Academic Dugnad











Academic Dugnad - helping refugees in academia


Academic Dugnad is a term defining a special effort to welcome refugees and asylum seekers into European societies, first used by the University of Oslo.

Dugnad derives from the Old Norse dugnaðr, meaning help, good deed. It describes a group of people doing voluntary work together for a specific purpose, as an extraordinary effort to create something of lasting value. The dugnad spirit is considered an important part of Norwegian culture. The University of Oslo encourages other institutions to use the term Academic Dugnad, as well as a special logo designed by Hanne Utigard. UNICA, sharing the dugnad spirit, makes this page a platform to share and promote the best practices in academic solidarity.


Related EU projects

UNICA is partner in ACADEMIC REFUGE project: Strategic Partnership to Promote Core Academic Values and Welcome Refugees and Threatened Academics to European Campuses, co-funded by the Erasmus+ programme of the European Union. Learn more...


Related events


UNICA joined 'International Partnership in Academia - an Ethical Challenge?' Conference in Oslo. The Conference was organised by the University of Oslo, 12-13 November 2015.

Are there academic values common to all cultures? Is it possible to incorporate an ethical standard into an international cooperation agreement? These and many other questions were discussed during the Conference.

On 12 November 2015, a meeting of representatives of UNICA member universities involved or willing to become involved in the Scholars At Risk activities was held at the University of Oslo as a pre-event to the Conference.

More details under this link.


Practices at UNICA member universities 

  • Belgium, Vrije Universiteit Brussel

The VUB studies programme has been explicitly opened to help refugees. The University also supports refugees with language courses to help them to prepare for future studies at the VUB. The offer comprises an intensive English (and Dutch) language course in 2016 summer semester. The focus of this programme has to result in the enrollment for one of the study programmes at the VUB.

  • Belgium, Université libre de Bruxelles

A lot of donations have been collected at the University and distributed in reception centres. The University has also undertaken an initiative aimed at creation of scholarships for refugee students and has conducted language courses in reception centres with a participation of volunteer teachers. The medical staff of the University's academic hospital has also been involved in work at reception centres along with the Doctors without Borders workers.

The biggest initiative of the ULB so far was the creation of 10 Chairs (for 1 year with a possibility of renewal), which gives refugee academics the opportunity to pursue their research at the University.

You will find more information and latest news related to this university campaign of solidarity with refugees on this site.

  • Denmark, University of Copenhagen

​The University of Copenhagen is seeking permission to offer admission and further education courses to refugees.

The University of Copenhagen offers to set up measures that will further a smooth integration in the study environment, for example through dedicated mentoring and shadowing programmes, and also organise special counselling services aimed at enterprises in relation to a quick transition to the job market.

The University suggests to the Minister that the government establishes a new targeted student finance system to ensure free education for relevant refugees, not unlike the system Denmark used successfully in the Baltics in the 1990s.

  • Estonia, Tallinn University

Tallinn University employees have expressed a wish to teach languages to refugees on a voluntary basis and integrate the issues of migration and asylum into teaching, research and development activities. The initiative group at the TU School of Humanities plans to give language lessons to refugees and asylum seekers from March 2016. In case of extended interest, they are willing to offer English and German courses in addition to Estonian courses.

Integrating the language studies and the issues of migration and asylum into the everyday life of the university is helped by the offices and organisations dedicated to refugee issues in Estonia.

  • Finland, University of Helsinki

Ongoing projects:

  1. Language training (Finnish as second language): Teaching Finnish to asylum seekers and providing basic language instruction training voluntary workers who work with asylum seekers. The programme includes developing digital learning material (videos, apps etc.) and pop-up courses. Students who study to become Finnish language teachers focus their course work during the academic year 2015-16 on developing learning material that can be used for the above mentioned project. University Lecturer Maria Kela from the Department of Teacher Education is planning to launch the "Suomen kieli sanoo tervetuloa" website together with her students and other volunteers, to help anyone teach Finnish to asylum seekers.
  2. The University of Helsinki's Faculty of Law is planning a pop-up desk that would provide asylum seekers with legal advice and counseling.
  3. Teacher educators from the University are establishing a pop-up evening school for children and young adults.
  4. The University's Green Team have organised the collection of clothes and other everyday things for refugees.

Other initiatives of the University include the following: using university spaces as temporary housing/ as a venue for organising events for asylum seekers, entrepreneurial advice, collecting laptops for refugee centres, lending/donating books from different areas of science, opening up courses for asylum seekers, organising meeting spaces at the university where students and asylum seekers could meet each other, establishing cholarships for researchers with refugee background.

  • France, Université Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris 3

Université Sorbonne Nouvelle has been developing a special initiative aimed at supporting refugee students and academics. Prof. Emmanuel Fraisse (Vice-President for International and European Relations, former Member of the UNICA Steering Committee) is in charge of the local coordination.

  • Germany, Freie Universität Berlin

Welcome to Freie Universität Berlin Program:

  1. German Language Classes
    Freie Universität offers in the winter semester 2016/2017 beginner level (A1-B1) German language courses for up to 100 refugees who are prospective students (intensive courses/ 4 days a week). The objective is to pave the way for these students to enter a regular degree program.
  2. Attending Selected Courses
    Refugees living in Berlin or Brandenburg who are interested in a degree program have an opportunity to attend selected courses from the university free of charge (6 weekly credit hours maximum). From the 2016 summer semester onward, formal certificates of credit for coursework within the program can be earned. These certificates will then be eligible for credit as part of a later degree program.
  3. Studienkolleg Preparatory Program
    The Studienkolleg at Freie Universität is a year-long course that aims to prepare prospective students to successfully enroll in a degree program at the university. Starting with the 2016/17 fall/winter semester, introductory classes in the natural and life sciences, humanities, and economics, along with integrated German language classes at the B2/C1 level will be offered.
  4. Advising Refugees
    The Center for Academic Advising and Psychological Counseling holds special sessions for advising refugees on studying at Freie Universität. These sessions are offered in Arabic, German, English, and Farsi and they provide information about degree programs and details about the bureaucratic formalities required for enrollment. The Language Center of Freie Universität holds special office hours for refugees. The advising is offered in Arabic, English, and German.
  5. Buddy program
    Freie Universität Berlin has launched a buddy program. Students and employees have various possibilities to help, whether as conversation partners for those learning the language, by explaining how the study programs in a certain subject are structured, by giving a guided tour of the campus and university institutions such as the libraries, or by helping them with applications and navigating bureaucratic hurdles.
  6. Using the University Libraries
    Refugees who do not yet have an address (Meldeadresse) may be issued a visitor’s card by the University Library of Freie Universität at no charge. With this card, all the printed and electronic resources of the library may be used on site. The visitor’s card may also be used at all of the other libraries of Freie Universität Berlin.
  7. UniSport courses
    Starting August 2016 the university summer sport courses start and selected courses are open and free of charge to all Welcome @ FU participants. These offers are financed by the Berlin Senate Department for the Interior and Sports and are part of a participatory program.

New Courses for Refugees at Berlin Universities

The Humboldt Universität zu Berlin (HU), the Free University of Berlin and the Technical University of Berlin are working together to provide refugees with regular access to studies.
In cooperation with the Free University of Berlin and the Technical University of Berlin (TU), the Humboldt Universität zu Berlin (HU) offers four extra German courses and propaedeutics, or preparatory courses, as of the winter semester 2016/2017. Expanding on their offer for refugees, the HU also applied for funding from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD)’s “Integra” programme, and received a sum of €189,000. The aim is to effectively prepare refugees who are interested in further education for regular studies.

Four language courses, preparatory courses, and one-to-one consultations

With funding from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, the HU preparatory college and the Free University are running a pre-existing language course at the HU. Two new language courses are beginning at the HU in October 2016, and the TU Berlin preparatory college runs a further course. Subject-specific preparatory courses are further supporting refugees alongside the language courses, giving them an insight into the academic work and relevant terminology. 

Programme and measures for refugees at Berlin universities

The Free University, HU and TU Berlin have been running special programmes for refugees who are interested in continuing their academic careers in Berlin since autumn last year. Together, the three Berlin universities have already advised 1769 refugees on how to proceed with their studies, while 670 are taking part in these programmes.

  • The Netherlands, Universiteit van Amsterdam

The University of Amsterdam (UvA) provides additional educational training to refugees. The UvA reaffirmed its commitment by signing a collaborative agreement with the Foundation for Refugee Students UAF, which assists refugees who have tertiary educational qualifications. The efforts of the UvA and UAF are aimed at getting motivated and talented refugee students who have the necessary tertiary qualifications to study at the UvA. Students who have a refugee background will be able to take part in an introductory programme at the university. The programme encompasses language education and study skills, also focuses on the UvA’s expertise in the fields of Dutch culture, visual arts, constitutional law etc.

In addition, talented refugees who have completed an academic study programme have the opportunity to do a work placement at the UvA, combined with a tailored training programme. To increase the level of support for refugees and persecuted academics within the university and society at large, the UvA and UAF will organise joint activities.

  • Norway, University of Oslo

  1. «På flukt» (Displaced) lecture series
    Most of University of Oslo faculties teach and research topics related to refugees and the refugee situation, and have since the autumn of 2015 arranged a series of open lectures discussing facets of refugee origins, challenges and opportunities, thus contributing to an informed public debate about these issues. By May 2016, more than 30 lectures and seminars have been arranged by professors and students in a wide variety of subjects, such as Political Science, Sociology, History, Psychology, Law, Medicine, Education, Theology, Economy, Human Rights, and Social Anthropology.
  2. Academic Practice
    Together with the municipality of Oslo, they have initiated an academic internship programme at UiO as part of the two year’s Introduction Programme for Refugees in Oslo. The aim of the programme is to ensure that the time in the introduction programme is spent preparing for future studies or relevant career. They are hoping this is planned to be implemented to all HE institutions and municipalities in the greater Oslo area – and hopefully nationwide.
  3. Academic Network
    University of Oslo is setting up a networking scheme in collaboration with the Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences. This is a “low threshold” arrangement for refugees with an academic background, irrespective of immigrant status, where groups of “academic guides” – students from the University of Oslo institutions – are matched with refugees from a similar academic background, to help them build networks and get insight into the Norwegian academic traditions.
  4. Norwegian language courses
    They are developing a MOOC in Norwegian language, which should be available as a test version in fall. This may be used by anyone, anywhere, but may also be followed together with specially designed campus classes to give ECTS credits.
  5. Coordination of information
    On University of Oslo’s request, The Norwegian Association of Higher Education Institutions (UHR) has taken on a role coordinating information about all the efforts put in place around the country, with regular meetings for all relevant actors both in the HE sector and in the governmental immigration sector.
  • Portugal, Universidade NOVA de Lisboa

NOVA has been receiving small groups of students from Syria identified through a national programme coordinated by the former President of Portugal, Mr Jorge Sampaio. The students have integrated without significant problems and received accommodation in NOVA student halls. 

  • Sweden, Stockholm University

The University currently works on a programme to assist international academics (not only refugees) to become integrated quickly in the Swedish labour market. Korta vägen is an initiative of the Swedish Public Employment Service (Arbetsförmedlingen, AF) and Swedish HEIs, in which Stockholm University is one of the partners. The aim of the initiative is to help foreign academics establish themselves professionally as soon as possible after their arrival in Sweden.

  • United Kingdom, King's College London
  1. KCL is offering sanctuary scholarships from 2016-17 and 2017-18 to talented refugees to be able to study for an undergraduate degree at King’s.
  2. KCL is making available extra hardship funding to support students from conflict-zones and those who may not be able to return home.
  3. King’s is a member of CARA, the Council for At-Risk Academics, which offers academics in danger solidarity and support to reach a place where they can work in safety. King's contributes in the region of £70,000 and is currently directly supporting two CARA scholars with stipends.
  4. They are investigating other ways to alleviate the refugee crisis including forming partnerships with other institutions and utilising resources and teaching expertise.

KCL STAR (Student Action for Refugees) has over 80 volunteers who are doing lots of work to support refugees. They have hosted a panel event with LGBT+ refugees and ex-detainees, raising awareness of the issues around LGBT+ asylum in the UK. Also they have held collections for personal hygiene and beauty products at King’s Strand campus for refugee women in Calais, run an outreach programme at a London school to help recently-arrived young refugees complete their GCSE and A Level qualifications, run weekly clubs for refugee and asylum seeking children in Battersea, South London, helping young refugees with homework and personal development as well as organising day trips for them.


Initiative of the European Commission


Science4Refugees (EC)

The European Commission has launched the Science4Refugees initiative to help refugee scientists and researchers find suitable jobs that both improve their situation and put their skills and experience to good use in the European research system.

Science4Refugees matches talented refugees and asylum seekers who have a scientific background with positions at universities and research institutions that are 'refugee-welcoming organisations' and that have suitable positions available, including internships as well as part-time and full-time jobs.

More information under this link.


Inspiring practices 

European Commission launched an EU Survey on 24 September 2015 among universities and student organisations. It has been further completed following a workshop organised on 6 October 2015 with 25 representatives of Erasmus+ National Agencies, universities and student organisations. The aim of the survey is to highlight practices introduced and followed in different parts of the EU.

Challenges of integration in society

  • Lack of accommodation/clothes/catering/healthcare
  • Lack of knowledge of the host country/university; need of integration activities
  • Lack of knowledge of the host country language
  • Lack of documentation justifying diplomas/credits/level of prior learning and competences
  • Lack of official status that hinders enrollment at university
  • Lack of education in the camps in Turkey, Jordan, …

Challenges of changing mentalities/opening minds

  • Face fear and racism/radicalisation
  • Chance for HEIs and enterprises – learn from refugees

For more details, please click here.


Activities of other networks


European University Association  

Refugee Welcome Map

EUA aims to showcase and document the commitment of higher education institutions and organisations in supporting refugees with the Refugees Welcome Map campaign. EUA is collecting information on the initiatives by higher education institutions and related organisations and networks to support refugee students and researchers, via a brief survey and presenting them in an interactive map, which will be continuously updated. The interactive map helps the refugees gain access to education and employment in higher education.

The Refugees Welcome Map will also serve as a platform for exchange of good practice and for dissemination of information, e.g. on collaboration and funding opportunities.

For more information about the Refugee Welcome Map, click here.


Academic Cooperation Association

ACA is currently coordinating GREET project: Guiding Refugees via European Exchange and Training, co-funded by the Horizon 2020 Science4Refugees action.


Coimbra Group

The Coimbra Group members take part in initiatives to help refugees get back into further education after being displaced from their home country. The updated list of initiatives per 4 January 2016 can be found under this link.