At the end of June, Irena, Dmitry, Angelina and six of their Ukrainian compatriots met at the student house of the University of Poitiers. A snack was organized to close the end of a six-week adventure: a summer school, which taught them the basics of French. It was also an opportunity for them to forge links with compatriots who had arrived in the Poitou region. “We avoid talking about the war when we are among ourselves, we really prefer to think about something else,” says Dmitry, an 18-year-old Ukrainian refugee. “When we met them, we found them shy and quite worried. But as soon as they found themselves together, it was the carelessness of their youth that set off again,” observes Christine Fernandez-Maloigne, vice-president of the University of Poitiers.

This summer school, set up by the Poitou University, brought together around thirty young people from Ukraine. From September, there will be about twenty of them continuing their studies in this establishment, within a university degree (DU) called “bridge”. Created in 2019, these one-year courses are designed for exiled students, whether or not they have refugee status. In total, in six years, nearly 10,000 students in exile have graduated from these courses. The courses combine both French and an introduction to cultural life in France. Unlike the French as a foreign language (FLE) DUs, the gateway DUs (there are around thirty of them in France) allow access to scholarships based on social criteria from the Crous to those who are registered there. The problem is that in normal times, these DUs are already saturated: each year, they register an average of 3,000 applications for 1,500 places.

Tense situation

This year, with the influx of applications from Ukrainian students, the situation is even more tense for the universities offering these courses, and who have to deal with very limited financial means. About 700 requests from students from Ukraine are registered for the bridge DUs. The room for maneuver is lacking.

Mathieu Schneider, vice-president of the University of Strasbourg, wants additional funds to be released by the Ministry of Higher Education to finance these training courses. He is also the president of the Migrants in higher education network (Mens), the structure that pilots the DU Passerelle at the national level. On June 23, he published a column in Le Monde, in which he denounced the difficulties that Ukrainian students encounter in enrolling in training in France. The funding needed to allow institutions to integrate “in addition to existing groups” these students from Ukraine into their bridge DUs amounts, according to him, to 700,000 euros. In 2022, the Mens network obtained a grant of 250,000 euros, which is 50,000 euros more than the previous year.

While waiting to know if they will have additional means from the State, the University of Poitiers has decided to finance the studies of these young people with its own funds, at least for one year. “We will do our best to welcome them if they wish to resume their studies with us”, indicates Caroline Bélan-Ménagier, in charge of international relations at the Poitou University. “To accommodate these young people, we need the means to hire teachers. But also to accompany these young people for the administrative formalities, for the medical aspects ”, develops Christine Fernandez-Maloigne, vice-president of the university of Poitiers.

Other establishments will also finance this type of program with their own funds. The University of Strasbourg will tackle this in September, for fifty Ukrainian students. The University of Rouen was able to obtain funding of 150,000 euros from the Normandy region for the creation of this same DU. This new course will accommodate two teacher-researchers and fifteen Ukrainian students.

At the start of the school year, Irena, 17, will enter directly into a license at the University of Poitiers, without going through the airlock of the DU gateway. She already speaks French very well: she studied it in Ukraine for seven years. Originally from Kharkiv, where her father stayed to “take care of her grandparents”, she arrived in France on April 7 with her mother. They now live in a studio in Poitiers, loaned by residents through an association for aid to refugees. Irena found herself in Poitiers by chance of requests. “The University of Poitiers is the only one that answered me, that’s why I came here”, explains the young girl, who has just taken her last exams remotely with her high school in Ukraine. In September, she will integrate a bachelor’s degree in applied foreign languages ​​(LEA). She who, in addition to Ukrainian, already knows French, Russian and English will learn Portuguese and thus add a string to her bow.