Six business schools supporting refugees and asylum-seekers


PR consultants Stephanie Mullins and Kyle Grizzell from specialist business education PR consultancy BlueSky Education explore how business schools can support refugees and asylum-seekers.

Worldwide, there are 84 million forcibly displaced people. Of these, 26.6 million are defined as refugees and 4.4 million as asylum-seekers, an individual forced to leave their own country to escape war, persecution, or other reason.

Refugees have to contend with a potentially unfamiliar culture in their host country, of which they might not be fluent in the local language. On top of escaping the persecution they faced in their home country, and the subsequent discrimination they can face in their host country, another barrier they face can be to work and education.

A number of business schools offer or are associated with initiatives and organisations designed to help support refugees and asylum-seekers in this area:

  1. ESMT Berlin – BeginnerLuft

BeginnerLuft is a social enterprise established in 2019 to fill a pressing need; to prepare individuals with migration or refugee backgrounds for the demands of Germany’s labour market. The two co-founders, Beata Rozwadowska and Lea Bergmann, have experience working with refugee and migrant communities in Berlin.

People with immigrant or refugee backgrounds that come through BeginnerLuft work with a mentor to help improve their ability to access the German labour market. Nick Barniville, Director of EdTech Lab at ESMT Berlin, volunteers as a part of the mentor programme, coaching motivated early career professionals who come to Germany as refugees to enter the formal labour market.

Upon completion of BeginnerLuft’s coaching and mentoring sessions, each participant should possess a renewed sense of confidence to search for and secure a job fitting their qualifications. BeginnerLuft also helps with preparation of CVs, provides coaching for job interviews and forges links with local companies in the interest of securing placements for BeginnerLuft participants.

  1. ESSEC Business School – Partnership with UNHCR

ESSEC Africa, the ESSEC Business School campus located in Rabat, Morocco, has a partnership with United Nations’ Refugee Agency (UNHCR). This partnership aims to conduct awareness-raising workshops on the subjects of asylum and refugee rights for the benefit of students as well as promote the integration of these populations within the framework of activities organised by the school’s association.

They also integrate refugees into the ESSEC Africa incubator as part of the UNHCR socio-economic integration programme in Morocco; set up cultural activities; promote the integration of refugee communities in the activities of ESSEC’s student associations; and seek funding to enable refugees who meet the admission criteria to enter ESSEC’s Bachelor’s or Master’s programmes.

  1. Nyenrode Business University – Young and Bold and Business Game

At Nyenrode Business University in the Netherlands, academics created the Young & Bold initiative, alongside students and alumni from the business school. Founded by Désirée van Gorp, Professor of International Business, Young & Bold is a community of students and professionals who keep working on projects to impact society in a positive way.

The initiative not only helps refugees through social projects that members work on; they also help students and young professionals who are looking to develop and grow in areas of societal impact, and support companies in tackling societal challenges.

As well as the Young & Bold initiative, Nyenrode has also run a case competition which, although not specifically aimed at refugees, ended up making the life of one slightly easier. Elyas Razawi, a BScBA graduate from Kabul, Afghanistan, fled with his mother to the Netherlands. As schooling for women in Afghanistan was forbidden, it was extremely difficult for his mother to find a job and get their new life on track. However, Razawi was determined that he needed to make ends meet.

Despite not having the financial resources to cover tuition costs, Razawi looked for a solution and found an opportunity: The Business Game, a case competition held over an entire weekend at the Nyenrode campus, organised in cooperation with a company from the private sector.

During the game, a group of around 50 potential students compete to win the game. Currently taking place online, the Business Game is a simulation of a real-life business case in which students are challenged to make quick, tough decisions and lead effectively. Razawi won the prize money and went on to receive his Bachelor from Nyenrode with a GPA he is extremely proud of.

  1. Heriot-Watt University’s Edinburgh Business School – Theirworld

Heriot-Watt University’s Edinburgh Business School in Scotland joined with educational charity Theirworld in early 2020, to offer full scholarships for refugees and Lebanese nationals residing in Lebanon.

The programme offers up to 20 individuals the opportunity to study for an MBA online in Arabic, and is aimed at individuals who are hoping to use their skills to make a positive contribution to their communities and the economy, either in the country where they currently live, or after they have moved elsewhere or returned home. An Online MBA is a method for removing barriers to education to help individuals build a better future for themselves, as it allows those people who are unable to relocate and commit to full-time studies to participate.

  1. Rotterdam School of Management Erasmus University – UNHCR

Assistant Professor Corinna Frey-Heger, from Rotterdam School of Management (RSM) in the Netherlands, suspected that today’s ‘grand challenges’ were under-researched, so decided to study the displacement of people upon joining RSM. Although the ‘refugee crisis’ had not become an issue when she started her research, it eventually did, particularly in Europe. She went on to win awards in 2018 and 2019 for her research into the global displacement crisis.

Professor Frey-Heger’s PhD research enabled her to identify some of the mechanisms that could explain how acute refugee crises were prolonged to an extent that forced refugees to spend decades in camps, dependent on aid. These are the kinds of conditions that lead to violence and poverty.

Furthermore, when the United Nations’ Refugee Agency (UNHCR) wanted to find out more about working with the private sector in operational partnerships in 2019, it asked the Partnerships Resource Centre (PrC) at RSM to assess the evidence. After almost a year of gathering facts and analysis, PrC’s research team, under the leadership of manging director Marieke de Wal, produced an official report with recommendations for working in private sector partnerships, which was published by the UNHCR.

  1. Trinity Business School, Trinity College Dublin – Asylum Seeker Access Provision Scholarship

Trinity College Dublin in the Republic of Ireland provides Asylum Seeker Access Provision (ASAP) scholarships. These scholarships cover all fees, provide an annual stipend, a laptop, on-campus food allowance, and public transport costs. Without scholarships such as this, asylum-seekers and refugees are treated as ‘international students’ and would be liable for fees, even beyond the amount paid by Irish and other EU students. This additional support can make be the different between being able to attend higher education and not.

However business schools are engaged with refugees and asylum-seekers, whether it’s an initiative, a partnership, a scholarship, or a graduate giving back, it is vital to help support them in accessing education to achieve their goals and make a difference. In the words of Nelson Mandela, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

See more articles by Stephanie Mullins.