REF Inspired the Portuguese Government to Introduce Tertiary Scholarships for Roma

 “The Portuguese government has been inspired by REF practice to provide merit-based tertiary education scholarships to prospective Roma students,” said Mr. Pedro Calado, High Commissioner for Migration in Portugal. Last year the Minister in the Cabinet of the Prime Minister of Portugal awarded 25 state-funded scholarships for Roma students to attend higher education institutions.

“The scholarships for Roma University students had begun as a nonprofit initiative which turned into a public policy. The scholarships number will be upgraded to 30 next year, with a good gender balance,” added Calado.

So far 25 Roma beneficiaries are students in various academic disciplines, from engineering to sociology, and enrolled in different higher education institutions throughout the whole country. The students receive both financial support and mediation (i.e., mentoring, awareness raising with their families about the value of education, etc.).

“A challenge which the Portuguese Roma beneficiaries face is that often they are early school leavers and at the age of 23 they restart education thanks to the funding and the mediation services,” explained Catarina Marcelino, the Secretary of State for Citizenship and Equality of Portugal.

Mrs. Marcelino and Mr. Calado were part of a Portuguese delegation that visited REF Headquarters on October 4-5, 2017 with the purpose to learn more about:

  • REF Scholarship Program, the largest tertiary scholarship program for Roma students.
  • Policy Development and Capacity Building Program which supports activities that help create a framework for dialogue with governments and civil society on education reform and Roma inclusion.
  • Communication and Cross Country Learning Program which includes activities to promote the exchange of knowledge on education reforms and Roma inclusion.
  • Reimbursable Grant Program to help Roma NGOs and local governments access EU funds for the purpose of Roma education.

The governmental officials from Portugal later visited the Roma Graduate Preparatory Program and met the Chair of Romani Studies Program, Dr. Iulius Rostas, the academic staff and great part of the currently enrolled Roma students at the Central European University in Budapest.

In short, the Roma Graduate Preparation Program (RGPP) is an intensive 10-month program that prepares outstanding Roma graduates with an interest in social sciences and humanities to compete for places on Master's-level courses at internationally recognized universities. The RGPP prepares students for further studies in their chosen field through intensive academic tutoring in disciplines. All enrolled students receive full scholarships for the entire period of the program.

The Portuguese officials were curious whether Portuguese Roma students are eligible to apply for the RGPP. Dr. Rostas explained that the RGPP and its previous version, the Roma Access Program, were initially meant to target applicants from the Central and Eastern Europe, The Western Balkans and Turkey but now the Program has students even from Spain. In an important announcement during the visit, young Roma from Portugal with BA degree were invited to apply to RGPP. The Portuguese delegation was curious to what extent they may mediate in establishment of a network between the Roma tertiary education scholars in Portugal and their RGPP peers. The conveners exchanged closed students’ and alumni groups addresses on social media for future dialogue, information exchange, events and collaboration activities.

Later in the day, the Portuguese delegation visited the Romaversitas Foundation and spoke to its Director, Dr. Henriett Dinok. Established in 1996, as the first comprehensive support and training program for talented Roma the mission of Romaversitas is to contribute to building a strong, confident and professionally qualified Roma middle class. 

The second day of the Portuguese visit was dedicated to a visit of the Rosa Parks Foundation. Rosa Parks Foundation is a new civil society organization, established in 2016. Since January 2017 the Rosa Parks Foundation operates the Invisible Study-Hall (ISH) project which was initiated by the Chance for Children Foundation in 2013.

Portuguese Delegation