We address inequality in access to higher education. 


The Refugee Education Initiatives (REIs) addresses challenges that refugees and asylum seekers face in accessing higher education. Through a combination of education programs and advocacy work, REIs aims to provide people with refugee backgrounds in Europe every opportunity to not only access higher education, but to flourish therein.  

REIs is funded by the Erasmus+ Social Inclusion program and is comprised of six universities and education providers: Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Bard College Berlin, Central European University, OpEn Education Limited Budapest, the University of East London and the University of Vienna.


our main areas of activity

At the core of our approach is a sense that the voices and perspectives of people called refugees must be present in Europe. Our education programs provide scope for refugees to enter higher education and to define the social and political agenda around their inclusion into European societies. REIs advocates for policy change, working with universities and national education agencies on innovative approaches to recognising refugees’ previous learning. Mindful of the fact that universities are not necessarily or naturally inclusive, REIs explores teaching and administrative practices that foster diversity.

Advocating for change

REIs advocates for changes in how the previous learning of people with refugee status are assessed by universities and national education agencies. Putting this issue on the public policy agenda in Europe can have manifold impacts on how refugees are included into European societies.

REIs has developed a way of assessing the learning and knowledge of refugees applying to university that centres on giving the applicant the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge before academic assessors. The same policy makes provisions for a ‘foundation program’ where any gaps in learning identified by a subject expert can be remedied over 10 months or less. This assessment method has become an internal policy in one of the REIs partners, Central European University. REIs will seek to further develop this policy in conversation with universities and national education agencies through a series of knowledge transfer workshops.  

REIs’ intervention in the complex world of refugee learning recognition is motivated by an understanding that how such learning is recognised (with an emphasis on qualifications gained, not actual knowledge) is a passive approach to including refugees in higher education, and therefore in European society.  REIs promotes instead a pro-active approach led by academics and subject experts that seeks to identify knowledge levels and remedy such gaps in knowledge. Read more→


The core of REIs is its education programs. Universities in Greece, Germany, Austria and the United Kingdom and an education provider in Hungary offer classes to asylum-seekers and refugees. These take into account the specific needs and challenges that refugees face in each of these countries; taken together they are a comprehensive approach to the diversity of the refugee population in Europe. In Austria and Greece for example, courses focus on the specific challenges to social inclusion faced by refugee women. In Germany, full-time programs prepare students for entry to graduate level study in English, filling a gap as most university preparatory programs in that country prepare people for Bachelor-level study. In the United Kingdom, weekend and full-time programs combine to provide a comprehensive and innovative approach to fostering access to higher education while building links to grassroots activists and other universities to ensure that refugee voices are heard in public life. In Hungary, in the face of direct attacks by the nationalist government, education programs provide a safe space for refugees and asylum seekers to build academic, advocacy and career skills with a long-term aim to contribute to changing the public discourse on refugees and migrants in that country. Read more→ 

Promoting Diverse and Inclusive Universities and Classrooms

Universities, like any other institution, are not naturally or inherently ‘open’.  It is by now accepted that going to university is often a step into an alien world for a number of people because of their class, gender or race.  People who are refugees or asylum seekers can experience similar forms of alienation. Universities are not hermetically sealed from the social hierarchies and inequalities of the outside world, and a lack of reflection on these issues can lead to students of different backgrounds failing to succeed in universities.

REIs is focused not only in getting students into universities but in giving them every opportunity to flourish while they are there.  The academic skills and introduction to university teaching that students will gain through REIs education programs will help, but there are broader pedagogical and administrative issues at hand.  REIs will seek to build communities of practice among university administrators and academics throughout Europe to develop inclusive pedagogic and administrative practices. Read more→


EDUCATION Programs we currently offer


OLIve UP is a full time university preparatory program for people with refugee status from around Europe. OLIve UP students receive intensive small-group teaching in subjects they choose, intensive academic English, courses in academic writing, advocacy and training workshops.

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OLIve WP offers weekend courses in academic subjects, English, advocacy and training to refugees and asylum seekers in Austria, Greece, Hungary and the United Kingdom.

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OLIve-Plus and OLIve-Access

OLIve-Plus is an intensive, 5-month preparatory program for students with refugee status wishing to apply for an MA at Central European University, Vienna. OLIve-Access is a program focused on raising the Academic English skills of students who will then go on to the full time OLIve UP program in September 2020.

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OLIve-Youth and OLIve-Women

This program lays special focus on addressing the needs of two often marginalised members of the refugee population, namely women and youth aged between 16 and 18, setting up opportunities for them to enter higher education.

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