FIF – Preparation course for refugees and migrants


VIA University College in Denmark developed a one-year project that provides a preparation course (FIF-course) for migrants and refugees. This course is an example of non-formal education that is developed and implemented to prepare migrants and refugees for the Danish Higher Education system. VIA University College developed a special course that could be implemented within different educational institutions. The FIF course also acted as an example in the European VINCE (validation for inclusion of new citizens in Europe) project, that consisted of a network of eleven different countries and aimed to research migrant perspectives on inclusion in higher education.

Narrative, origins and objectives of the initiative

What kind of project is this? Please give a short description (summary) of it.

VIA University College offers a one-year preparation course (FIF-course) for migrants and refugees that come to Denmark but don’t have proof of full diplomas. The aim of the course is to prepare students to apply for admission to a professional bachelor programme (NQF, level 6). The preparation course is offered within several of the VIA campuses in Central Region Jutland in Denmark. Teaching in basic subjects, like Danish society and culture and learning preparatory activities are part of the courses. To apply for lingual higher education in Denmark, applicants of the FIF-courses must have a permanent work- and residence permit or a temporary residence permit aiming to be converted into a permanent one.

Participation in the preparation course does not automatically ensure admission to the professional bachelor programme. Refugee and migrant students that took part in the program of the FIF course are supported during their admission applications. An assessment of prior learning can be part of the admission procedure. The preparation course is considered a part of the process of documenting the students’ background, regarding competences and prior learning. The FIF-course is implemented by a number of VIA’s professional bachelor programmes, for instance: Architectural Technology and Construction Management; Teacher, Pedagogue, Social worker, Occupational Therapist, Physiotherapist, Nurse and others.

Please tell us why, in general, this project is considered a successful one?

The FIF course project is considered successful since it focuses on supporting newcomers in Denmark that face many difficulties. Migrants and refugees often don’t speak Danish or English or know their way with regards to systems that ensure access to the labour market and education. The Danish education system is very complex and strict. This project supports and prepares those vulnerable groups and helps them to get access to (higher) education. This is particularly important since it contributes to and facilitates a smooth transition to the labour market.

And why would you consider it a grass-roots initiative?

The FIF course is not necessarily a grass-roots initiative. At VIA University College, a special task force was designed to think of issues regarding specific integration of migrants and refugees. However, the project has been implemented in different faculties and most other university colleges in the country also developed and designed specific programmes for refugees.

What challenges needed to be solved in this project?

The FIF preparation course is designed for the specific target group of refugees and migrants. That target group faces many difficulties. For many of them, finding out how to ensure access to different institutions within Danish society can be complicated since they are not familiar with the different levels, courses and diplomas that are required to obtain before applying for the various levels of education. To support this process, it has proven to be important that staff who are responsible for the validation of prior learning, are properly trained. Lastly, the most important challenge are the different language barriers. Like most education in Denmark, the preparation course is taught in Danish. Except for some English programs, most of the (higher) education is taught in Danish as well. Learning the language is therefore extremely important and all students must learn Danish to prepare them for the specific levels of education of their choice, but also for the Danish labour market and Danish society as a whole.

Is this initiative based on any particular theoretical framework? Which one?

Although it is not necessary, the project is rooted in the conviction that it is important to support migrants and refugees and prepare them for the Danish labour market. This means that a profound understanding of Danish society is necessary to discuss that the individual is considered a key actor in its own life as a part of this individualized society. Therefore, the preparation course empowers these students and enable them to find their place within society.

(Appendix) Is your intervention standing on its own or is it a part of a bigger and more holistic approach?

Please describe the group(s) intended as beneficiaries of this initiative

Why has this group (have these groups) been chosen?

By supporting migrants and refugees to help them to find their way within the complex systems of Danish society, these groups get opportunities and chances to build a new life. Therefore, investing in creating opportunities for these specific target groups is very important.

Could you please tell us something about the relative size of the (of each) target group, within the school/university population, region and/or country?

For the past 2 years, roughly 200 students have participated in the preparation course at VIA University College. Since the preparation course is offered at different campuses and in various programs, the students are enrolled at different campuses.

Which social characteristics are taken into account and what is the geographical area covered?

The preparation course is developed at VIA University College in Aarhus, but has also been implemented by different University Colleges across Denmark. Characteristics that are taken into account in the preparation course are cultural differences, different levels of education, language differences, knowledge of a foreign language of second language, job experience and family background. However, it is important to note that not all these elements are important or relevant for the assessment of prior learning. 

On which level is the project implemented?

Please describe the political and socio-economic factors that you believe have been important enablers for your initiative

Did the initiative have political support?

The VIA University College preparation course is a part of the Danish Integration programme for migrants and refugees. Learning the language and providing access is considered an important entry to Danish society. Therefore, the initiative has received political support from the government and is considered a priority.

How did it fit with local, regional or national policies?

Who are the stakeholders supporting the initiative?

Stakeholders are working under legislation of Danish Higher Education. Other important stakeholders that support the initiative are ministries, municipalities, the labour market trainers, but also employers of companies (in both the private and public sector).

Are there particular demographic changes present that are influencing the project?

The 2015 influx of refugees to Europe has been an important and specific demographic change that paved the way for the development of this program. At that time, it was expected that many refugees (especially from Syria) were highly educated. Soon it became clear that it was important to manage expectations. It was considered important to facilitate a smooth transition to the educational system and the desire for the preparation course was widely shared.

What is the institutional strategy and culture of the (educational) organization?

To what extent does the initiative have an influence on institutional policy (or potential influence) of the (educational) organization?

The preparation course led many study counsellors and teachers to learn different methods to support migrant and refugee students, but also helped them to reflect on the Danish educational system. The program definitely contributed to the reflection process of rethinking the preconditions that are set for different groups within society. A question that arose was: what do these groups bring into our systems, our society and what can we learn from them? Many teachers and study counsellors realized how very dialogue-oriented Danish education actually was, after having been confronted with these different language barriers. This made it difficult to interact with refugee and migrant students. Building on that, an interesting unintended outcome of the project has been that the teachers developed other methods, like bringing pictures and photos into the validation process. It turns out that this contributed to a different kind of dialogue. Due to this, the method has actually been taken over more generally by many different programs. Looking at and using pictures apparently made it possible to articulate more freely and thus provided a new framework for discussion.

(Appendix) Is there public support for your initiative and the issue it addresses?

(Appendix) What other factors do you think have been important for the success of this initiative?

Please describe the overall initiative design and the methods and tools used to reach the goals

Please describe the specific activities carried out.

Many different Danish educational programs have fixed admission criteria. Refugee and migrant students initially start with the preparation course because they want to apply for bachelor programs for which they need to meet certain conditions or enlist for validation procedures. Students are also asked to attend classes and practice study tasks (language, oral writing and speaking abilities). Also, the students are taught the necessary knowledge for Danish higher education in the FIF course and are supported in the process of validation and admission to the study of their choice.

The first important thing is that students are asked to document their own background. If students are in possession of their formal documents and diplomas, they are asked to submit that with their application. The preparation course then supports the students to obtain the necessary learning content, learning objectives etc. The students are asked to describe in detail what they have worked with, for how many years etc.


After that process, that assessment is sent to Danish authorities who then formally recognize the students’ levels of prior education. This is done by the Authority for Recognition of foreign Higher Education programmes, the Ministry of Education & Science. The process of validation of prior learning, including a formal educational background to assess the applicants’ admission for the specific study programs, is done by the study counselors of the specific programs at VIA University College. The different bachelor programs then analyse the students’ competences in combination to (some of) their formal diplomas.

What were the key roles (teacher, student, management team etc.) within the project?

- Refugee / migrant students.

- Teachers that organize and teach the target group to prepare them for Danish higher education, but also for the validation process and admission.

- The assessment team: the FIF courses are organized by teachers who form a team to develop and provide the assessments.

- The administrative unit, each faculty has one.

- The head of the faculty that is also the manager of the FIF course.

What ideas, tools, theories, models, methodology (etc.) have been used to reach the goals?

What are the final revenues of the project?

Please describe if your project ensured its sustainability

If so, how did you ensure the short-term impact of the project?

The program is sustainable for the time being, but only time will tell if there will be enough participants in the course to ensure its sustainable character in the future as well. The program depends on the numbers of migrants and refugees that come into Denmark and apply for the preparation course project. Recently the numbers of participants decreased dramatically.

And how did you ensure the long-term impact of the project?

Has your project been replicated elsewhere?

Please tell us about the resources used in this initiative

What was the budget for the initiative?

The resources used in this initiative are: teachers who are trained in assessing levels of prior learning, access to classrooms, management and administrative units and subsidized funding. The course is also funded through Taxameter, which is public funding for educational institutions that is granted per student. The funding for the preparation course at VIA University College is currently enough to facilitate this project, even for small groups that consist of just a couple of students per teacher.

How much did the initiative depend on volunteers?

How were the costs perceived by the public/the sector/other stakeholders?

To what extent did the initiative achieve its objectives?

Please describe the evidence to support the success of your initiative.

Prior to the access application procedure for higher education programs at VIA University College, the majority of applicants have had their prior levels of education assessed by the Ministry for recognition of foreign educations. The students that participated in the preparation course tend to do quite well. The preparation course focusses mainly on higher education and applicants are guided very thoroughly during the process of the application procedure. Also, the fact that the preparation course is implemented at different other programs at VIA University College as well as at other university colleges, substantiates the claim that this project is considered successful and reached its objectives. 

Did the intervention lead to any unintended (positive) outcomes?

Students appear to be more aware of the types of necessary documentation and requirements to access the Danish higher education system, are aware of their own qualifications and competences. 

What indicators (quantitative and qualitative) have you measured to demonstrate success?

As mentioned above, the numbers of students who had their levels of prior learning assessed by the Ministry of Education demonstrates the success of the preparation course.

(Appendix) How did you evaluate/monitor this intervention?