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EPALE - Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe


Studying with a history as a refugee – The Wings University

by Christina NORWIG
Language: EN
Document available also in: DE FR

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?


Lena Hapke is volunteer for the Wings University. You find more information on the Wings University on their Website.

(1) see UNHCR (2014): Global Trends 2013, June 2014,, accessed on 16.07.2015.

(2) see UNCHR (2015): Weltweit fast 60 Millionen Menschen auf der Flucht 18.06.2015 (in German), on, accessed on 16.07.2015, see BAMF (2015): Latest figures to asylum, June 2015, (in German), accessed on  16.07.2015.


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  • Christina NORWIG's picture

    Wir gratulieren Kiron Open Higher Education zur BMBF-Förderung! Im Rahmen des Pilotvorhabens „INTEGRAL2 – Integration und Teilhabe von Geflüchteten im Rahmen von digitalen Lehr- und Lernszenarien“ stellt das BMBF Kiron und den Verbundpartnern in den nächsten 13 Monaten insgesamt 2,1 Millionen Euro zur Verfügung.

  • Christina NORWIG's picture

    Wings University s’appelle maintenant Kiron Open Higher Education. Actuellement, plus que 1000 personnes participant en quatre programmes à 23 universités associées.

  • Christina NORWIG's picture

    Wings University is now called Kiron Open Higher Education. More than 1000 people are currently participating in four degree programmes at 23 partner universities.

  • Christina NORWIG's picture

    Die Wings University heißt jetzt übrigens Kiron Open Higher Education. Mehr als 1000 Personen nehmen bereits an den vier Studienprogrammen an 23 Partneruniversitäten teil.  

  • Peter Brandt's picture

    kommt zur richtigen Zeit, Lena Hapke!

    Zu Ihren Fragen kann ich aus der Perspektive der Bildungsakteure insgesamt antworten - mit der Etablierung von Strukturen im tertiären Sektor habe ich keine Erfahrungen.

    Sollte das Angebot nur Flüchtlingen innerhalb Deutschlands oder darüber hinaus bereitgestellt werden?

    Die Beschränkung auf Studierende eines Landes scheint mir unter zwei Gesichtspunkten schwierig: Erstens widerspricht der Online-Zugriff etwas dieser Logik. Hier geht es ja gerade um Lernen unabhängig vom Ort. Zweitens könnte es gut sein, dass Flüchtlinge demnächst innerhalb der EU anders verteilt werden. Heißt: wer in Deutschland ein Studium anfängt, möchte oder muss es vl. in Österreich oder Estland abschließen. Andererseits könnte eine Beschränkung auf ein Sitzland des Studierenden aus administrativen Gründen nötig werden, wenn Akkreditierungs- und Finanzierungsfragen dazu nötigen. Es bleibt aber eine wichtige Frage, was heißt "Flüchtling in Deutschland" - jemand, der hier seine Registrierung erfahren hat oder jemand, der hier einen Asylantrag gestellt hat?

    Welche Potentiale bietet digitale Bildung, um benachteiligten Gruppen Zugang zu Bildung und zur Gesellschaft zu schaffen?

    Eine ganze Menge Potenziale natürlich, aber wir dürfen uns auch nichts vormachen: Sie stellt benachteiligte Gruppen auch vor große Herausforderungen. Eine minimale Mediennutzungskompetenz muss vorausgesetzt werden können, wenn jemand erfolgreich im e-Learning sein will. Für Flüchtlinge dürfte zur Intensivierung der neuen Sprachpraxis das Präsenzlernen von mindestens ebenso großer Bedeutung sein. Trotzdem: Angebote wie "" oder "" sind absolut gelungene Beispiele dafür, wie digitales Lernen benachteiligte Gruppen Zugang zu Bildung verschafft damit auch Teilhabechancen erhöht.

    Wie kann die staatliche und die europäische Politik helfen, um die Potentiale der Digitalisierung zu fördern?

    Es gibt ja schon diverse Förderlinien in dieser Richtung. Besonders erwähnenswert erscheinen mir die gegenwärtigen Versuche, Open Educational Resources (OER) besser zu erschließen, über Suchmaschinen zugänglich zu machen und Transparenz über die rechtliche Situation ihrer Nutzung herzustellen. Derzeit erarbeiten der Deutsche Bildungsserver beim DIPF und das Learning Lab der Universität Duisburg-Essen eine OER-Machbarkeitsstudie.


    Es darf natürlich jetzt nicht bei Ihrer Initiative allein bleiben!

    Wann, wenn nicht jetzt, sind Bildungseinrichtungen gefragt, unkonventionelle Wege zu gehen und Flüchtlingen Perspektiven zu geben. Tausende Menschen benötigen Angebote, die Sprache des Aufnahmelandes zu erlernen. Manchmal ist es ebenso dringend, Strukturen der Bürokratie verständlich zu machen. Für die Integration in den Arbeitsmarkt müssen Verfahren her, Kompetenzen zu identifizieren und anzuerkennen. Wir bräuchten dringend einen ProfilPASS ( für Geflüchtete. Sicher haben schon viele Weiterbildungseinrichtungen trotz prekärer Ressourcenlage Wege gefunden, Flüchtlingen geeignete Angebote zu machen. Schön wäre, wir könnten hier neben Ihrem lobenswerten Beispiel noch weitere aus anderen Bildungsbereichen sammeln. Die Zeit ist jedenfalls reif.

  • Eva ALOS MELCHOR's picture

    Thank you and apologies for the confusion. A generic photo is fine providing the copyright is not infringed. We welcome and are looking forward to your blog post in Swedish. If there is any way in which we can assist you please let us know.

  • Alastair Creelman's picture
    Swedish blogpost on this item I used a generic cc photo.
  • Alastair Creelman's picture
    I meant a photo or logo for Wings university. The blog post is just a short summary for my news blog. I may publish something more substantial on EPALE later.
  • Eva ALOS MELCHOR's picture

    EPALE does not have a logo as such but it has promotional graphics. If you are a registered member you are able to upload your blog post by going to the blog section and clicking on suggest a blog post. We look forward to reading it.

  • Alastair Creelman's picture
    Very interesting. I've written a blog post on this (in Swedish) and wonder if I can have a photo to attach to the post. Can I use the logo?