IMPACT

This Online University For Refugees Was Inspired By Co-founder's Chance Encounter With Gambian Refugee

"We'll show the skeptics that there are very motivated, invested people coming here."
A student in Germany co-founded a university to help integrate refugees into society.
A student in Germany co-founded a university to help integrate refugees into society.

How can the millions of refugees arriving in Germany be integrated? This will be Germany's biggest challenge. Many politicians and experts would agree that the key to successful integration lies in providing education for refugees and displaced people.

And that's also exactly what many refugees seek: a chance at receiving a decent education. But they’re currently being denied the opportunity. They are required to learn German before they're allowed to enroll in universities. They would also need to present identification documents, which some refugees may have lost, after spending months on the road. They are also required to present their school transcripts, after crossing the Mediterranean on a boat, with nothing but a small backpack.

Markus Kressler, a 25 year-old psychology student, has a great solution for this serious problem. He teamed up with fellow student Vincent Zimmer, and a large group of volunteers, to establish a university dedicated to refugees: Kiron University. (It was named after Chiron, a creature known in Greek mythology for his nurturing nature.)

On the one hand, there was me, the student with endless opportunities. And on the other hand, there was Capoko, who left everything behind in Gambia, where he had no future. Markus Kressler

Kiron University seeks to eliminate the obstacles refugees face in their search for education. Applicants are only required to submit documentation of refugee status, or proof that they are in the process of acquiring it.

"In order to make sure that this diploma is recognized by universities, we're working with them to build a curriculum," Kressler says in an interview with HuffPost Germany.

Kiron University is collaborating with universities across Germany, as well as international schools, including Yale and Harvard. At Kiron, refugees can study economics, engineering, information technology, intercultural studies or architecture. The founders expect to expand their course offerings in the next few years. 

Kiron’s three-year programs are all tuition-free. The students take online courses for the first two years, during which they are given time to gather missing documents. They will start attending classes on campus in the program's third year.

We'll show the skeptics that there are very motivated, invested people coming here. Markus Kressler

One of the motivations behind this project is to help refugees integrate into German society. "Education makes it possible to take an active role in society, insofar as you can be self-sufficient and contribute something meaningful," Kressler says.

But it was an encounter that Kressler had with a refugee three years ago that really inspired this project. "I met Capoko, who came from Gambia, in a kebab shop one night," he recalls. At the time, Capoko had just arrived in Germany. "He sat there, completely frozen, absolutely alone." Kressler decided to take the man in, and one night turned into six months.

"At the time, it was like our worlds clashed. On the one hand, there was me, the student with endless opportunities," Kressler says. "And on the other hand, there was Capoko, who left everything behind in Gambia, where he had no future."

Kressler’s new friend from Gambia was deported, even though all he wanted was to study. "I believe that this encounter planted the seed for what we're building now," reflects Kressler.

A student in Germany co-founded a university to help integrate refugees into society.
A student in Germany co-founded a university to help integrate refugees into society.

Kiron University is well on its way to securing funding for the first 1,000 students: The founders have launched a crowdfunding campaign to supplement the donations that have been contributed by various foundations.

Kiron does not merely aim to provide an opportunity for refugees: it also gives a voice to those who oppose so-called concerned citizens who aren't in favor of granting asylum to refugees in Germany. "We'll show the skeptics that there are very motivated, invested people coming here," Kressler says. "If they don't already have an education yet, we have to make education available to them."

"After all," he says, "it's not like anybody is ever happy to leave behind their own corner of the world. None of us would enjoy that." 

This story originally appeared on HuffPost GermanyIt has been translated into English and edited for clarity.

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