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Higher education — Refugees who want to take a higher education programme often get lost in Danish regulations and language requirements. Now – like Ousama Alnemer who is from Syria – they can get help from volunteer students.
Ousama Alnemer can hardly wait. He has applied to get in to the master’s degree programme in computer sciences at the University of Copenhagen (UCPH). He will get an answer on 1st March.
Three years ago, he fled from Damascus with his wife and two children. The 46-year-old has a bachelor’s degree from Damascus University as an electrical engineer and has worked for 10 years as a network engineer in a Syrian telecom company.
In Denmark, he has worked for an IT company and has taken a number of online courses. He has been granted a temporary residence permit for five years and wants to take a master’s degree at the Department of Computer Science.
“I really hope I get in. I hope it can be done even though I’m older than most students,” he says in English, before adding with a laugh: “I have been to language school for a year – so you can speak Danish with me.”
Ousama is one of the Syrian refugees who has received help in applying for higher education via the Student Refugees network, which was launched in the autumn of 2017. The project is run by volunteer students and is a collaboration between the Studenterhuset and the Danish Council of Students.
The project has two elements: The website studentrefugees.dk with information and contact forms for refugees who need guidance, and the so-called application café, which is held one or two times a month, where applicants can turn up and get help with their application.
Ousama turned up here in November 2017 to get advice on how to apply to UCPH when coming from a country outside the EU.
“They were very nice and professional. So I really appreciate the help I got. It’s hard to find out who to contact – as the university system is different in Syria.”
There is a ridiculous amount of rules to keep track of. I can understand you get confused when you're new to Denmark
Read more about Student Refugees in this article.
Sara Schartau, who is doing her master’s in medicine, helped Ousama Alnemer with his application. She explains that one of the challenges is that Danish universities have different application rules for those that come from a country outside the EU and for those who do not have a Danish studentereksamen diploma.
In addition, legislation on refugees is constantly changing, making it difficult for people who have a refugee background to fulfil admission requirements when they apply for higher education. “There is a ridiculous amount of rules to keep track of. I can understand you get confused when you’re new to Denmark. Many things get made complicated by you not having a Danish studentereksamen because that is what the universities presuppose. If you don’t have it, it’s a completely different process to apply for admission,” says Sara Schartau, who has helped several people write quota 2 applications in Danish.
As a medical student, she already has a tight schedule, but she volunteered because it was a specific way to do something about the refugee crisis in the EU.
“I’m also influenced by seeing people drown in the Mediterranean in the news. And in this way I feel I can make a difference for those who have reached Denmark. We often help by finding out who to contact to answer their questions. This can be difficult when you do not read and write fluent Danish,” she says.
As a doctor in general practice, you are in contact with many different people. You also have to be able to understand many life situations
Sara Schartau, medical student and volunteer
She has got something out of the work as a volunteer on both a personal and professional level.
“As a doctor in general practice, you are in contact with many different people. You also have to be able to understand many life situations. So you need to be able to listen and understand what is meant and not just what is being said,” says Sara Schartau.
Another volunteer at Student Refugees is Rie Meyer Sørensen, who is on the Migration Studies programme at the University of Copenhagen. Her volunteer work is close to the topic that she deals on her study programme, so it makes sense for her to be a volunteer:
“In my studies my focus is on highly educated migrants where I am investigating how their meeting with the education system is. So it’s nice for me to get practical experience in the field,” she says.
She explains that the biggest challenge is to understand the system and know who to get into contact with to get the right answers.
I feel that I am making a difference at an individual level, like translating an email from a student counselor or writing a motivated application.
Rie Meyer Sørensen, volunteer and student of migration studies
“It’s a process with a lot of steps, so it’s easy to lose track. It may also be a challenge to get the right exam documents from Syria and to have them translated into Danish. Sometimes I just sit and help them google who to talk get hold of.”
She herself gets a lot out of her work as a volunteer, she says:
“There are lots of places you can volunteer, but here you meet a lot of different people and hear their stories. I feel that I am making a difference at an individual level, like translating an email from a student counselor or writing a motivated application. So it will be exciting to see who actually gets in 1st March,” says Rie Meyer Sørensen.
In his apartment in Sorø, Ousama Alnemer is keeping his fingers crossed. He gets his response in March – and it’s a long time to wait when it is still January. If he does not get in, he does have a plan B however.
“Then i would like to study to be an electrical engineer. My hope is to get work in an IT company. The most important thing is that i have a got a network in Denmark. Over the course of the last two years I have, for example, been certified in the Microsoft programme Azure.”