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German Colleges Open Up to Refugees

The University of LIfe. Moussa with fellow students at the University of Hildersheim. Source: Isa Lange/Uni Hildesheim
The University of Life. Moussa with fellow students at the University of Hildesheim.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    By allowing refugees to sit in on classes free of charge, German universities are helping them develop skills and integrate into society.

  • Facts


    • Support for teaching refugees German is being organized at the university level.
    • Some universities waive semester fees, offer free bus tickets or provide financial support.
    • Beginning January 2016, refugees can apply for study grants after 15 months of residence instead of the current four years.
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At least three days a week, Moussa rides a bike 15 kilometers to the university in the northern German city of Hildesheim. A monthly ticket for bus and train travel, after all, costs more than €60 – a lot of money for the 33-year-old refugee from Sudan.

Moussa is not allowed to study properly or take examinations, but he can attend courses at the university as a guest student, through a program where refugees can sit in lectures without paying fees.

During the summer semester he was there three times a week, attending seminars and lectures on politics and migration or democracy and Islam.

“I want contact with German students,” said Moussa, “I want to learn German.”

To just sit and wait in the small German village where he’s staying would be “very, very boring,” he said.

In Sudan, Moussa studied politics. In Germany he would like to add a Master’s degree in environment and nature protection.

“Migration is a task for all of society, and universities must do their part,” said university president Wolfgang-Uwe Friedrich, explaining why he set up the program.

According to the German Rectors’ Conference (HRK), a voluntary association of state universities, anyone can be a guest student in principle. Whether universities waive normal fees – or make it possible for them to take examinations – is usually up to the HRK. A number of universities are accepting refugees in this way, if only for unrestricted courses of study, which are open to students with any grade of high school diploma.

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