Refugees – fuller integration through higher education. The vision of Kiron

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Currently 65.3 million people all over the world have been forced to flee from their home and to leave everything behind. It is the highest number of displacement on record – not even in the Second World War have so many people lost their homes. Every day thousands of families face no other choice because of war, violence and prosecution.[1]

The escape from war, the displacement of entire communities, migration and emigration is nothing new to Europe. Empathize with the today’s refugees and ask yourself: What would you do, what would you need to see perspectives for your future?

The two founders of the Non-Profit-Organisation Kiron, Markus Kressler and Vincent Zimmer, considered education and especially certified graduation as the most important thing to have a true perspective, to become an active part of  society and to fulfil one’s  dreams. They believe , education is something which should be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit[2] and furthermore, that education is the main key for successful integration. Due to the fact that refugees are facing substantial barriers to enter a university, Kressler and Zimmer along with their great team created a platform and ecosystem which provides higher education especially for them.

The UN Refugee Agency UNHCR identified four main obstacles, that currently prevent around five million people all over the world from living up to their potential: the need for legal documentation, language barriers, high student fees and the lack of capacity in educational institutions. Kiron aims to overcome these barriers in order to empower refugees and to make integration work – not only on an economic level into the labour market, but also on a social level into society.

How will this work?

Refugees can sign up with Kiron regardless of their legal status, documents or financial situation. In order to become a full student at Kiron they are asked to undergo a four-step application process consisting of personal information, motivation questions, an English language assessment and two Test-MOOCs. MOOCs are massive online open courses offered by universities like Harvard, Stanford RWTH Aachen and many more world class universities which are accessible through cooperations with platforms such as edX, Coursera and Udacity. Through its various partnerships with universities, foundations, companies and the global access of MOOCs, Kiron provides accessible, sustainable, and cost-effective higher education. At the present time students can choose out of four study tracks, they want to pursue: Engineering, Business & Economics, Social Science or Computer Science. The platform includes also language courses and information about supportive programs, the offline ecosystem, a Buddy- and Mentoring-Program as well as counselling and career service.

Around two years of online learning should allow the students to gather all required documents and language certificates until they apply for finalising their studies at a partner university, where they shall graduate with an accredited degree. Students are able to complete their studies at their own pace as their unstable and unclear legal situation often does not allow full time focus on their role as a student. Furthermore Kiron’s support services are designed to help refugees to overcome specific problems that constitute a personal barrier to fulfilling their potential, such as trauma, difficulties integrating into social life and the job market of the host country, as well as lack of resources such as internet and computer access.

This innovative education model is designed to surmount all four of the access challenges faced by refugees. 1) No wasted time: Kiron’s students can begin studying at all stages of the displacement and resettlement process – they do not have to wait for their legal status to be finalised. 2) It overcomes language barriers: Students need a sufficient level of English (business-fluent) to follow the online classes, but they don’t have to fulfil the high language requirements of universities. In Kiron’s language school, students can gain the necessary language skills of the hosting country to attend partner universities. 3) It requires no admission fee: As the content is digital, the costs per student are extremely low. Kiron covers these via a combination of funding, investments, donations and works with independent organisations 4) College capacity: Because Kiron’s courses are online, they do not face the same capacity issues as traditional universities. As students apply to partner universities for the higher semesters, less strain is placed on the university system by need for extra places because of the high dropout rate in the lower semesters.

Since October 2015, the first 1,250 students started studying at Kiron. With its innovative model, merging online and offline studies, and the support by their strong partners Kiron is able to take in another batch of students in July 2016 and by the end of the year.

Kiron’s work has a positive impact not just for refugees, but also for society, the economy, and education. An internationally accepted degree is a great opportunity for refugees to become a contributing individual in their new community. Education is the key to a flourishing job market and economy – it will ease their integration in their host community and potentially give them the opportunity of participating in rebuilding their home countries for the coming generations. Because the majority of Kirons content is digital, the cost per student is around 5% of the normal government spending. By significantly lowering integration costs, speeding up the integration process, and aiding refugees in finding employment, Kiron can help host-country governments and infrastructures cope with the global refugee crisis.

Today is World Refugee Day. Support Kiron by opening higher education to refugees. betterplace.org/kiron. For more information see https://kiron.ngo/

[1] http://www.unhcr.org/figures-at-a-glance.html

[2] http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/ (article 26)

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Kiron
Kiron Open Higher Education is a German social start-up gGmbH, founded by Markus Kreßler and Vincent Zimmer in 2015. Kiron gives access to higher education for refugees- worldwide and despite of their papers. The study model combines online and offline elements and is offered free of charge and location-independently. Kiron’s unique proposition allows displaced people to study regardless of their legal status. As an overall goal, Kiron aims to foster integration in the host country and create long term perspectives for refugees. Therefore, the eco-system of Kiron includes language courses, a mentoring programme as well as a buddy program and connects the students to local businesses. Additionally, students have access to physical places to study, the so-called study hubs. Apart from a crowdfunding campaign, Kiron is funded by renowned companies, foundations and private donors. In the upcoming three years, the Schöpflin foundation for example will support Kiron with 1,5 Million Euros. Visit our website kiron.ngo for further information and follow Kiron on Twitter and Facebook.

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