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Third Sector Involvement in Higher Education for Refugees - a Forum Theatre Approach

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - HEforR Forum (Third Sector Involvement in Higher Education for Refugees - a Forum Theatre Approach)

Reporting period: 2019-08-01 to 2021-07-31

The European Union faces an ongoing humanitarian crisis with thousands of people fleeing their homes in third countries, trying to arrive in safety in a member state of the European Union. A large percentage of refugees are in the age group 14-34, and would under normal circumstances, prepare for A-levels, for University entrance exams; they would study at university, or be young and mid-career professionals. The flight narrative interrupts biographies, and the asylum process in Ireland causes long times of uncertainty and living in totally unsuitable accommodation (Direct Provision). The current Irish government has however, promised to abolish the system of Direct Provision within the government’s lifetime, and to look at the situation of young people in particular, and to support their education, and access to universities and colleges specifically.
The project investigates how the voluntary sector in two EU countries - Ireland and Germany - supports refugees to access higher education and how this influences the lives of refugees / refugee students. The project uses an innovative and interdisciplinary methodology mix that combines comparative law techniques with problem-centred and narrative interviews, a collaborative playwriting process with refugee students, and Forum Theatre.
The objectives of the project are:
• To develop a deeper understanding of the relevance of third sector’s space via law(s) and best practices for refugee support to access higher education by providing for an involvement approach.
• To empower refugees and female refugees in particular by providing a safe space for storytelling and a space for offering a counter-narrative;
• To provide for an involvement approach via a collaborative playwriting process
• To disseminate the findings via Forum Theatre to the public (as soon as the Covid 19- restrictions allow to do so safely for participants and audience)
• To identify the transfer of knowledge from Forum Theatre to the private sector for diversity training and management.
The three research questions were:
1. How does the voluntary sector contribute to accessing of higher education for refugees?
2. How do they use hard and soft law to fulfil this task? And
3. Which role does giving a voice to refugees via collaborative playwriting and Forum Theatre have to achieve agency, participation and integration into higher education?
The project has answered the research questions and thereby
a. generated a novel approach to understanding refugee students and understanding the cooperation between refugees, universities, charities, and civil society
b. helped to overcome our binary notions of refugees

In the first phase of the project, 51 research participants were recruited amongst current and aspiring students with a refugee background from all Irish Universities and Colleges.
One third of the interviews could be done face to face, whereas two thirds fell into the time March- September 2020, and had to be done remotely due to Covid travel restrictions. The second phase was dedicated to socio-legal methods and a comparative analysis of the 51 problem-centred interviews with refugees and asylum seekers (Braun´s and Clarke´s Thematic Analysis). Each interview lasted between 45 and 120 minutes. Interviews were transcribed, coded, analysed and used as a basis for a theatre play. In the third phase, a theatre play has been developed in a collaborative playwriting process. As these phases also fell into times of national and regional lockdowns, the collective met online, and by email communication. Due to the Corona situation, the collective will stage the play after the official end of the project July 31st, 2021). The play brings to the audience the narratives of exclusion from and inclusion in higher education. The play will challenge the audience as SPECT-ACTORS to alter the course of the play. SPECT-ACTORS is the term which is used by the founder of Forum Theatre, Brazilian educator, playwright and activist Augusto Boal (1931-2009). The transformation process is carried out by inviting members of the audience to come on stage and take part in the acting. This process is facilitated by a key figure in Forum Theatre plays, the Joker who acts as a bridge between the play in its original version (with student actors) and the second round, the Forum, with both student actors and members of the audience who volunteer and become SPECT-ACTORS.
The overall objective of the project is twofold:
1. To establish a theoretical concept of using theatre studies in law schools to achieve greater diversification in the student body.
2. To provide for an agency and involvement approach which leads to greater support and integration of refugee students.
Both objectives are pivotal for Irish society – no society within the European Union can afford to do without the skills and potential that refugees bring along.
Mixing law, storytelling and theatre with an acting option for the audience, facilitates the process of integration and it thus helps to build new, inclusive and resilient communities.
In the first phase of the project, the researcher received the necessary training, in particular, the interview skills.
A full list of the more than 20 one-day workshops and training sessions received is part of the periodic report.
Within the second phase, from spring until autumn 2020, research participants were recruited, and 51 problem-centred / narrative interviews were conducted, both face to face on campus (before the pandemic), and remotely during national and regional lockdowns.
The researcher presented her work on several occasions, in talks, presentations,
blogposts, newsletters and peer reviewed journals. A full list of all dissemination,
communication and exploitation is part of the periodic report.
The researcher used her twitter handle @NinaLueck, in particular to communicate and disseminate, and engage with the academic community and with the public, using the acronym as a hashtag. #HEforRForum
The play “Food or Thought” was written by the researcher from the interview analysis. From winter 2020 until spring 2021, the researcher was joined by former interviewees for the collaborative playwriting process which gave the play its final shape.
This project uses an innovative and interdisciplinary research methodology combining comparative law with problem-centred interviews and Theatre.
This approach is a novelty; it links refugees, NGOs, university staff, and local communities in new ways. This fosters novel and deeper connections.
The collaborative play-writing process promotes agency and empowerment of refugees.
The socio-economic impact and wider societal implications of the project are already measurable, and will increase substantially more with the reopening of society.
The main impacts so far are:
- The collaboration between students, refugee students, NGOs, charities and university staff has increased
- Awareness of barriers refugee students face has risen through my talks, presentations, teaching, and signposting
- University staff have offered their support and review some of their guidelines and practices.
The socio-economic impact is for the benefit of society as the university experience, despite the difficulties refugee students face, provides for sustainable integration and contributes to a more resilient society.