A special program at the Frankfurt University of Applied Science offers refugees the chance to prepare themselves for university and learn the German language. Laila and Ammar are among the first graduates.
“We all share one intention, that is to learn,” says Laila, a 21 year-old refugee from Syria. For the past year, she spent most of her days in classroom at Frankfurt University of Applied Science together with around 19 other refugees from Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Iran and Ethiopia. In this time, they practiced German and advanced from speaking only little German to a level of B2. Now Laila hopes to pass the final language test so she can qualify for a preparatory course for the DSH, the official German language exam necessary for entering university and college.
It was the prospect of higher education that also made Ammar want to join the program for refugees. The 19-year old Iraqi had just finished high school in his home country when he fled to Germany. After the German language program TUER, he wants to do a complementary preparatory course in mathematics and mechanical engineering, something that he wishes to turn into his profession. “Some of the participants don’t want to continue to university after the course because they want to work and earn money first. I want to get a good qualification first,” he says.
Learning while waiting for a decision
Once Laila and Ammar finish the TUER – the Technical University Entrance for Refugees – program at the Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences next week, both will be one step closer to their goal. Ammar will attend preparatory college to acquire a university entrance qualification, and Laila, who had begun a degree in archeology in Syria prior to fleeing to Germany and already has a qualification, will enter the official language preparatory course for the DSH exam. Eventually, they will apply for a Bachelor or Master’s degree. That’s their goal for the future, and where they hope to see themselves in Germany.
But there is also uncertainty. Many of the participants in the course have not gotten a final decision on their asylum applications yet. Laila and Ammar have both been waiting for six months to hear back from the BAMF. Despite the uncertainty, they seem optimistic. Laila’s family lives in a different city in Germany, and they have been granted asylum. “It was my brother who told me about the program, I was lucky to hear about it,” she says.
The TUER program was started in 2016 as a one year initiative. It attempts to fill a gap: refugees who are in the recognition process are not eligible to apply to most regular educational programs – either due to a lack in papers or because of their unrecognized status. TUER is offered to students free of charge. Applicants had to have an interest in a technical area of study and already speak German at an A2 level. A university entrance qualification was not required.
Universities assist refugees
“Besides the German language, the main focus is on giving participants an orientation by teaching them about the German education and learning system as well as about politics and culture”, explains Corina Maier, the language coordinator of the TUER program. For her, teaching the class has been a rich experience. “But there were many challenges as well. The main challenge is teaching how the German education system works in all its details.” As many participants have had a difficult and traumatic past, teaching requires a sensitive approach, Maier adds.
The TUER program as a language-first option will end in mid-March. A second welcoming program for refugees, the “Willkommensjahr Maschinenbau” (‘welcome year for mechanical engineering’) that was launched simultaneously, will continue and will be complemented by a second one with a focus in architecture. “The welcoming courses give participants a clear focus on a field of study,” explains Corina Maier. This combination of language and science or architecture is a unique option in Germany, Maier adds.
Other universities have also come up with welcome programs for refugees. The Freie Universität Berlin offers prospective students who had to flee their home country the opportunity to attend selected courses as well as a buddy program to match them up with volunteers. Similar options exist at the Ludwig Maximilian University and the Technical University in Munich. The Kiron University for refugees combines online learning with offline seminars.
Laila and Ammar cherish the experiences they made within and outside the classroom. “We learned so much about how things work here,” explains Ammar. “And we became good friends and had a great time together.”
Author: Charlotte Hauswedell