[Image at the top used courtesy of UNHCR]

University staff needed to test new online course on how to work with refugee students

Today’s world is globalised in almost every sense. One challenging example of this is the pandemic we are currently experiencing. But globalisation can affect anyone. People can be displaced by wars, famine or climate change, often abruptly upending people's lives in  profound ways.

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, estimates that the number of people displaced by war or persecution has surpassed 80 million in mid-2020[1]. This is the highest number UNHCR has recorded since it was founded 70 years ago in the wake of WWII.

Europe saw a peak of arrivals of refugees and migrants in 2015 and 2016. Globally, only around 3 percent of them make it into higher education. Some universities, like Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), set up a Welcome Student Refugee programme to encourage those who want to study or continue their (disrupted) studies to obtain degrees. The programme at VUB also proved to be a learning experience for the many members of staff on how to work with and provide support to these students. The students’ backgrounds are often very diverse, and they have different needs and concerns. In addition, university staff, including academics, often lack the background and knowledge to cope with some of the challenges these students may present.


In order to support universities in their work with refugee students, VUB along with Vilnius University (Lithuania), Alice Salomon University of Applied Sciences (Germany), Universidad Alcala (Spain), the University of Applied Sciences in Utrecht (the Netherlands), and in partnership with UNHCR, successfully applied for funding from the European Commission’s Erasmus+ framework programme to develop a university staff training programme on how to work with refugee students; UNISTAR - short for UNIversity STAff for Refugees – was born.

The programme consists of an online course aimed at training and guiding university staff on how to work with refugee students, taking into account their specific psycho-social concerns and needs. The project group is currently developing an online learning platform for university staff across Europe.

A pilot testing phase will start in March 2021, in which 10 university staff (academics as well as management and administrative staff) from each UNISTAR partner will be able to test the course modules and provide feedback so it can be fine-tuned and improved before finalising and rolling it out across Europe at the end of 2021. The university staff who participate in this testing phase will actually be contributing to the further development of the course and help to shape it. It is important to the project to have this feedback on content, set-up, timing it takes to complete the course, and the online platform itself.

The course

The course needs to be completed within 4 weeks and is set-up in a blended learning format. Participants pick and choose the modules that interest them and complete the course in their own time. Some topics will have interactive sessions at specific times and dates, but these will be recorded as well. Participants will also be asked to complete some knowledge tests along the way.

The pilot course testing should be completed between 1-26 March 2021. There are four modules to choose from and each has between 3-4 topics:

  1. Module I: Becoming a Refugee
  1. Words matter
  2. Facts and figures
  3. Refugee rights
  4. Experiences of displacement
  5. Stateless students
  1. Module II: Refugees on Campus
  1. Challenges and Support for refugees entering Higher Education
  2. Challenges and Support for refugee students on campus
  3. Racism and Empowerment on campus
  1. Module III: Well-Being on Campus
  1. Awareness and Critical Thinking
  2. Stress and trauma among refugees
  3. Self-care for university staff
  1. Module IV: Inclusive teaching and diversity
  1. Eurocentricity
  2. Diversity and intersectionality
  3. Inclusive teaching
  4. Inclusive counselling

Register now! We are asking for your help to test the UNISTAR online course

The UNISTAR online course is now open for testing. We’d like to invite staff at VUB – academic, managerial, administrative – to register to help us by testing this new online learning platform, and to help us improve it before launching it across Europe. Participation is free of charge, but registration is compulsory via this linkYou can also find the course via TEO!

To recap:

  • If you participate, you must complete the course between 1-26 March 2021. We would appreciate your feedback on how long it takes you to complete the parts of the course you select, so we can adapt this too moving forward. You can complete it in your own time, within the 1-26 March timeframe.
  • You can pick and choose the modules that interest you the most.
  • You can complete the course in your own time, bearing in mind that some modules will have interactive sessions at specific times/dates that require your presence (although they will be recorded).
  • Everything is online. The course will be in English.
  • After registering, you will receive all necessary details to test the course.

Contact for more information: Email: erasmusprojects@vub.be

[1] https://www.unhcr.org/refugee-statistics/