Online university for refugees launched in Germany

Berlin-based university accessible worldwide offers free higher education to more than 1,000 students.

Berlin refugees
Germany expects up to 1.5 million asylum seekers in 2015 [AP]

The first online university for refugees, which offers them a free higher education wherever they are in the world, has launched in Germany.

Kiron University says all students need is a computer and an internet connection. For those who do not have access to the internet, offline courses are offered – meaning they can be downloaded where internet access is available.

To enrol, students have to submit documents including the recognition of refugee status from UNHCR.

To fund its activities, the non-profit university used a crowdfunding campaign before it launched in October that has so far gathered $216,636.

Based in Berlin, Kiron currently offers courses from five different schools to 1,000 students. At least 15,000 other refugees have shown interest in joining the university.

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Tim Brandt, Kiron University’s spokesperson, told Al Jazeera that the idea was born in the summer of 2014, when the founders, Vincent Zimmer and Markus Kressler, discussed their vision of a university 2.0 at a conference.

“Vincent was eager to start a revolution in higher education by developing a new kind of university that incorporates technological advances and focuses more on the individual learner,” Brandt said.


“Markus, who was working with refugees and migrants at that time, was instantly overwhelmed by the opportunities this new kind of university offers for refugees who did not have access to higher education.”

Brandt said the pair started talking with online course providers, universities, and decision makers in politics and business and found “quite easy solutions for every single barrier that made it impossible for refugees to enter higher education so far”.

Courses in English

Kiron gets its courses, which will be in English, from universities like Harvard, Stanford, MIT, and Yale. 

Bachelor degrees are offered in business administration, architecture, engineering, computer science, and intercultural studies. Language courses are also available in English and German.

The first two years of the programmes take place online and the third year is offline. Additional services like preparation courses, language courses, psychological counselling, life coaching and several others are offered in Berlin.

For students who do not speak English, the university offers a preparation programme, “English as a Foreign Language”. 

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The university has a limited number of seats because the number of students that can be accepted is based on the number of seats Kiron is given by its partner universities. It plans to offer places to around 10,000 students in the first year.

Brandt told Al Jazeera that the team is seeking to launch additional offices in Turkey, France, and the UK.

Source: Al Jazeera