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This German startup helps refugees take courses from universities like Harvard and Yale

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This German startup helps refugees take courses from universities like Harvard and Yale

WATCH  | Berlin-based Kiron offers a way for refugees to access a college education.

That was not so easy and so possible because I needed the language. I needed the papers and everything.

Sajida was one month into her college education when she fled Syria in 2014. She dreamed of becoming a civil engineer. 

When Sajida, (who asked that we not use her last name) her mother and three siblings arrived in Germany she was hopeful she could resume her studies.  

We literally started off with a piece of paper, one page and wrote down our idea.
Vincent Zimmer, Kiron co-founder

Enrolling in a host country’s university can be daunting. Refugees need to speak the language fluently to keep up with the course work. They also need to have official transcripts for their credits to transfer over.

Three young Germans came up with a solution. 

They launched Kiron, a free online learning platform based in Berlin, named after Chiron, the centaur from Greek mythology known for his teaching abilities.

To enroll, applicants only need basic English skills and proof of their refugee status. Kiron now has some 2,300 students taking online courses from prestigious universities including Harvard, Yale and Stanford. After two years, they can transfer their credits to one of Kiron’s 41 partner universities and finish their degree on campus.


With support from foundations and corporate donors, Kiron has expanded beyond Germany since its 2015 launch -- with offices in France, Turkey and Jordan. 

When asked about Kiron's success, product manager Florian Ruecker credited the organization's "scalable" model. 

"We can offer a very cost-effective solution and offer this to a lot of people. [It] allows us to also look into a future where we have a lot more students," Ruecker said. 

According to the U.N. Refugee Agency, just one percent of refugees attend a university, compared to 34 percent of the general population. In Syria specifically, fewer than 6 percent of 18-24 year-olds are enrolled in a university, compared to a quarter of the same age group before the war.

Kiron isn’t the only organization working toward a solution. SPARK, a Dutch NGO, gives full scholarships to 1,500 Syrians each year. Jusoor, an organization led by Syrian expatriates, has awarded nearly 500 college scholarships. 

I would love to go back and help somehow in rebuilding the country if it's fine by then.

Syria’s six-year long war has robbed an entire generation of their education -- a generation that will ultimately have to rebuild the country if and when they return.  After she graduates, Sajida hopes she can go back to Syria and put her engineering degree to use.  

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