Using MOOCs to help refugees

October 30, 2015 Tony Bates

Refugees applying to the University of Magdeburg in Germany

Refugees applying to the University of Magdeburg in Germany

Yohannes, M. and Bhatti, J. (2015) Migrants get help through German online university, USA Today, October 29

This article reports on Kiron University, a non-profit university set up exclusively to support refugees awaiting official asylum status while remaining in their host countries. Currently it is supporting approximately 1,000 students from 60 different countries.

The Kiron web site states:

Kiron is an international university for refugees, headquartered in Germany, providing refugees with higher education and the opportunity to graduate at a university free of charge. Because the first two years of the degree programs are online, Kiron’s students can study flexibly from all over the world and according to their own schedule. The special circumstances refugees have to face are carefully considered by offering additional services like preparation courses for university, language courses, psychological counselling, life coaching, hardware, internet access and facilities such as Kiron’s campus in Berlin. All of this is also free of charge.

For the first two years, Kiron’s students can choose courses out of the whole universe of MOOCs. Kiron takes these courses, modifies them, and designs study programs with real-life working sessions, projects in teamwork, mentoring, student support and modern ways of learning and testing. All of this is done with the careful supervision of their partner universities as well as experienced professors, experts in education and established educational institutions. For the third year, Kiron’s students go to a classic university attending regular courses. They can choose out of a variety of well established institutions like RWTH Aachen, the Applied University Heilbronn or the Open University of West Africa.

Kiron has a campus in Berlin which provides a housing option for more than 500 students and the opportunity to offer 20 seminar rooms and 10 lecture rooms, to support the online curriculum via tutorials and on-campus class experiences.

Kiron is funded currently by a German foundation but is also using crowdfunding to provide scholarships for refugees (see https://kiron.university/). The cost to Kiron for one student for an academic year is approximately 400 euros (US$450), although a full scholarship costs Kiron 1,200 euros (US$1,400). As well as funding, Kiron is looking for volunteers to help with its programs.

Kiron has asked selected scholars across different disciplines such as philosophy and computer science to join their evaluation board and help them understand better who refugees are and how they can help them. Kiron would like to financially support academic field studies as well as the publication of academic research in the field of (forced) migration and e-learning. Several research projects are already in preparation and will be presented to the public at a conference in Berlin.

Comment

Although I would like to know more about Kiron, this seems a splendid idea. Less than 1% of refugees globally have access to higher education, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Of the estimated 60 million refugees globally, around half are under 18 — a record high — meaning many young people have little opportunity to train for future jobs. I believe the Arab Open University is working with refugees in Jordan. (I would be happy to publicise any such efforts in this blog).

All this makes me wonder though whether some of the existing open universities in the U.K., Netherlands, Spain and Canada could not partner with Kiron or establish their own programs to extend both the range of courses and support the learning of refugees, given the millions still in refugee camps.

For instance, the new Canadian government has pledged to accept 25,000 Syrian refugees by Christmas this year. However, that will still leave many thousands more waiting to be processed. “People have to wait for a year to have an interview to begin the asylum process, which means that in this time they can’t even do a language course,” said Kiron co-founder Markus Kressler, a graduate student who runs the online university with 80 other volunteers. Could not Athabasca University for instance work with UNHCR and Kiron to identify those waiting processing for Canada, and provide them with appropriate courses and programs before they arrive? I’m sure there are many obstacles to this, but having refugees arriving with qualifications from your own country must certainly benefit both the refugees and the host country.

In the meantime I hope you will join me in supporting Kiron, in one way or another.

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