Refugees face many obstacles before they are admitted to a university. Berlin student Markus Kressler and his team have founded a university where refugees can acquire a tuition-free degree online.
Nidal Abbas (pictured) had been looking forward to university studies for a long time. After graduating from high school, he wanted to study civil engineering in his hometown of Homs, in Syria. But things took a turn for the worse, and war hit Homs. At barely 19 years of age, Abbas left his country for Germany. The journey took three months: He traveled across the Mediterranean by boat and then traveled further north. Now he lives in a refugee shelter in Berlin's Steglitz district and is waiting for his asylum application to be processed.
Refugees who want to study in Germany must first acquire official residency status and then have their high school diplomas recognized by authorities - that can take a while. "It is a waste of time," Nidal says. He has been waiting for half a year; other refugees have waited years.
Markus Kressler is convinced that procedures can be accelerated. He and his friends founded Wings, an online university for refugees. "We do not create obstacles," Kressler says, adding: "Any refugee can enroll at Wings University - even without diplomas."
Starting this fall, the first lectures will go online, and in spring 2016 the full programs will be launched. The Wings University team is putting together study schedules with professors from Freie Universität Berlin (Free University of Berlin) and Akademie der Künste (Academy of Arts). Educators from elite US universities such as Harvard and Stanford have already developed the first lectures. Professors from the named institutions have provided Wings University with their lectures free of charge.
Shortage of money
Engineering, computer science, business studies and architecture are the first four programs in which students can work toward a bachelor's or master's degree. "The first 400 students are starting in September," Kressler says. "And we want to admit 3,000 students next year," he adds. Still, many weak spots have to be dealt with. Kressler has been to talking to partner universities, which are supposed to carry out the examinations. "A standardized system is important to us," he says.
Of course, the matter of funding comes up. "In the long term, we will receive money for every officially recognized student," Kressler says. But Wings University has still not been recognized. It is trying to raise money through a crowdfunding campaign - at least enough so that all the bureaucratic work no longer has to be done by volunteers. The money drive has brought in part of the needed funds.
Nidal Abbas can hardly wait to start. To him, a university degree means he is sure to find a job and earn money. "My family put together their savings to send me to Germany," he says. "I have three little sisters; I want to support them soon."