14 September 2015

Give refugees access to education

Refugee crisis

New thinking in education is called for if Denmark is to deliver a truly humanitarian effort while benefiting from the many well-educated refugees who are entering the country. The University of Copenhagen is seeking permission to offer admission and further education courses to refugees.

University of Copenhagen is prepared to immediately offer admission to some of the refugees who are crossing into Denmark right now. Extraordinary measures are necessary if Denmark is to handle the flow of refugees in a way that benefits both the refugees themselves and society at large, says Rector at University of Copenhagen, Ralf Hemmingsen, in an open letter to the Minister of Higher Education and Science, Esben Lunde Larsen.

"Many of the refugees who are entering Denmark at the moment are highly educated, and with a quick and targeted effort they could become better integrated and gain easier access to the Danish job market," Ralf Hemmingsen says.

Refugees walk on the danish highway

The University recommends that Denmark provides specific education opportunities to those refugees who are either currently having their application for residence processed or have obtained a temporary residence permit. This could include people who, due to the war, have been unable to complete their education at universities in for example the Middle East or people who have a degree but need to upgrade their skills in order to get a job in Denmark.

"Refugees who are granted temporary residence should be allowed to study from day one. Many of them have competences, skills and experiences that are in high demand both if they are to stay in Denmark and if they return to their country of origin. At the University, we are ready to take on this challenge but it’s not possible under the current rules. So we hope the government will adjust the rules to help both the refugees and Denmark," Ralf Hemmingsen says. 

Government scholarships for refugees

The refugees who are arriving in Denmark typically come from countries outside the EU and the EEA (European Economic Area). Under the current rules, citizens of these nations, including refugees who have a temporary residence permit or who are in the midst of having their application processed, must pay the full tuition fee at Danish schools and universities, which may well run into hundreds of thousands of Danish kroner. That makes it very hard to provide education programmes to refugees.

"At the University of Copenhagen we want to be part of the effort to help the many refugees quickly obtain the skills and qualifications that are necessary to get a job. We are asking for funds for the universities to make an assessment of their previous education and hence provide special programmes to offer those with the relevant qualifications a study place," Ralf Hemmingsen suggests.

The University of Copenhagen offers to set up measures that will further a smooth integration in the study environment, for example through dedicated mentoring and shadowing programmes, and also organise special counselling services aimed at enterprises in relation to a quick transition to the job market.

The University suggests to the Minister that the government establishes a new targeted student finance system to ensure free education for relevant refugees, not unlike the system Denmark used successfully in the Baltics in the 1990s. In Germany, they are also setting up various possibilities for refugees to study free of charge.

Read the full letter from Rector to the Minister (PDF in Danish)