On Friday 25. August 2017, Chancellor Angela Merkel was invited to learn about Kiron Open Higher Education, world’s first online learning platform that provides refugees with unbureaucratic access to higher education and successful learning through digital solutions. Her visit emphasizes the great importance of digital education opportunities in the context of integration work. Together with students, employees and partners, the visit served to reflect on the Kiron’s progress and provided an overview of the prospects for the coming years.

Five of our Kiron students: Wafaa (23), Nyima (25), Ahmad (25), Ehab (24) and Moataz (27) had the special opportunity to share their perspectives and explain the unique nature of the “Kiron Campus” learning platform, which is based on the bundling of online courses that are accessible worldwide and are provided by renowned universities like MIT and the RWTH Aachen. Together with Kiron Co-Founder Christoph, who built up the platform, the students Wafaa, Moataz and Ahmad explained its valuable learning features. While presenting the Kiron platform, the students provided insight into the campus life of an online student, demonstrating learning materials, like the MOOC “Einführung in die Betriebswirtschaftslehre” produced by our partner RWTH Aachen within the federal ministry funded project INTEGRAL², as well as the Kiron Forum, where they are able to engage and exchange ideas with fellow students and Kiron staff members. Moreover, the students emphasized the relevance of Kiron support services, language courses and other features that make the learning experience complete.

Later on, a panel discussion with the chancellor, allowed all five Kiron students to share their experiences. The students talked about their journeys and spoke up for refugees, discussing topics like challenges of integration in Germany, language and bureaucratic barriers, as well as african migration, family reunification, the situation in Syria, the role of female refugees and future opportunities.

“As a refugee, it is very important to me to share our hopes and expectations. The majority of our problems is still not discussed, a few talked about it, but not in the presence of the chancellor, that’s why it is important to me. I was lucky to meet the chancellor, thus I had the responsibility to share and represent the voice of refugees.” Moataz, Kiron Student

For Moataz Ghannam, a Kiron Student transferring to BAU International Berlin-University of Applied Sciences this winter term, the meeting with Chancellor Merkel was the chance to deliver an important message. He spoke up for himself and other refugees: “We can do it, we are not less than other people, we are refugees because of the situation in our country, that’s not our choice! But to continue learning is our choice and we make it right!” Moataz talked about his journey, his former studies in Syria, his successful course completions with Kiron and his future transfer and ambitions at BAU International Berlin. Together with his fellow student Ahmad he acted as a role model motivating other Kiron students to follow their studies with dedication in order to be able to transfer to one of Kirons partner universities. Both students expressed their aspirations regarding the future of higher education by describing their successes.

“Personally, the biggest motivation for me to take part in the discussion was to be the first practical example of what Kiron can achieve, getting refugees to universities. So basically the message I wanted to deliver was that I am here as someone Kiron has brought back to university and that it worked perfect for me and with more attention and support it can work for many others.” Ahmad, Kiron Student

As the first Kiron transfer student, Ahmad stands for Kirons proof of concept. With Ahmad transferring to Bard College Berlin, Kiron managed to successfully build a bridge between Kiron online studies and prospective offline studies at one of Kirons partner universities. After half a year of online learning and 23 successfully recognised courses, provided on the Kiron platform by edX, Coursera, Saylor Academy and others, Ahmad now studies “Politics, Economics and Social Thought”. Next to his achievements, Ahmad also discussed the prevailing challenges for refugees accessing higher education, listing access barriers like insufficient public information services, continuing uncertainty regarding the financing of studies, a lack of recognition of previous diplomas, as well as the lack of documentation that remain difficulties that still need to be addressed. Striving towards helping others to overcome those obstacles, Ahmad is now employed as a student assistant at Kiron, shaping the organization from a former student perspective.

Speaking up for his fellow students and the refugee community, is also very important to Ehab, Kiron student and young leader of United Nations Major Group for Children & Youth (UN MGCY). Before Ehab had to leave his country, he finished his Engineering degree in Syria. Today he studies Political Science with Kiron and has been active in humanitarian work since 2011.

“During the Merkel visit, I was very excited and nervous to be the voice of all fellow students studying with Kiron, and every refugee young man looking for a way to get an academic certificate that can change his life and future.” Ehab, Kiron Student

Ehab encouraged fellow students and the young refugee community to follow their academic goals. He is aiming to be transferred to Kirons partner, University of Bielefeld next summer term where he will continue his studies in Political Science, with the goal of one day making a constructive contribution towards the peace process in Syria. The chancellor asked his opinion about the situation in Syria and Germany’s involvement in the conflict. Ehab stressed the duration and severity of the conflict encouraging political efforts in order to bring about peace.

“The most beautiful thing was the interaction of the German Chancellor with us. She was asking, advising and listening with concentration to every word we said. She was enthusiastic about our meeting and hearing our stories. She really managed to pull all the tension and fear out of us.” Ehab, Kiron Student

Merkel was also especially interested in hearing about the female perspectives of our students Nyima and Wafaa. Nyima is a journalist from Gambia, who had to leave her country because she spoke out for women. After a long and difficult journey, she has not given up on her dream of telling the truth. Today, she works for a refugee journalism project called “LISTEN” and helps to make refugee voices heard.

“Personally, it is very important to me to represent the voice of Kiron students and other refugees during an audience with Angela Merkel, because it gives not only me the opportunity to speak out my mind and extend the voice of other refugees to the most important person in Germany – but also, together with Kiron, gives me the chance, to personally sit with the chancellor and discuss different issues regarding our studies and our situation as refugees in Germany.” Nyima, Kiron Student

Sitting next to Angela Merkel, Nyima spoke about the challenges of integration for female refugees in Germany. How it is like to be a refugee from Africa and what it means to wear a headscarf. Raising issues of gender equality, religion, work and residence permit, as well as cultural background, Nyima stood up for the rights of african refugees.

Similar to Nyima, Kiron Student Wafaa, who studies Economics with Kiron and is aiming to be transferred to the University of Duisburg-Essen this winter term, also spoke up for female refugees. Wafaa, talked about her own situation as a female refugee from Syria and addressed personal matters like family reunification. Both students emphasized the importance of female empowerment and higher education. Chancellor Merkel’s interest in their experience was very much appreciated. Especially her asking about their female perspectives on being a Muslima and wearing a headscarf in Germany. Since it is, as Wafaa pointed out, “a sensitive situation, which the covered girls confront here.” Wafaa hereby stressed the important role of education on the path to successful integration.

“Education is the most important tool for refugees in Germany to be able to integrate and succeed!” Wafaa, Kiron Student

Following the views expressed by our students about the encounter with the chancellor, Kiron is proud to have been able to demonstrate the great importance of digital education opportunities in the context of integration. It showed us, that we are not only able to build a bridge between online and offline learning, but also bridge the gap between refugees and politics, by initiating a personal dialogue between our students and the chancellor.

Kiron is the hope for many refugees! The crucial importance of access to higher education for refugees should be taken into account, along with other refugees problems, like the family reunion and how the future would be after the election. I hope the result will be that the refugees are, just no more and no less Human, that we are just the same as any other part of this community. We asked for safety and simply need primary support then we can do all by our own, and can handle our future.” Moataz, Kiron Student