New info portal : Swiss students, politicians work towards university access for refugees

Farida Nosha, pictured, is a refugee from Ukraine who now studies at Switzerland's University of Fribourg. The Swiss Students' Association wants better access to university study for people like her
Farida Nosha, pictured, is a refugee from Ukraine who now studies at Switzerland’s University of Fribourg. The Swiss Students’ Association wants better access to university study for people like her


Lack of information and money are keeping qualified refugees in Switzerland from studying at universities and launching careers. So says the Swiss Students’ Association, which has created a new information portal for refugee students.

The organisation is also working with lawmakers to commit more funds to refugee education access.

Omar Aljundi came to Switzerland from Syria in 2013 as a war refugee. He was halfway through a bachelor’s degree programme in engineering when he left his home country, so he was keen to continue studying in his new home.

In Switzerland, he was sent to live in the French-speaking canton of Neuchâtel, where he quickly began learning the local language. At the same time, he was trying to gather information about all the requirements he needed to meet to apply to university and start his degree again on Swiss soil – a process that ended up taking him two years. He says he often didn’t know where to turn and almost gave up.

“Understanding how the system works cuts down on the time it takes to get somewhere and helps with motivation,” Aljundi says.

That’s what the Swiss Students’ Association tried to achieve when it created its new website, perspektiven-studium.chexternal link. The association plans to translate the content, currently available in German, into English and French as soon as possible. Potential refugee students can learn about entry requirements, finances, the Swiss education system and languages on the site, which gives specific information on the differing situations in the country’s 26 cantons and its dozens of higher education institutions. It’s the first nationwide information portal of its kind.

So far, support for refugees wanting to study at Swiss universities has involved “trial semesters”  where they can temporarily experience what studying in Switzerland is like. A refugee from Zimbabwe taking part in such a trial semester at the University of Zurich explained last year how student life in his country is vastly different from in Switzerland.

Switzerland’s asylum system functions by distributing asylum seekers and funding from the federal level to each of the country’s 26 cantons, all of which have slightly different procedures when it comes to issues like language instruction, social aid and information access. A recent study from the Federal Institute of Technology ETH Zurich and Stanford University showed that matching refugees to jobs via a data algorithm instead of the current canton-based system could increase their employment rate within three years from the current 15% to 26%.

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