Academic Refuge: setting up an Erasmus+ Strategic Partnership Project

Academic Refuge: setting up an Erasmus+ Strategic Partnership Project

How can we use the experiences from the work of protecting threatened academics to find solutions for refugee students and academics arriving in Europe? How is this integration work in Europe important for the wider movement to strengthen academic freedom around the world? What could we do within the framework of the Erasmus+ programme? These were the questions we were grappling with one year ago, as we prepared our Erasmus+ application. In this blog post, you can learn from our successful application process.

For our Academic Refuge effort, we chose to apply for an Erasmus+ Strategic Partnership project. The Strategic Partnership Action is a flexible action, run at the national level. In higher education, it is meant for projects developing innovative practices. We applied in Norway, with the University of Oslo as a coordinator.

Establishing partnerships

The Academic Refuge project is a cooperation between partners with long-standing working relationships and common interests – ie strengthening academic freedom and the human rights of scholars. Two of the partners, Scholars at Risk and the UNICA Network of Universities from the Capitals of Europe, are large networks with a total of almost 500 universities. Members of both networks, the University of Oslo (UiO), Norway and University of Ljubljana (UL), Slovenia are core partners in the project. In addition, the European University Association (EUA) and the EAIE are associate partners. In the evaluation of the proposal, we received the feedback that we should have had more individual university partners. Perhaps it would have been better if the EUA and EAIE had been full partners as well – offering them some basic funding for general participation in the project.

Setting priorities

Early in the process, we identified the main goals of the project: (1) to improve European universities’ capacity of assisting refugees and threatened academics, and (2) to promote greater respect for academic freedom and greater protection of higher education values worldwide. Combining these two goals in one project was seen as an innovative approach.

The 2016 Erasmus+ programme included a horizontal priority on projects involving refugees and topics relating to the refugee crisis. Our project was therefore very timely and relevant to the EU political agenda this year. In addition to the central EU priorities, your own national agency might have its own additional priorities. Be sure to contact your national agency for further details.
Scholars at Risk is one of the leading organisations promoting academic freedom and documenting attacks on researchers and universities worldwide. For this reason, our consortium had very good background documentation of the needs to be addressed by our project. All of the partners were already engaged in other refugee initiatives in Europe, including the Academic Dugnad for Refugees and the Refugees welcome map.

Concrete activities

Once our goals were clear, we had to ask ourselves what we could do within the regulations of the Strategic Partnership Action. After a long process, the project ended up with three main deliverables: (1) a curriculum for a staff training week in Oslo 19–23 June 2017; (2) a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on academic freedom; (3) and an electronic handbook on the values in higher education.
We started with ideas of bringing people together for workshops to share experiences and discuss best practices, but we soon understood that we needed to be more ambitious than that. The Erasmus+ Action on Strategic Partnerships has strong emphasis on intellectual outputs, and the other activities are organised around these. From our project evaluation, it seems that the use of open access online intellectual outputs, such as the MOOC, is viewed very positively. We expect to reach around 5000 participants every time the MOOC is run.  Being a partnership with large network members will also help reaching a higher number of people. This is important for the EU, but it is even more important for us: disseminating knowledge and feeding discussions about fundamental university values is one of our main goals.


After receiving the news in August that we got the grant, we started working on the implementation of the project’s activities. At the moment, we are preparing for the Academic Refuge Staff training week in Oslo 19-23 June 2017, and in the spring the curriculum for this will be finalised. We are starting the preparations for the MOOC (to be launched in 2018), as well as disseminating information about the project to a wider audience.
It is great to have this opportunity of working on two important topics combined, but as we say at UiO: getting external funding is like receiving a horse for Christmas. You get something valuable, but you need to invest a lot of time and money yourself. So, if you want to apply for an Erasmus+ Strategic Partnership, you should be ready for the ride as well as for the daily care in the stable!

Top 5 tips for a successful proposal

  1. Only apply if you have a brilliant idea that all partners believe in and are ready for implementing, even with limited external funding. You should be sure that the idea is really sustainable and worthy of your valuable time and resources.
  2. A good preparation is half the job: proper planning increases your chances to get through the eye of the needle. You will be asked to describe the preparation, implementation, dissemination and other phases of your project in a concrete and precise manner. Be accurate, reasonable, and realistic. A good proposal can be used as an implementation plan when the project starts.
  3. Mobilise, anchor and pool your resources – not only within the international project consortium, but also your own organisation. This will be important when implementing the project.
  4. All organisations and institutions that will play a role in the project should be listed as partners.
  5. Read the relevant paragraphs of the Erasmus+ Programme Guide You should also have a look at the Erasmus+ Dos and Don’ts and the Erasmus+ Guide for Experts on Quality Assessment. Make sure all of your goals and activities fit within the framework of the programme. If you are in doubt of the meaning of items in the documents, contact your national agency for clarification. The Norwegian National Agency was very helpful whenever we had questions.

Erasmus+ Strategic Partnerships
Application Deadline: 29 March 2017

Marit is Senior Adviser at the Office for International Relations and Research Support at the University of Oslo, Norway.

Marit Egner
University of Oslo, NorwayMarit Egner is Project Coordinator of the Academic Refuge project, and is also a former EAIE Board Member.