As migrants flood in, Germany launches online university for them: Parallels : NPR

Kashif Kazmi, a 21-year-old Pakistani asylum seeker, has started studying business.

Courtesy of Kashif Kazmi


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Courtesy of Kashif Kazmi


Kashif Kazmi, a 21-year-old Pakistani asylum seeker, has started studying business.

Courtesy of Kashif Kazmi

In May, 21-year-old Kashif Kazmi fled his hometown of Parachinar in northwestern Pakistan. Part of the country’s Shia minority, Kazmi was a target of the Pakistani Taliban. The rest of his family is still there.

“I really miss my family, my friends who are there,” Kazmi says. “Because my sisters, my father is old and he can’t cope with the situation, I had no other choice. And I’m so homesick.”

Kazmi wants to provide a better life for her sisters. He hopes to one day bring them to Germany. For him, that means pursuing higher education, which he says he was denied back home: “They don’t want us to be educated. They want us to be ignorant.”

Kazmi arrived in Berlin at the end of July and already speaks a little German. Having crossed nine countries to get here, he overcame many obstacles. But as an asylum seeker, he is not allowed to attend a local university because he does not have the required papers and status.

This is about to change.

Markus Kressler launches a virtual seminar on mechanical engineering, from the Georgia Institute of Technology, on his laptop. The 25-year-old is a co-founder of Kiron University, a Berlin-based program for refugees that leverages open source online lectures from other universities.

Kiron University, for refugees and displaced people, offers two years of online study leading to a bachelor’s degree. Students complete the degree at partner universities.

By Kiron University


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By Kiron University


Kiron University, for refugees and displaced people, offers two years of online study leading to a bachelor’s degree. Students complete the degree at partner universities.

By Kiron University

Kiron University students take online courses for the first two years, preparing for a bachelor’s degree while they apply for asylum and acquire the documents and qualifications necessary to enter a partner university, close to where they lie, to get the degree.

“Basically, anyone can log into these courses already,” Kressler says. “What we do is just take those courses, bundle them into degree programs, and cooperate with real universities so that they also recognize those courses so that you really get a degree at the end.”

Partner universities

Kressler says Kiron is already in partnership with 30 universities across Europe and Africa, and is currently in talks with US Ivy League institutions. He says the partnership is attractive to established universities.

“Each type of university has around 30-50% free places in the third year, because many students drop out,” he says. In Europe, it is customary to obtain a bachelor’s degree in three years. Kiron students simply fill these empty seats.

The program can also benefit the German economy. Currently, Kiron offers degrees in areas such as computer science, engineering, business and architecture – all areas where there is a skills shortage in the German job market.

The university begins its pilot semester this month with 1,000 students. The interest is much greater, but Kiron requires investment.

“As a startup, you always have to create the proof of concept to show everyone that it really works,” says Kressler. “If you start an online university for refugees, it takes three or four years to see if students can actually enter the job market.”

Kiron University says each student will cost it $400 a year, which it hopes to fund with crowdfunding and sponsorship.

Kazmi is among the first group of students to start at Kiron this week. He is excited, he says, “because Nelson Mandela [said] that education is the real weapon to change the world. So I believe in education, because it’s a journey from darkness to light.”

He registered for a business license. It’s not science, his first love.

“It’s my zeal and drive,” he says of science. But for now, Kiron does not offer science degrees. Kazmi finds inspiration in his heroes Isaac Newton, who survived the English Civil War and narrowly escaped the Great Plague, and Albert Einstein, who fled Nazi Germany.

But he is pragmatic and says the business course will give him the skills to help others.

He would like to work in humanitarian aid. “Today I am a refugee,” says Kazmi, “but tomorrow I hope I will be able to help others.”

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