The UAB offers scholarships for refugees that want to restart their studies

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  • 'DiasporART' session, one of FAS’ activities around refugee students.
    'DiasporART' session, one of FAS’ activities around refugee students. Source: Fundació Autònoma Solidària.

From its program #UABRefugi, the Catalan university grants tuition fees for people fleeing their countries.

On September 2023, 117’3 milions of people were forced to flee their countries due to war, violence or political tensions, according to ACNUR. This organization also estimates that only 6% of refugees is able to access higher education. Numbers such as these underline the social inequity that follows the refugee and migrant status, that poses an oftentimes insurmountable obstacle for the people that hold it to build a decent future.

Aiming to palliate this situation, some universities offer scholarships from their own cooperation and solidarity departments and associations, specifically made for helping students retake their studies while in a forced migration. In Spain, one of these universities is the Autonomous University of Barcelona (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, UAB), which gives out each year around 15 scholarships to undergraduate, masters and PhD students fleeing their countries. 

The Solidarity Autonomous Foundation (FAS, Fundació Autònoma Solidària) is the organization that manages these scholarhips through its Welcome Program. This program started in 2015, as a result of an agreement between the UAB and the Catalan Comission for Refugees (CCAR), and after Mohammed, a librarian, translator and researcher of Mosul, Iraq, asked the university to restart the process of application to get a PhD that he had left aside in the 80s, to leave Iraq after ISIS’ invasion. 

Mohammed was eventually accepted in the UAB as a PhD researcher, and was also granted housing. Marta Batalla, one of FAS’ technicians, underlines how this circumstance “made the UAB aware that university can be a way for students and researchers that are persecuted in their home countries to regain lost rights, and thus creating change in society as a whole”. 

This motivation resulted in the agreement with the CCAR, that was made official in the form of the scholarships ‘#UABRefugi’ (#UABRefugee), which not only grant the total cost of the tuitions fees to the students, but also make the entry requirements about their legal status more flexible. The scholarships are completed with legal and psychological support and Catalan and Spanish courses. 

The people that are granted the scholarships are always students that are half way their undergraduate programs or about to start a masters degree, and all of them come from countries at war of third countries such as Lebanon. “During the 8 years of the program, we have granted 82 scholarships, and most of them to students that arrived in Spain by their own means”, explains Marta Batalla. 

In this context, however, she highlights a main difficulty for grants, which is the instability of the asylum status: "It is possible that these people will be denied asylum, in fact Spain has very low rates of positive resolutions to asylum compared to the rest of Europe". However, for the UAB, continues Marta Batalla, "refusing asylum does not deny the life story of refugees, and for the public administration to deny studies to someone who has already been awarded a scholarship would be a loss of money, so they always resolve that the person can complete their studies even in a situation of denial, understanding that the process will also lead to the regularization of their situation".

In this sense, and since the scholarships are possible thanks to public subsidies, there can be an imbalance in attention due to humanitarian crisis because of an uneven media coverage: “For example, from the Ministry of Universities launched a direct grant of funding to universities with welcome programs specifically directed to Ukrainian people, something they have never done with other humanitarian crisis”, underlines Marta Batalla. 

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