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Most universities have applied to take on refugees

Three out of four higher education institutions in Germany have applied to take part in a government-funded programme to integrate refugees into their higher education courses.

Every 'major university' has applied, which indicates that every major university is interested in integrating refugees into their courses, according to DAAD, the German Academic Exchange Service, which is managing the programme. The funds have been provided by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

More than one million refugees arrived in Germany in 2015. DAAD believes there could be between 30,000 and 50,000 refugee students who could meet the conditions for joining university and €100 million (US$111 million) will be spent on providing access over the next four years.

Dr Dorothea Rüland, general secretary of DAAD, said: “Experience shows that those who risk the perils of escape are generally better informed, better educated and better networked. This has stirred hope that many of these refugees have a strong academic background.”

DAAD’s role is to identify which programmes universities propose, check they are viable, decide which ones to support and distribute funding to them.

Refugees who want to join universities will not have any fees to pay and they are eligible for financial support, including government funding provided via a combination of grants and loans for living costs by BAföG.

One condition set is that applicants for study places have to meet the requirements. But there is a common problem that refugees either lack certificates or diplomas or the German universities don’t know what to make of the ones they do possess.

For such cases, there are tests that universities can put them through to find out if they are suitable, in addition to giving them interviews.

DAAD’s aim is to “make sure that those who can profit most from higher education have the ability to do so. We diagnose who is capable of joining a programme. It wouldn’t make sense to put in someone who would become frustrated or leave after a semester”, a spokesman told University World News.

Those who do not have university entrance qualifications are referred to a foundation course or equivalent university programme. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research has increased funding to cover the cost of 2,400 additional places in such foundation courses. The universities themselves have received extra funding to prepare prospective students for their future degree programmes with subject-related and language-based preparatory courses.

The second phase is getting them up to speed with the German language and certain academic skills, so that when they are properly prepared they can join the regular system.

There are no figures yet for the number of students who will be admitted to courses, because the structures are only just being set up and universities are still applying to get the money. It will take time to select them.

Moderate enrolment so far

However, Rüland said that despite the great willingness shown by German universities to take in refugee students, enrolment numbers so far have only increased “moderately” and “the massive surge in applications has yet to materialise”.

This is because most refugees are currently in the middle of their asylum procedures, but this could change by the autumn and “plans are under way to accelerate the asylum process”.

In addition, she said, many refugees do not yet have the necessary German language skills for university study and for the time being the language barrier is “possibly the greatest and most serious hurdle”.

Once asylum is granted, cost is a significant issue for the student but may be less so than it would be in countries that charge tuition fees.

With tuition free, the main expense is living costs. Support for living costs is provided by other programmes, specifically BAföG, to which German students from families that can’t afford to fund their children’s education otherwise can apply and which is open to refugees. It covers up to €670 a month in living costs.

Refugee students are also allowed to work just like any other international student. Once they are enrolled they are granted the status of international student with all the benefits that apply, including permission to work – and also permission to stay in Germany for 18 months after graduation to find a job suitable for their education status, after which they can stay indefinitely.

So DAAD sees this as a way of attracting talent as well as making the most of people who are capable of working here. Integration is the ultimate goal, DAAD says.

It believes that those refugees who become students will give inspiration to others and show them that there are chances in Germany for people who are capable and willing to work. They can talk to people from their community and help them get a job or write an application.

Rüland said: “Those with an academic background, particularly in academic occupations, can serve as models for others. As we have seen in crisis-ridden countries, professional perspectives are a key factor for motivating young people to get involved and impact society in a positive way. And institutions of higher education play a central role as multipliers in this process due to their highly respected reputation in Germany and in other societies.”

Opportunities on Syria's border

She stressed that as important as it is to strongly integrate refugees into the university system, it is just as key to offer education opportunities for young people in Syria and countries on its border.

“There are already a number of programmes, financed by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, the Federal Foreign Office (DAFI Programme) and the European Union, with which universities can finance local measures on location, as well as scholarships for refugees, which create career opportunities at home.

"These programmes can be significantly expanded. For instance, German-run projects in those regions offer interesting job perspectives – which brings us full circle,” she said.

An example for local measures is the joint programme “New Perspectives through Academic Education and Training for Young Jordanians and Syrians”. The project provides scholarships for masters studies at Jordanian universities for Syrian refugees and disadvantaged Jordanians in hosting communities.

The project also provides human capacity development activities in the field of conflict management and prevention of violence. The aim of the scholarship programme is to contribute to the education of future leaders, mediators and peacekeepers in Jordan, to build the basis for the future reconstruction of Syria and to create new perspectives for young adults living in challenging conditions.

The second part of this Special Report on higher education for refugees will be published in next week’s issue of University World News.

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