugee Education 2030 Strategy[2] of UNHCR.

The project will enable French-speaking refugees living in a targeted first country of asylum to study a master’s degree (2 years) within a higher education institution in France (mainland). This includes also professional courses.

It is expected that 50 refugees should benefit from the project over two years: 20 as of September 2022 and another 30 as of September 2023. Considering that only 5% of refugees worldwide have access to higher education, this project could facilitate refugee access to the universities and provide them with administrative, legal, psychosocial and financial support.

The project builds on initiatives led by the French authorities or by NGOs. It is also inspired by the successful programmes implemented by other EU member states and Canada. It will interact with European projects of complementary pathways, like the SAFE – foStercooperAtion For improving access to protEction and the COMET – COMplementary pathways nETwork projects funded by the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF).

Each participating university issues a call for applications including the description of the host institution and offered MA, eligibility criteria and procedure.

  • As required by French authorities, only recognised refugees are eligible.
  • The beneficiaries of the project will travel to France on student visas. There is no guarantee they will be allowed to stay in France at the end of the course. Asylum being a right, they could claim it if they want to, but they will have to follow the normal procedure (no protection transfer).
  • At the end of the university corridor, students will have different options: required a provisional stay authorization which allow staying 1 year in France to look for employment; continue their studies in France; change their student permit for a work permit if they find employment (the majority of courses offered in the framework of the project propose a second year of studies  in apprenticeship which could facilitate integration within the job market), return to their country of first asylum, etc.
  • The implementation of the project will depend on the success of universities’ fundraising activities to cover the subsistence allowances of refugee students

The common eligibility criteria:

  • Be legally recognised as a refugee in a first host country by the State or by the UNHCR
  • Have a B2 level of Frenchlanguage

Finally, the project may also include a complementary dimension of distance-learning courses.

Stakeholders and Partners

This multi-stakeholder project will be implemented with the support of French authorities [Ministry for Higher Education, Ministry of Interior, General Secretary of European Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, local governments], higher education institutions, the Migrants in higher education network, the Exiles Students Union, NGOs, the civil society, foundations, the private sector and refugees.

Several stakeholders have already demonstrated a strong interest in complementary pathways.

The Migrants dans l’Enseignement Supérieur (MEnS) network[3], partner of the project, includes 42 universities in France.

These universities will take part to the initiative. Among them:

  • Clermont Auvergne University
  • Univeristy of Rennes 1
  • University of Paris 1 Panthéon – Sorbonne
  • Université Paris 8 Vincennes – Saint Denis

The initiative is open to students who have been legally recognised as a refugee by a first country of asylum or by UNHCR and being graduated from a bachelor’s degree, or an equivalent degree.

The gender issue is under attention. However, beside the mandatory requirements, each university can decide whether or not to put attention on gender balance during the selection process.

Methodological Approach

The project provides beneficiaries with easy access to the university system, administrative, social and financial support.

The methodology is under development since the initiative is still running. Notwithstanding, it is built upon similar experience already carried out in other countries.

These include a regular assessment from UNHCR on the results achieved by involving both the universities and the students. It allows to adjust the programme throughout the years in order to better address the needs of the students. The assessment includes moments of debates and encounter among the participants to the initiative to share their experiences and provide their feedback on their learning experience.

Innovation potential

The initiative allows to create a dedicated path for refugees to access higher education.

This is guaranteed by the participation of different stakeholders, both at institutional and private level. In this way, it is possible to provide a further support to these students by addressing also different challenges they might face.

The cooperation among all these different stakeholders allows also to reach a higher number of refugees giving them the possibility to know the opportunity offered to them.

Students are selected because of their merits and their motivation into entering higher education paths.

Success Factors

The main success factor of this initiative is the multi-stakeholder partnership that, as mentioned above, guarantees a better coverage both in terms of people reached and of instances taken into consideration in terms of barriers and challenges refugees face in entering higher education.

The participation of government authorities and universities guarantees the effectiveness of the practice and the long-term sustainability of the project. This element is needed when considering to implement similar initiatives. The participation of institutions such as ministries is one of the main elements determining the success and spread on the territory of the project. At the same time, it allows to build on the results of each universities and to support the development of shared standards bringing to a common framework for sponsorships to refugee students.

As regards the economic conditions, these are mainly related to the financial capacities of universities. It is necessary that the universities in the network are able to support the funding of the sponsorships.


It is still not possible to list all the challenges and constraints faced in the implementation of the initiative as the same is still running out.

Furthermore, these are elements that might change depending on the university, the students and their country of origin.

The main challenge is currently represented by the capacity to reach out refugees that are residing in refugee camps or that are living in rural areas. For them, it is more difficult to be reached and to get to know that this opportunity is available.

Moreover, in this case, that might also be difficulties linked to transportation as the universities participating to the initiative are mainly based in cities.

Another constraint is related to the fact that the implementation of the project depends on the success of universities’ fundraising to cover subsistence allowances of refugee students. Securing the required funds is, therefore, up to the universities representing a risk in terms of financial sustainability in the medium and long term.

Lessons learned

It is still not possible to list the lessons learnt as part of this project.

However, as mentioned above, it builds upon similar experiences in other European countries. These experiences have been promoted by the UNHCR as well.

From the lessons learnt out of this experience, this project has been developed.

More information on this part will be included as soon as available.


The institutional sustainability of the initiative is represented by the participation of the Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie (AUF). They are partner of the project and guarantee the participation of universities in their network.

However, the financial stability is strictly linked to the possibility of each university of securing funds for the implementation of the project and being able to activate the scholarships.

Replicability and/or up-scaling potential

This initiative has a high potential to be replicated as, in other contexts, it has demonstrated to be an effective approach for the inclusion and participation of refugee students in higher education.

One of the main factors to take into consideration for its replicability is the importance of involving different kind of stakeholders that can bring on the table the variety of instances and challenges refugees encounter to access higher education.

The willingness of the governmental institutions in realising the project is also a necessary condition for its replicability. Without it, the risk is to not have a common framework and ground, but only different small initiatives in the different partner countries.

Another important element to take into consideration is the recognition of previous qualifications. To ensure that this is possible for a vast majority of countries, it should be promoted the participation of refugee students coming from countries for which there is a recognition of qualifications and, at the same time, to promote the dialogue among institutional actors for the recognition of the ones obtained in countries for which there is still not the possibility to validate previous qualifications. This will ensure to enlarge the number of refugee students benefitting from the sponsorship.

Contact details


URL of the practice Reference document


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