According to an analysis of how German campuses can better assist refugees in their studies, universities should offer micro-loans or grants needing minimal paperwork to aid in health or rent issues.
900,000 refugees entered Germany in 2015, most of them younger than the rest of the population and 10,000 have enrolled in university courses since then, although this is ‘a rather low percentage’ given how many refugees came to the country says Lisa Unangst, a researcher at Boston College in the US.
With this in mind, she has recommended a series of changes to the German university system, that she says could also be adopted by other countries hoping to educate refugees.
Published in Policy Reviews in Higher Education, Unangst’s paper ‘Refugees in the German higher education system: implications and recommendations for policy change’, says that existing student grants and loans for low-income students in Germany are often insufficient to cover actual living costs. Three-quarters of students on courses for refugees rely on such assistance.
Micro-loans and grants can be offered in addition to normal lines of student funding with paperwork designed to be as straightforward as possible.
German universities, which have less of a tradition of student services than US and UK campuses, should also create ’emergency funds for small, immediate financial needs’, recommends Ungangst’s analysis based on interviews with staff dealing with refugees. It also suggests that food banks, bicycle clinics, and book and computer exchanges should be provided too.
Another factor holding back Germany’s efforts to integrate refugees is inadequate data collection, with most surveys being voluntary, identifying which region, not country, students are from, and without recording which languages they speak.
Refugees also struggle to get into the most competitive courses, such as law and medicine, which require ‘almost perfect academic performance‘ to get onto. They are also included in capped international student totals, meaning that refugee students have to compete against ‘school students from Brazil and Canada for a limited number of spaces’.
Yet, Unangst says that any amendments with the selection system, which covers just under half of the courses, typically STEM subjects, whilst other courses having no selection, to give refugees preferential access could be controversial.
There also seemed to be ‘profound lack of information sharing’ between universities on integration efforts, the analysis found. ‘None of the people I interviewed discussed best practice from other universities,’ Unangst said. ‘There’s clearly work to be done,’ she added.