Refugees at German universities – challenges and opportunities
So far, the numbers have remained low, but in 2016, up to 50,000 refugees could well be seeking to commence their studies at a German university. The universities are gearing up to meet the challenge. A private initiative by students is providing a new kind of support.
According to projections, up to 50,000 refugees may be seeking to commence their studies at a German university. This poses a significant challenge – not only for the universities but also for the potential students, some of whom lack the German language skills, certificates or other documents needed to apply for a university place. ‘Kiron’ is a socially oriented private start-up initiative which aims to smooth refugees’ path into education. It has already secured a partnership commitment from leading universities around the world.
Many refugees who have arrived in Germany have already studied at university in their home countries or were planning to start. Anyone wishing to continue their studies in Germany should have the opportunity to do so. So how can universities support refugees wishing to study here in Germany?
Germany’s academic community has a strong international profile. Some universities are now opening liaison offices in New York and Singapore and are working hard to attract students from around the world. So it is not surprising that the universities and their students began to offer support for refugees very early on.
There is now scarcely a university in Germany without language courses and legal advice, organised and provided by students for refugees. Many of the mentoring programmes for refugees wishing to study in Germany were also initiated by students and are now supported by the universities and academic bodies.
Education: offering new prospects for refugees
The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) also aims to offer refugees in Germany genuine prospects for the future through education. Good support is essential if refugees are to settle into university life and progress with their day-to-day studies. The DAAD provides support for the universities, enabling them to offer additional places on access courses, which prepare refugees specifically for their studies in their chosen discipline. The funding for these courses comes from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and amounts to 27 million euros this year alone.
Over the next four years, a total of 100 million euros will be provided for refugee integration at universities (Integra). The funding will be spent on language courses, tutorials and mentoring initiatives. In addition, the Welcome programme of student engagement on behalf of refugees is providing funding for extra student support workers at universities.
Financial and bureaucratic obstacles are being dismantled
Under new rules which came into effect on 1 January 2016, refugees can apply for financial support (maintenance) for their university studies or vocational training under the Federal Educational Assistance Act (BaföG) just 15 months after their arrival in Germany. Previously, the waiting period was four years. For students, the maximum payment available under the BaföG, including a contribution to health and nursing care insurance, is currently 670 euros a month. The aim is to ensure that no one is denied access to a place at a German university due to lack of funds.
Many refugees are unable to produce their certificates or other evidence of their previous qualifications, generally because these documents went missing in the chaos of war in their home country or were lost on the journey to Germany. Some applicants may have been unable to complete their studies for similar reasons. So many universities have now created opportunities for refugees to commence their studies without these documents.
The Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder in the Federal Republic of Germany (KMK) has agreed that in the absence of documents, an applicant’s suitability should be assessed in a three-stage process. Once the applicant’s residence status has been checked, their educational background is verified, e.g. through interviews. In doubtful cases, the applicant is required to sit an access test.
‘Kiron Crowdfunding Campaign’ (September 2015)
An alternative route into higher education: ‘Kiron Open Higher Education’
The ‘Kiron Open Higher Education’ social start-up initiative offers refugees an innovative route into higher education. Set up by students, ‘Kiron’ owes its existence to crowdfunding and donations from private foundations. Based in Berlin, it also has offices in Munich, Brussels and Berlin. Although ‘Kiron’ itself is not a state-recognised university, credits for it’s courses are recognised by German partner universities such as RWTH Aachen and the University of Heilbronn when students switch to these institutions. Students can begin their studies without submitting any evidence of educational attainment and without taking an access test. Missing certificates can be submitted at any stage in the first two years of study or, if necessary, acquired during the programme itself.
During this period, online courses are available, which students can access free of charge from anywhere in the world, not only Germany. These English-language Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are offered by ‘Kiron University’ in cooperation with pioneering universities in Germany and abroad, including leading academic institutions such as Harvard, Yale and Stanford. There is also an opportunity to attend traditional classroom courses and thus benefit from direct contact with other students and academics. The programme for refugees currently covers the following study tracks: architecture, engineering, IT, economics and intercultural studies. Once a student has acquired enough credits, he or she can switch, in the third year of study, to a regular programme at one of the partner universities and complete a Bachelor’s degree.
For its ‘outstanding use of blended learning – a combination of offline and online education – and social support’, ‘Kiron’ received the Hochschulperle digital award from Stifterverband, which promotes education, science and innovation, in October 2015. In the jury’s view, the ‘sound combination of online and offline education and technical innovations enables refugees to commence and complete a course of study in accordance with their needs and circumstances – a major step towards equality of opportunity and integration’.
Discussion about refugees at German universities
Do you know if there are special programmes or initiatives for refugees at your former German college or university? Apart from German language skills, what do you consider to be the most important requirements for a successful integration of refugees? And what is your opinion of initiatives like ‘Kiron University’? Join our discussion about refugees at German universities in the community group ‘Studium und Forschung’!