‘Buddies for Refugees’: TU München's mentoring programme
In view of the large number of refugees coming to Germany, the universities are also expecting an increasing number of applications from foreigners. In mentoring programmes such as the ‘Buddies for Refugees’ initiative, students help to integrate refugees. An interview with Professor Gerhard Müller, Senior Vice President Academic and Student Affairs at TU München, and Peter Finger, Managing Director of TUM: Junge Akademie.
TUM: Junge Akademie is TU München's scholarship programme for exceptionally talented and dedicated students. Peter Finger is the managing director of the scholarship programme and one of the initiators of the ‘Buddies for Refugees’ programme. Professor Gerhard Müller is Professor of Structural Mechanics and Senior Vice President Academic and Student Affairs at TU München.
Professor Müller, you were one of the first people at TU München to be faced with the question of what the large number of refugees coming to Germany means in practice for the university. What effect are they having in terms of figures? And what measures has TU München taken in this context?
Gerhard Müller: There aren't any exact figures, as they are not recorded separately. We are seeing a considerable increase in the number of international applications. But we cannot differentiate clearly between refugees applying to study here and people who have chosen a specific degree course in their home country for which they are applying for a place.
Only around two per cent of the refugees arriving here are estimated to be suitable for a normal bachelor's or master's course. One of the reasons is their lack of German skills. Language is usually less of an obstacle in the international master's courses, as they are taught in English. And in principle we can lower the language requirements for the group of guest students.
Refugees starting out as guest students
Mr Finger, you are one of the initiators of the ‘Buddies for Refugees’ programme here at TU München. Can you tell us about the programme and how it has been going so far?
Peter Finger: In the programme, refugees who want to study at our university as guest students receive ongoing support from a single student or small group of students from here in a tandem partnership. The most positive experience we have had so far is to see the amount of effort and the dedication that the students and the university as a whole have demonstrated in welcoming the refugees here.
As far as the actual work involved in the ‘Buddies for Refugees’ programme is concerned, language is obviously a key topic here too. The partners can almost always make themselves understood, because most of the refugees interested in becoming guest students can at least speak sufficient English. It gets difficult if they cannot speak either enough English or German. This winter semester, for example, we had a young woman from Libya who could only speak Arabic and French. It was obviously difficult for her to communicate with her 'buddy', who couldn't speak either language. The two of them had to communicate using gestures, but they are still tandem partners. They are both very patient and have grown closer over time.
Our programme ultimately aims to give the guest students the prospect of applying for a regular study course in the foreseeable future. The young woman from Libya is really very ambitious and is completely dedicated to what she is doing, for example, but she won't be ready to start a bachelor's degree taught in German for at least two years.
Refugees at German universities
In 2016, up to 50,000 refugees could well be seeking to commence their studies at a German university. The ‘Kiron University’ is providing a new kind of support.
Mentoring programme‘Buddies for Refugees’ promotes integration
Even though there has not yet been a huge influx of refugees to the universities, their number will definitely continue to rise in future. The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) anticipates an additional 30,000 to 50,000 foreign students in Germany in 2016 already. Are the universities prepared for these kinds of numbers?
Gerhard Müller: As I said, I can only speculate about the actual figures, but yes, we do think we are well prepared! And we see the international students primarily as an opportunity. That's one reason why we began to address this challenge proactively at a very early stage. And we have also very purposefully initiated programmes to support those who are interested but who do not yet meet the criteria for one of our international degree courses.
People who were about to start studying, had to break off their studies or were already working in their home country can gain additional useful qualifications here too. That's why, alongside providing the option of being a guest student for this group of people, we have developed the mentoring programme ‘Buddies for Refugees’, which has stimulated various forms of support from university students and staff and from civil society, for example by meeting the costs of public transport last semester.
In addition to students as 'junior buddies', there are also 'senior buddies' in the programme: people who are already working or university professors who look after groups of students comprising buddies and refugees. In the forthcoming summer semester, there will also be special 'campus buddies' who take refugees applying to be guest students under their wing right at the start, accompany them throughout the entire counselling, application and matriculation process and help them with all the formalities.
Student Initiative ‘Cross Borders’
Evgenia Gavrilova, who is from Russia, is one of the volunteers working for the ‘Cross Borders’ student initiative, which provides refugees with free language courses to make their arrival in Germany easier.
Both sides benefit through intercultural exchange
The ‘Buddies for Refugees’ programme evolved on the basis of fantastic voluntary work here at the university. And it is supported by the university, for example by means of specially developed preparatory courses for the buddies. These courses address issues such as intercultural communication, how to deal with people who are traumatised and much more. A large number of experts from the various university institutes are involved in this.
So it is not just the refugees who benefit from this programme by being supported by the buddies in the run-up to and during their studies. The buddies and fellow students also benefit from exchange with students from other cultures and gain a broader perspective of the world in all its diversity. These aspects should not be underestimated in the context of the integration efforts ahead of us. After all, many of our students will later become leaders and help shape the fortunes of our society.
Discussion about mentoring programmes for refugees
As Germany-Alumni, you no doubt find it easy to see how initiatives such as ‘Buddies for Refugees’ make it easier for refugees to get settled at German universities. Would you have liked to have received this kind of support during your time in Germany through a mentoring programme for foreign students? Or was there even something like that at your university already? If so, which university did you study at? Get involved in a discussion with us and other Germany-Alumni in the community group Study & Research!