Evaluation of discovery programs for refugees at University – The impact on students, peers and social integration

The Department of Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry and Psychosomatic Medicine of the University of Zurich and the Abnormal Emotion and Trauma Lab of the University of Geneva, in close collaboration with the Immigration Policy Lab of the ETH Zurich and the Department of Economics of the University of Zurich, apply for Joint Seed Funding in order to establish a sustainable collaboration.

The number of refugees requesting asylum in Switzerland and Europe has sharply increased in 2015 and remains at high levels. Most, if not all, refugees have endured traumatic events, struggled through forceful relocation, and suffered an abrupt dissolution of their social ties, interruption of their scholastic carrier, and change in their daily lives. Not surprisingly, once settled in a new environment, many refugee children and teenagers suffer from behavioral problems and school deficits.  Therefore, refugee arrivals present an opportunity, but also a challenge for host communities and schools. Several Swiss universities have started to address this challenge by planning specific integration programs for refugees wishing to pursue academic studies. The University of Zurich and the University of Geneva both offer a discovery program, intended to enable refugees to attend lectures and to experience student life. The program usually last one year and is open to refugees with previous study experience. Usually, each refugee can count on the support of another student as a mentor figure who accompanies him/her in the process of academic integration.

To the best of our knowledge, no empirical study has evaluated these programs. The impact of the discovery programs on refugee students’ well-being, integration into host society and their labor market outcomes remain open to date. Given the importance of a better understanding of these programs cost-effectiveness, their impact on refugee students, on regular students and stakeholders will be considered.

The current project aims to provide further understanding of these academic programs in a multi-center perspective. At the same time, the project will consolidate a joint Swiss research network fitting together knowledge and resources of Swiss research centers interested in refugees and migration. The project will be conducted in collaboration with academic partners responsible of the discovery programs in Zurich and Geneva.

The overall aim of this project is to evaluate the discovery programs. This will include an assessment of refugee students, mentors, local students, and integration stakeholders. As a first step, a joint workshop is planned, where the goals, methodology, and relevant partners of the study will be identified. On this basis, a joint pilot study and research proposal will be prepared to further strengthen the collaboration between the universities.


Dr. Naser Morina, University of Zurich

Dr. Grazia Ceschi, University of Geneva

Prof. Dominik Hangartner, ETH Zürich

Prof. Pietro Biroli PhD, University of Zurich

Dr. Andreas Beerli PhD, ETH Zürich