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Calls for establishing a European scheme for students at risk

The Committee on Culture and Education (CULT) of the European Parliament held a debate on the topic of establishing a European funding mechanism supporting students at risk, hosted by MEP Sabine Verheyen on 24 October 2022.

When addressing the MEPs, DAAD’s Secretary General Kai Sicks pointed at EU’s important role to provide a safe haven to people facing persecution, fleeing war or being denied fundamental rights. He reminded about DAAD’s concern to support students and academics who are at risk by offering them a scholarship to study and research in Germany. The Hilde Domin programme, funded by the German Federal Foreign Office, was started to support this cause.

To date, almost 800 nominations have been submitted in the first three selection rounds resulting in 135 scholarships being awarded to beneficiaries from Afghanistan, Belarus, Myanmar and Syria. According to Sicks, this massive demand requires synergies with other programmes and it should inspire the launch of further support measures, as highlighted in the recent "Berlin Declaration on International Academic Cooperation amidst a World in Crisis”. He added that given the EU's value-based and increasingly geopolitical approach, it would suit the EU to have a systematic approach for students and academics under threat. Furthermore, the European Union has experience in funding higher education support measures in crisis situations and is backed by a wide range of possible instruments that could be geared to this purpose as demonstrated recently in the context of Ukrainian students and academics (Erasmus+ and Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions).

European Students' Union (ESU) President Matteo Vespa echoed the pledge for establishing the scheme as a response to a lack of structural instruments to support students in various crises, the most recent one being Iran. He pointed out that the existing ad-hoc tools take time to be created, are too small in size and had funding uncertainties. Existing national schemes like the Hilde Domin Programme in Germany or Students at Risk in Norway should inspire the creation of a European coordinating scheme. ESU is proposing to have a complementary, two-way track approach focusing on students at risk (passport holders eligible to travel) and educational pathways (relocation schemes for people with refugee status in secure third countries).


                                                                         Slide by ESU from the presentation in the CULT committee

Filip Van Depoele, Head of Unit for International Cooperation in DG EAC pointed out at the flexibilities in the Erasmus+ for students who were studying in Ukraine at the outbreak of the war. He also mentioned that many bottom-up projects funded by the Erasmus+ are focusing on inclusion and integration of migrants in Europe. Next to this, MSCA4Ukraine has recently opened a dedicated call for Ukraine.

Although the needs challenges have been acknowledged, further discussions and action at the European level following a Team Europe approach are still needed to support the growing number of students looking for opportunities to continue their studies. You can watch the full debate here.

And if you are interested in the resources available to students and researchers at risk in a number of European countries, make sure to have a look at results of two of ACA’s recent projects: Career Advancement for Refugee Researchers in Europe (CARE) and Guiding Refugees via European Exchange and Training (GREET).