Community Challenges

Equitable Access to Third-Level Education & Employment for International Protection Applicants, Refugees & Ethnic Minorities Across the European Union:

There are approximately sixty-five million displaced people around the world today, with twenty-five million of those living as refugees. For context, this level of forced displacement has not been witnessed since the end of the Second World War[1]. Seeking International Protection (IP) is a fundamental human right, and each signatory of the 1951 Geneva Convention on the Protection of Refugees must assess any application for IP sought within their sovereign territory. There were 400,000 applications for IP in Europe in 2020, with the majority of refugees fleeing war-torn regions in the Middle East and Africa[2]. This level of displacement is only set to rise in future years due to the impacts of climate change, geopolitical instability and other rights abuses. For these reasons there is a need to assess how Europe treats those seeking IP within its borders.


An Exploration of the Barriers to Third-Level Education & Employment.

EU countries have a shared responsibility to welcome International Protection Applicants (IPAs) in a dignified manner, ensuring parity across the region. In the recent decade, however, there has been an uneven distribution of responsibility placed upon countries in the southern regions of Europe, given their proximity to unstable regions, and this has led to increased levels of anti-immigrant sentiment amongst member states. Such shifts in public opinion undermine the socially democratic ideologies which have underpinned peace and stability in Europe. Conversely, the causes of why people seek IP are rarely questioned in the media.

In Ireland, while IPAs await the outcome of their application for IP, they are housed by the International Protection Accommodation Service (IPAS) within a system termed “Direct Provision”. The Direct Provision system was established in the year 2000 by the Irish State as a temporary measure to accommodate the increased numbers of IPAs arriving in Ireland but the system has remained relatively unchanged since then. Private enterprises are commissioned by Government to provide food & shelter to IPAs and, although this may seem like an ideal solution, IPAs are often denied the right to work without restrictive permits, and are granted a weekly payment of only €38.80 per adult and €29.80 per child to purchase all other personal items except their three meals per day. This again may seem justifiable, but the issue lies with the duration which it takes to process applications. IPAs are often stuck within the Direct Provision system for eight years or more and, coupled with the restrictive work permit system, the results often leave individuals infantilised and dependent upon additional supports from charities, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), etc. Media coverage of the migrant crisis has meant that many IPAs face discrimination on a regular basis, with media portrayals of IPAs lending to national discourse often focusing solely on the opening of Direct Provision centres in small, rural communities, leading to local agitation and resentment[1]. Furthermore, IPAs face barriers many to third-level education, and are often faced with the Non-EU Rate of Fees. As a result, IPAs are often forced to compete with fellow IPAs for the few scholarships and financial supports available at Higher Education Institutes (HEIs) nationwide. Despite calls for reform to the Direct Provision system from legal experts[2], NGOs, charities, and both national & local advocacy groups over the past twenty years, reform of the Direct Provision system finally formed part of the Programme for Government in 2020 after protracted talks between competing political parties[3].

Ireland’s treatment of its indigenous ethnic minority, the Irish Traveller Community, has also been criticised in the past, both at home and on global platforms, particularly during the UN’s Periodical Review in 2015[4]. A recurring criticism of the Irish State is the fact that it did not recognise Travellers’ ethnicity status until 2017, despite their ethnicity being recognised across the European Union for many years beforehand. There are approximately 31,000 Travellers in Ireland, making up 0.7% of the population, with just over 73% of Irish Travellers aged 34 or younger. With only 7.5% over the age of 54[5], it is clear that Irish Travellers do not have long life expectancy, compared to the average Irish life expectancy of 82 in 2019[6]. Furthermore, fewer than 13% complete second-level education, with just over 100 having 3rd level qualifications. These startling statistics contribute to an 80% unemployment rate amongst the Traveller community, which leaves many families dependent upon State and charitable supports across generations. The Irish Traveller community remains disenfranchised from the growth of the Irish economy in recent decades, while negative stereotyping by Irish media (print, digital, radio) portraying Irish Travellers as lazy, with proclivities to petit and organised crime, perpetuates that disenfranchisement[7].  

As a designated University of Sanctuary[8], NUI Galway aims to increase public awareness on international protection, migration and nomadism, in an effort to address the low levels of participation of underrepresented groups in third-level education and the employment sector, particularly IPAs, refugees, vulnerable immigrant groups (undocumented immigrants) and Irish Travellers.

Our challenge will be to ascertain each partner State’s policies pertaining to these groups, and to:

  1. Ascertain the average duration for International Protection applications to be assessed in partner States, and to examine the system of accommodating IPAs while their applications are being assessed.
  2. Ascertain barriers (policy, societal, etc.), if any, for IPAs and ethnic minorities to employment in partner member States.
  3. Ascertain barriers to third-level education (policy, societal, etc.), if any, for IPAs and ethnic minorities in partner member States.
  4. Analyse media coverage of IPAs and ethnic minorities using discourse analysis in partner member States.
  5. Gauge public opinion on IPAs and ethnic minorities in partner States.
  6. Develop strategies to combat racism within partner States, including advocating for policy change addressing access to the employment sector and education, while advocating for rigorous hate-crime legislation, etc.
  7. Explore the causes of the increased levels of forced displacement globally using various theoretical lenses including Dependency Theory and Post-Colonialism.

It will be possible to carry out this research project using a number of methodologies at many academic levels, while using collaborative projects between partner universities and cities of mixed durations over the five-year period.



[2] Mc Mahon Report, 2015









Practical details

  • Hosting organization: Galway City Partnership (CGP)
  • Community: Galway
  • Focus Area: Equity
  • Contact: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • Type of activity: Challenge based education, Thesis/Graduation Project, Research projects