Providing Access to Higher Education for Refugees in Germany

To provide centrally organized, cohesive measures to the refugee crisis regarding entrance to higher education, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research supplied 100 million Euro for higher education programs for refugees for 2016-19

February 20, 2017

The commentary that follows responds to an earlier blog published on The World View, "Germany’s Innovative Strategies to Enroll Refugees”. 

To provide centrally organized, cohesive measures to the refugee crisis regarding entrance to higher education, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) supplied 100 million Euro for higher education programs for refugees for the years 2016-2019. With this funding, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) has developed a set of targeted measures to enable universities to offer those who wish to study and possess sufficient academic qualification access to higher education.

The extensive package of long-term measures is comprised of three components which form the basis for ensuring access to university study. They are 1) recognizing skills and qualifications, 2) ensuring academic qualification (language and subject-related preparation) and 3) supporting integration at universities.

Two main DAAD-programs implement these measures. The funding program “Integrating Refugees in Degree Programmes” (Integra) finances preparatory colleges (Studienkollegs), foundation courses and comparable programs at German universities. The program prepares refugees that already hold university entrance qualifications from their home countries for the requirements of university study in Germany. Participants acquire fundamental subject-specific knowledge and terminology, and develop individual learning strategies and social skills.
The funding program “Welcome – Students Helping Refugees” aims to support the volunteer work of many students who use their time to help refugees become integrated at German universities. Their efforts contribute to the refugees’ academic success and social integration. These measures include, for example, buddy and mentoring programs at many universities, as well as language-learning projects headed by teacher trainees and students of German language studies.

Additionally, these programs are closely supported through DAAD not only in terms of their administration, but also in terms of providing regular seminars on higher education, refugees, and migration for university administrators. DAAD strives to provide participating universities and other institutions involved in this topic with expert knowledge in order to maintain a strong network and a frequent exchange of knowledge, best practices and comprehensive strategies.

The impressive number of almost 200 higher education institutions (almost 50 per cent of all HEIs in Germany) participating in the programs “Welcome” and “Integra” in 2016 clearly demonstrates the central and cohesive organization and realization of processes that were implemented as a response by the educational sector and the German federal government to the refugee crisis.

It is also necessary to distinguish between programs such as the ones mentioned above, that support institutions of higher education in setting up procedures to simplify access to higher education for refugees, and programs that support individuals by granting them a scholarship. Furthermore, a distinction must be made between scholarships for refugees that already reside in Germany, for example the scholarships granted by the state of Baden-Württemberg, and scholarships for individuals still in Syria, which enable them to move to Germany to pursue their further education, for example those granted through the program “Leadership for Syria” (LfS).

Furthermore, the article describes a “significant disadvantage” for refugees when they attend university “through normal procedures”, but then goes on to speak about financial issues. It is necessary to make a clear distinction here as well, as admission policies and financial means are different issues.

Regarding difficulties with admission to university studies, another statement of the article is that “several German universities have responded by offering on-site validation of academic credentials without original documents, a key service for prospective students who have fled conflict areas on short notice with few personal possessions”. It is true that German universities offer various procedures to establish proof of former education when documents are missing. However, these are not individual cases. In fact, based on a resolution of the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs (KMK) from December 2015, all German federal states have agreed to offer at least one examination or assessment procedure for refugees without documentation of prior studies. This resolution creates a comprehensive policy when it comes to missing documents in order to provide refugees with the opportunity to establish proof of their educational history, no matter which German university they apply to. Furthermore, practice showed that most refugees actually can provide proof of documentation.

When it comes to financial means, the article states that “a refugee may only apply for BAföG (the state-funded financial aid program which comprises a grant and a zero-interest government loan in equal parts) 15 months after receiving asylum”. This is incorrect, because eligibility depends on the legal status of the person. Recognized refugees (recognized asylum seekers, refugees who have been awarded refugee status and/or subsidiary protection, Section 8 Para. 2 No. 1 of the Federal Law on Support in Education, (Bundesausbildungsförderungsgesetz, BAföG)) can apply for BAföG funding regardless of how long they have been in Germany. Only persons with "exceptional leave to remain" (“Duldung”) status and those with a residence permit on humanitarian grounds need to fulfill the 15-month residence requirement (period of prior stay).

In summary, a range of measures were realized by the German government and the governments of several states in a coordinated effort to implement consistent and structured policies and to supply substantial funding in reaction to the refugee crisis with regards to higher education. The statement that refugees in Germany are disadvantaged “by unrealized, unexecuted, and incomplete policy interventions” cannot be maintained.

Further Information: https://www.study-in.de/en/refugees/


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