Host country education can be crucial for the social integration as well as labour market outcomes of refugees and asylum seekers. To meet the same admission criteria for studying at German higher education institutions (HEI) as other international student applicants, refugees and asylum seekers can attend pre-study programmes at preparatory colleges or language centres of HEI. According to the self-determination theory, the satisfaction of basic psychological needs is relevant to learning motivation and success in educational contexts. This paper examines the differences in the satisfaction of basic needs (autonomy, competence, and relatedness) and learning motivation between refugees and other international student applicants, and the extent to which these differences explain inequalities in the probability of success in pre-study programmes. Data from participants in pre-study programmes at 18 HEI show no significant differences in basic need satisfaction and learning motivation between the respective groups of learners. While basic need satisfaction and motivation make only a small contribution to the explanation of success in pre-study programmes, the biographical and social situation manifested in previous study experiences, age, and social resources seem to be of significance. Implications for further research and practice are discussed. © The Author(s) 2024.

DOI: 10.1177/14779714241237976
ISSN: 14779714