Hubertus Pellengahr, CEO of Initiative Neue Soziale Marktwirtschaft (INSM), the think tank which calculated the costs of refugee education alongside IW Köln, argued that only with good education can refugees get a fair chance on the labour market. He called for smart investments that would be rewarding for both refugees and the German economy.
Speaking with The PIE News, Axel Plünnecke, director for education, migration and innovation at IW Köln, added: “The additional expenses for education can be saved within a few years of social welfare when the worker is integrated in the labour market.”
“The additional expenses for education can be saved within a few years of social welfare when the worker is integrated in the labour market”
According to the UNHCR there are four major hurdles for refugees’ entrance to higher education: providing legal documents, financing tuition, limited places in schools and universities, and language barriers.
IW Köln argues that if the obstacles are not addressed, the human potential of refugees will be wasted and the cost of integration programmes will rise.
Last year, some 1.1 million applications for asylum were filed in Germany. After the border to Macedonia was closed, the number dropped to a little more than 200,000 as of July this year.
In response to the influx, a number of initiatives across the country have launched with the goal of easing entry barriers to higher education.
A high level of German is a requirement at all higher education institutions but places on language courses are limited and only refugees with residency permits are entitled to federal language courses through integration programmes.
Three universities in Berlin have extended crucial German language courses to refugees, including Humboldt, which provides them in combination with college preparatory tuition for refugees, equipping them with specialist language training for specific fields of study including biology and political science.
The programmes will begin accepting applicants this autumn. “We’ve had a lot of refugees coming into the office to get information on the courses,” Ben Gross, academic advisor at the Humboldt University Berlin, told The PIE News.
“Many of the applicants want to do a master’s or even started already but then had to flee because of the war. Others have just graduated with their A-levels and now want to study.”
An independent initiative has also been started to aid refugee students at the University of Heidelberg.
Johannah Illgner founded the project Open University Heidelberg when she noticed there was scant information for language courses available in languages other than German and English.
In response, the organisation has developed a buddy programme which pairs German and international students with refugee newcomers to guide them and help them during their studies at the university.
“It’s tough for refugees because they belong to that group of international students but are in a different situation”
Refugees are still categorised as international students by the university and must meet unrealistic entry requirements, said Illgner.
“One of the main problems when it comes to the application is that there are only two groups: one group consists of Germans and EU citizens, the other group are internationals,” said Illgner. “It’s tough for refugees because they belong to that group of international students but are in a different situation.”
Meanwhile in October last year, Kiron Open Higher Education launched a unique concept with the goal of enabling refugees to receive a university degree free of charge, and without proof of academic documents.
Applicants only need to provide a copy of their refugee status, pass an English test and submit a motivational letter, as well as pass two Massive Open Online Courses to be admitted.
They study at Kiron online for four semesters to collect credits and then transfer to one of its 22 partner universities, including University Paderborn, Technical University Clausthal, Bard College Berlin, Università Uninettuno in Rome, Sciences Po Paris, CNAM Paris, and Al al-Bayt University in Jordan.
Currently there 1,500 active refugee students at Kiron studying economics, engineering, computer science, architecture and intercultural studies.