Austrian refugee programme praised as a great help

Austria’s MORE initiative, offering refugees support at the country’s universities, has been given a positive appraisal by Iraqi refugee student Basma al-Robai in an interview with the university magazine UniStandard.

The MORE initiative was introduced last year by Universities Austria or uniko and now supports around 1,100 refugee students. The programme seeks to bring refugee academics together with Austrian university members and offers prospective refugee students language and prep courses to work their way into degree courses. The Austrian higher education minister, Reinholder Mitterlehner, says that MORE has capacity to take up further refugees.

Basma al-Robai holds a bachelor degree from the University of Baghdad in physical education. She fled the country in 2015 and now is attending a MORE programme at the University of Klagenfurt in Carinthia, in the South of Austria. She intends to enrol for a social sciences programme there.

Refugee students with the necessary secondary school or academic degrees are entitled to enrol provided they have sufficient knowledge of German.

“Being alone and waiting for the decision on asylum is very tough,” says al-Robai. “The MORE programme I joined has been a great help in becoming integrated in society here, and it has brought me together with other people.”

School-leaving certificates and foreign academic degrees are a problem, she notes. Al-Robai was lucky because her parents were able to send her documents on to Austria. But in many cases, students have fled without any papers. Also, al-Robai points out that lots of refugee students are unaware of the MORE programme.

Oliver Vitouch, uniko head and vice-chancellor of Klagenfurt University, notes that refugee students first of all need to cope with really urgent problems such as finding accommodation. “But having something else to guide and support them can be a relief and take off some of the strain,” says Vitouch, referring to the MORE programme.

Commenting on the much larger share of male participants in the MORE initiative, he maintains that this largely reflects the gender composition of refugees coming to Austria. Second, he believes that role models in the refugees’ countries of origin impact on the share of women students and academics among the refugees.

The third factor, Vitouch maintains, is that women holding degrees from their home countries could still be more reluctant than men to continue their studies or academic careers when they come to Austria.

Far-right activists of the Identitäre anti-refugee movement recently attempted to disrupt a lecture on migration and flight at the University of Klagenfurt. “I did hear of the incident,” says al-Robai. “But I myself have never experienced such attitudes. My fellow students are very friendly, and there have never been any threats or sceptical questions.”

Vitouch adds that as far as he knows, hardly any of the students involved in the incident were from Klagenfurt. Most of them had come from Graz, Austria’s second-largest city, in the neighbouring region of Styria.

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