Abstract: Increasing Access to Higher Education for Refugees: Complex Initiatives for Sustainable Integration in Germany (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

Increasing Access to Higher Education for Refugees: Complex Initiatives for Sustainable Integration in Germany

Friday, January 18, 2019: 10:00 AM
Golden Gate 7, Lobby Level (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Marciana Popescu, PhD, Associate Professor, Fordham University, NY
Background and Purpose:

Over the past 7 years, the increasing migration “crisis”, mostly attributed to the Syrian conflict, and the resulting waves of asylum seekers and refugees approaching Europe was greatly discussed in the media and researched by scholars in Europe and beyond in an attempt to categorize human mobility as a threat or as a human right. A securitization framework led to more restrictive measures, from border control and expansion of borders (with new state and regional actors working together to prevent people from entering the European zone), to changes in family reunification regulations, and the constant redefinition of a refugee – to limit benefits and rights. Migration was presented as a crisis, hinting towards the potential danger that refugees present. Although the percentage of all displaced people in the world migrating to Europe is rather small (6%), the rapid increase in numbers created added challenges for the various stakeholders involved in designing, implementing and monitoring integration programs, primarily targeting refugees. Between 2011 and 2016, according to UNHCR data, the number of refugees in Europe went from 1.5 mil to 2.3 mil; with UN DESA data confirming over 3.5 mil refugees in Europe by the end of 2017 (IOM, 2018). Asylum seekers also increased about threefold, from 314.4 thousand people in 2011, to 1.1 mil by the end of 2016 (UNHCR, 2018). European migration policies changed rapidly, aiming to accommodate these ever increasing numbers, process asylum requests, provide the appropriate legal categorization to establish rights and benefits, and develop integration frameworks that support and facilitate migrants’ participation to the social, economic and political life of their host countries. Germany implemented one of the most generous policies, in regards to admission and processing of asylum seekers, particularly in response to the Syrian conflict. Aiming to ensure rapid, effective integration of refugees in the German communities, the federal government engaged in an intentional effort to ensure a somewhat equitable distribution of asylum seekers and refugees among all its states, based on a complex model that would match local resources with the needs of asylum seekers and refugees relocated in each federal state/land. Not without challenges, this policy allowed for the development of innovative responses, involving multiple organizations at state and local levels.


The study consisted of narratives of refugees enrolled in undergraduate and graduate programs (4 interviews); university professors and administrators of the integration project (2 interviews); and federal authorities involved in the reception of asylum seekers and refugees for one German state/land (1 interview). 

Conclusions and Implications:

The case study identifies factors contributing to the success of this initiative, and challenges created by the dominant securitization discourse, on one hand, and by conflicting social identities of refugees and host communities, on the other. We explore how local networks are contributing to effective implementation of national and EU policies, in relation to integration, and, more specifically, how universities are directly engaged in developing innovative programs to enroll refugees, and ensure successful completion and graduation, at college and graduate levels.