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GERMANY
Refugee university student numbers rising steeply
Whereas overall numbers of refugees entering Germany have been on the decline since last year, significantly more of them have enrolled for university courses in recent months, says a survey by the German Rectors' Conference or HRK.

A deal by the European Union with Turkey that came into force in March 2016 has had a profound impact on refugee flows. Under the arrangement, Turkey takes back refugees entering Greece illegally and in return, the EU accepts one Syrian person registered as a refugee in Turkey.

As part of the deal, which has been heavily criticised by Amnesty International and other organisations, major concessions were made to Turkey regarding visa regulations for Turkish nationals, accession to the EU and financial support.

The EU arrangement with Turkey effectively sealed off the Balkans route via which refugees went on to Central and Western Europe, and there has since been a sharp drop in the number of refugees entering Europe.

However, according to a survey conducted by the HRK, representing the heads of German universities among its member institutions, a total of 1,140 refugees are currently enrolled for studies, which is five times as many as half a year ago. Furthermore, refugees consulted course and career guidance services 24,000 times during the last winter semester – more than twice as many times as in the previous semester.

The HRK says that these figures show that university efforts to integrate refugees who are interested in and qualified for studying are really taking effect. Measures such as provision of language and preparatory subject courses and social counselling are supported financially via federal and state government programmes.

Around 5,700 refugees enrolled for the language and prep courses last winter semester, which is roughly 80% up on the figure for last year’s summer semester.

Nearly 70% of this group wish to enrol for bachelor degree programmes, and just below 20% for masters programmes. Around two-thirds of these prospective students come from Syria, while further large groups are from Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq.

“This significant increase in enrolments also means that it is becoming more important to provide extra supplementary programmes during their degree courses,” says HRK President Horst Hippler. “They are just as crucial to successful studies as the subject and social counselling programmes ahead of studying – and they are just as staff- and time-intensive.”

The HRK stresses another aspect that is becoming increasingly important in the refugee context. The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees established in November 2016 reported that around 13% of all refugees already held a higher education degree.

“One can assume that the degrees awarded in the countries of origin do not automatically qualify refugees for the German labour market,” Hippler explains. "So it is up to universities as well as other education and employer actors to provide suitable further qualification programmes.”

Michael Gardner Email: michael.gardner@uw-news.com

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