When war began in Syria, over a fourth of 18 to 24 year olds were enrolled in higher education, the ratio being about half among refugees. Former teachers and artists also now face career-ending lacunae and productivity lapses due to lost jobs, lost grant money, lost libraries, lost art gallery exhibition circuits, and lost student help. Among Syria’s outnumbered refugees, many decided to stop in Austria.
In the face of this situation, 21 Austrian universities decided to offer courses to refugee students, some of them being part of a degree program and others being tailored for refugees specifically. While MORE started out in fall 2015 at the initiative of Universities Austria (uniko), all public universities have progressively stepped in.
Inspiring practise number 7: the MORE project
Opting for a holistic approach
A country of just 8.4 million people, Austria recently found its refugee camps, hostels and emergency shelters full to overflowing. To many the situation appeared impossible, but Austria’s academics demurred. Indeed, a most creative nationwide university-led initiative saw the light of day: the MORE project.
Interestingly, the participating universities area looking at the person’s needs holistically. MORE aims at providing a space for reflection to refugees where one can find out whether university studies are an option for the future. All universities offer non-bureaucratic ways to qualify students for individual courses. The lucky ones who partake in the programme, will be admitted as extra-curricular students, get a tuition fee waiver, are covered by the students’ insurance and get access to the university library. There is also a buddy system in place that supports refugee students in their day-to-day life and guarantees their integration beyond education. In fact, very few refugee groups have been more closely examined anywhere worldwide to help ensure no talent is wasted.
Show, tell, and work with us
To help refugees find work, universities hold free orientations to Austria’s academic and arts scenes and offer free access to courses, many designed especially for them, besides language study. To target academic and artistic professionals, the program builds on the proximity between refugees and non-refugees through the use of slogans such as "are you looking to get in touch with peers at a university?", "Are you willing to share your knowledge with peers in a workshop, seminar or speech?"
The process follows four main stages:
- The applicant fills out an online form
- Then the network finds a suitable faculty contact or buddy/mentor, as appropriate.
- Together, the refugee and the contact design an academic or artistic presentation.
- The contact then supplies facilities and an interested public. A job offer may sometimes follow, but nothing is guaranteed.