Two volunteers working with refugees in Berlin set out to create a solution to the administrative and financial challenges that stop refugees accessing higher education. In 2015 they founded Kiron Open Higher Education.
When trying to gain access to higher education, refugees often face a number of different obstacles. This can include lacking finance options for tuition fees, missing legal documents, having an unclarified legal status, the limited capacity for new students at universities and language barriers. In direct response to this , and after consultation with politicians and educational organisations, Markus Kressler and Vincent Zimmer co-founded the initiative Kiron.
Kiron enables refugees around the world access to higher education through digital solutions and partnerships with universities. It does not charge fees and students can start studying with Kiron regardless of their location or residence circumstances. Kiron courses are offered in English because it is the most widely spoken language in the world and is easy to learn.
How Kiron Open Higher Education Works
Kiron has developed an innovative learning program that involves two initial years of online study with Kiron and two years of conventional on-campus study at a partner university.
Students can choose from one of five study tracks: Business and Economics, Computer Science, Mechanical Engineering, Social Work, or Political Science. The first two years of curriculum modules are provided by Kiron through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). These courses have been created by leading universities and are delivered with digital platforms provided by external partners. The MOOCs are part of Kiron’s digital ‘campus’ – a digital interactive platform – that includes a range of student support services and forums accessible from personal computers and mobile devices.
After two years of study at Kiron, students can apply to enrol at a partner university to undertake two years of further study for the chosen degree program. Upon successful completion of courses at Kiron and the partner university, students earn an accredited bachelor degree.
Kiron’s Journey and its Future
Kiron was established as a non-governmental organisation, and since its beginning in March 2015, has grown quickly. From commencing with just over 1000 students, Kiron now has over 2700 students enrolled in its courses. Originally functioning solely with the help of volunteers, Kiron now employs more than 70 staff, is supported by over 400 volunteers and has established partnerships with over 40 universities. Kiron regularly employs its own students and has opened local offices in several countries, with a focus on growing in Germany, France and Turkey.
Because a large component of its service is digitally based, Kiron’s operating costs are low, with the price of a complete study program a sum of 3000 EUR per student (3500 EUR per student if they want to also take a language course at the Kiron Language School). In 2015, Kiron crowdfunded over 500,000 euros to help set up the project. Kiron is now supported by several large organisations and foundations, public institutions and corporates, including the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.
Currently only 16 percent of Kiron students are women and the organisation is actively seeking enrollment by female students to address this imbalance. To promote equal opportunity for men and women, Kiron has just commenced Women Recruitment Month, a public campaign to encourage women’s participation in Kiron courses. With the hashtag #EmpowerFemaleEdu you can contribute to this campaign, or with #KironStudent or #HigherEducation4Refugees you can by help by spreading the word about Kiron.