In 2013, the number of refugees rose to 51.2 million – this is the highest number since World War II. (1) In the following years until June 2015, this figure increased further to nearly 60 million refugees; during the first half of 2015, 142,000 asylum applications were submitted in Germany alone. (2) The refugees are usually young people with very different situations in life and reasons for having fled their native country. Yet they all suffer from frequently facing greater obstacles in accessing education. Education, however, is a particularly important requirement in being able to independently forge one's future and integrate into the society of a new country.
The Wings University aims at enabling these people in particular to take up a degree course and targets several factors that so far prevent this from happening. These include a lack of funds and being barred from access to the campus, for example, due to residential obligation. It is often also far more difficult to obtain necessary documents, because of the situation in the refugees' native country.
The Wings University counteracts such problems by allowing students to submit the required documents up until the final day of the academic training. This is not about enabling a degree course without the required papers, but takes into consideration the fact that refugees often need more time to obtain documents. In addition, a blended learning concept aims at overcoming financial and locality related obstacles. The degree course starts with two years of online study at the Wings University. During the first year, students can enrol in interdisciplinary courses, followed in the second year by specialisation in a degree course. The courses are made available by accredited partnering universities such as the Hasso Plattner Institute. In the third year, a degree course on site follows, attended at one of the partnering institutions or, respectively, at the planned campus in Berlin. The degree is conferred jointly with the partnering university to ensure that it is not only accredited, but is also accepted in the employment market.
The concept moreover aims at enabling the students to get in touch with each other. The plan is to establish a community in every larger city, starting with Berlin and Istanbul, which will be responsible for organising student initiatives, meetings and events. The Wings University thus aims at creating both virtual and real learning venues and providing refugees with an outlook for their future. In order to be able to provide its students with the required resources such as internet access, laptops and tablet computers, the Wings University co-operates with several partners: Keepod provides laptops and an Android-based operating system. For the event that students do not have permanent access to the internet, it is possible to attend the courses offline by downloading the files in one session. The co-operation with Google for Education and Dropbox provides sufficient online storage space as well as useful e-learning tools. In addition, the university is in negotiations with Vodafone and Deutsche Telekom to provide students with mobile internet sticks.
So far, we have been able to win over 7,500 refugees for enrolment into a degree course at the Wings University. According to an internal survey, the most sought after degree courses amongst refugees are in the subjects engineering, computer sciences and business administration. This is why we will start with these subjects and will subsequently expand our range of services in a second step. The online curriculum will be launched this autumn and the first graduates will receive their degrees in the winter semester 2017/2018. This would not be possible without the support from our co-operation partners. In spite of everything one must not lose sight of the fact that so far only a fraction of the target group can be reached and that the capacities of the Wings University are too limited to provide for all those who are interested in a degree course. This is why we continue in our search for solutions and new partners who can contribute innovative ideas for overcoming the problems we face.
For this reason, we would like to discuss the following questions on this platform: Should the service be made available only to refugees within Germany or also across borders? What is the potential of digital education in providing disadvantaged groups with access to education and the society? What can federal government and European politics contribute to promote the potential of digitalisation?
(1) see UNHCR (2014): Global Trends 2013, June 2014, http://www.unhcr.org/5399a14f9.html, accessed on 16.07.2015.
(2) see UNCHR (2015): Weltweit fast 60 Millionen Menschen auf der Flucht 18.06.2015 (in German), on http://www.unhcr.de/home/artikel/f31dce23af754ad07737a7806dfac4fc/weltweit-fast-60-millionen-menschen-auf-der-flucht.html, accessed on 16.07.2015, see BAMF (2015): Latest figures to asylum, June 2015, http://www.bamf.de/SharedDocs/Anlagen/DE/Downloads/Infothek/Statistik/Asyl/statistik-anlage-teil-4-aktuelle-zahlen-zu-asyl.pdf?__blob=publicationFile (in German), accessed on 16.07.2015.