Kiron University – A Crowdfunding campaign to provide refugees access to a free academic education and degrees
In this guest entry, Ronny Röwert puts the spotlight on a recent crowdfunding-based non-profit initiative to provide education for refugees. Ronny Röwert is an analyst at CHE Consult, a German consultancy and research company on higher education, based in Berlin. He holds a Diploma-Degree in Economics from the University of Freiburg and has also studied at the University of Kiel and University of Auckland, New Zealand. His research interests relate to internationalisation, change management, digitisation and economic impact analysis in the higher education system.
Worldwide, 59.5 million people are on the move as refugees or displaced people within their home countries according to the UN refugee agency UNHCR . That population would be equivalent to the population of Great Britain or enough to make them citizens of the world’s 24th biggest country. Although the current reception of these high numbers of displaced people in the world in the media and political arena is mainly limited to the notion of a temporary crisis, the international community as well as national states will inevitably have to deal with not only short but also medium and long term remedies for this permanent humanitarian global challenge. The major causes of migration – poverty, conflicts, economic crises and negative consequences of climate change – will not disappear and so does not the flux of refugees and internally displaced people.
The majority of refugees are young and often well qualified and talented people. Refugees, asylum seekers and displaced people in regions of crisis face particular obstacles to access education in general and higher education in particular both in their home as well as in their host countries. In the 2013 Global Trends Report, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees identified as main challenges: lack of legal documentation and school certificates, high international student fees, lack of capacity of educational institutions as well as language barriers. All these factors prevent people to live up to their potential and therefore cause despair, unstable societies and high integration costs for host countries.
Kiron University, a new non-governmental non-profit organization with the mission to remove the barriers for refugees and displaced people in order to access higher education, has now launched a crowdfunding campaign to start programs that would provide refugees with free academic education and degrees. The social enterprise headquartered in Berlin aims to offer its students bachelor-level degrees in the following five popular areas: Computer Sciences, Engineering, Business Administration, Architecture, and Intercultural Studies. Born out of an idea of two students in Berlin in the summer of 2014, 48 people in the core team and more than 200 volunteers have been working so far on providing refugees with a free degree program that will consist of a 2-year online part at Kiron University and a 1-year offline part at one of the partner universities. Only before the last academic year – the offline part – the students have to fulfill the requirements of the partner universities in order to enroll regularly. All courses are offered in English with degrees granted later in cooperation with recognized public universities including the Leuphana University of Lüneburg, University of Rostock, Heilbronn University or the Open University of Westafrica. All the degrees are awarded in accordance with the local legal requirements.
The team behind Kiron University believes that the future of higher education is “blended learning”: the symbiosis of offline and online education. For the first two years, students can choose courses out of the whole curriculum of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) from partner platforms such as edX or Coursera. Online courses of universities like Harvard, MIT, Stanford or Yale will then be accessible to the students without costs. These open source online courses modified with the latest online learning technology enable flexible and tailor-made study programs with real-life working sessions, projects in teamwork, mentoring and student support. The internal quality assurance mechanisms will be accompanied by the supervision of partner universities as well as experienced professors and experts. For the third year, students can go to one of the international partner universities. Previously completed online courses will be recognized and students attend regular courses and get an official double degree after the successful submission of their thesis. So far, 15,000 students have now signed up to start the program in October 2015.
The fundraising campaign aims to finance a pilot with 1.000 students. Kiron University shares the reasonable hope that free access to internationally accepted academic degrees represents a huge opportunity for refugees to become a contributing individual in the society they are in. In this sense, it can foster their integration in their host community, their personal development as well as the opportunity of participating in rebuilding and improving their home countries and societies.