In 2015, four times as many people fled to Europe from their home countries than the year before – all in all more than one million refugees – and migration continues to rise in 2016. The majority of refugees come from Syria. The scale of this migration presents many challenges for European societies and this also includes universities. Many refugees had already begun to study or at least intended to study in their home countries. In response to this situation, Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) was one of the first German universities to announce a “Study opportunities for refugees” project to make it easier for refugees and asylum seekers to enter higher education without any major bureaucratic hurdles. Prof. Dr. Günter Leugering, Vice President for International Affairs, explains why the university committed to the programme at an early point: “FAU sees the integration of refugees within university life and the intercultural academic analysis of the complex issues connected to this as central tasks of the university.”
Study opportunities for refugees programme
In the first phase of the programme, the Central Office for International Affairs (RIA) team conduct orientation interviews with the Student Advice and Career Service to determine whether refugees have the qualifications required to study and test their level of German language proficiency. Asylum seekers and refugees that meet the criteria for university entry are admitted to the programme after this first interview.
They then attend German language courses to achieve language proficiency in preparation for studying at the university (levels A2.2-C1). A further phase of the programme includes the opportunity to attend trial lectures. Refugees who are already able to demonstrate sufficient German proficiency can participate in selected lectures at the university in subjects from disciplines such as engineering, science, humanities and social sciences to make it easier for them to decide on the right subject for their future studies. They also attend tutorials with practical exercises for additional preparation before studying. RIA has established strong links with local education providers so that refugees who do not qualify for studying at a German university can choose alternative education options.
Students at FAU have also shown their commitment to helping refugees through their involvement in a number of successful initiatives: as partners in the tandem scheme, students practice German with new arrivals and act as mentors helping refugees with day-to-day matters and concerns. In the Law Clinic, students of law help refugees to prepare for asylum procedures and find lawyers on a voluntary basis; the Working Group for Human Rights and Medicine, a group of medicine students, help to provide medical care in refugee accommodations and make referrals to local doctors if needed.
A step beyond: FAU INTEGRA
In April 2016, FAU expanded its activities. The Forum for Integration and Intercultural Dialogue (FAU Integra) was established to link all initiatives at the university which focus on supporting refugees. In addition to the “Study opportunities for Refugees” programme, FAU has created a platform for transferring academic knowledge into public discussion with the public lecture series “The Refugee Question – Interdisciplinary Perspectives”.
Looking back on a successful year
The project has been highly successful from the start. This was made possible by several factors. The University Board supported the programme in its early stages by assigning the co-ordination to RIA and encouraging members of the university to help refugees. The commitment of approximately 300 students and employees at FAU who gave their time voluntarily in the tandem project, working groups and trial lectures helped to establish a broad basis of support. Sharing ideas with public organisations in the Nuremberg Metropolitan Area , particularly with the cities of Erlangen, Fürth and Nuremberg and other administrative districts also helped considerably in support and advising refugees: well-networked working groups including representatives from different educational, occupational and social areas which engage with refugees were set up to ensure that information could be exchanged quickly.
External funding was essential to financing the programme. In the beginning, the programme was funded by the Association for Promoting Internationalisation at the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg. At the end of 2015, the Deutsche Akademische Dienst (DAAD) reacted to the new situation and introduced specific funding programmes.
FAU’s commitment has been particularly successful: around 1800 orientation interviews have been conducted by university staff in addition to their regular duties since 2015. Thanks to these efforts, 300 refugees have been able to attend courses. Around 160 refugees will enrol at FAU in the winter semester 2016/2017 and summer semester 2017.
Friedrich-Alexander Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg