Knowledge Instead of School Transcripts

Many refugees come to Germany without diplomas or proof of their previous training. Without school transcripts they can't go on to study at a university – but the University of Saarbrücken makes an exception.

The university chair of Saarland decided in fall 2015 to start a pilot project that puts emphasis on the knowledge of people interested in studying, not their transcript papers. Those entitled to asylum, in addition to acknowledged refugees, who weren't able to bring their transcripts with them, are able to take a test to gain entry into a MINT programme of study. MINT courses are mathematic, scientific, or mathematical in nature. Friederike Meyer zu Tittingdorf, media spokeswoman for the University of Saarland, sits down with me to an interview to discuss the opportunities the programme offers refugees.

Why are seats being offered in MINT courses in particular?

Because we don't have limitations there for German students either, and because we have the available capacity to accept new students. Above all, it's an area in which there is a lack of skilled laborours, and in which refugees have a chance to get into the job market. We could get more MINT graduates into the job market when more of them leave the university.

Will the University of Saarbrücken be dependent on refugees – among others – to increase its number of students in the future?

That's an interesting topic. The number of students completing their entrance exams has diminished, there has been more of a demographic shift in Saarland than in other federal states, and the time it takes for students to prepare for entrance exams has decreased. Besides, we were one of the first federal states that implemented the G8 (eight-year-long gymnasium, “high school”) over the past few years. Those in Saarland who go to high school for twice as long have completed almost all their university coursework. We have to begin to ask ourselves how we’re going to fill certain courses. Refugees will only make up a small percentage. It’s much more the case that we see many international students who are coming here to complete their masters programmes, in addition to German students from other federal states.

How is the project advertised to reach refugees?

We've tried to communicate a lot through the media, so through newspapers, television, and radio, for example, so that Saarlanders who have taken in refugees or who provide assistance in the shelters can hear about the programme and then share it with refugees. But it’s also gone beyond Saarland. We've seen a number of applicants from other federal states. We’ve also shared a lot on social media, through which we've even looked to find relevant platforms that list refugee aid projects.

The offer then quickly spread; shortly before Christmas we hosted an informational event where the lecture hall was completely packed.

What does the entrance exam look like?

It consists of two parts: the first part tests the applicant’s mathematical knowledge. The questions were developed by both professors and higher education instructors in accordance with Saarland’s standards for maths. The second part consists of an aptitude test that tests logical thinking, for example.

Those who complete the exam with good scores have the opportunity to enroll in a year-long German program at the university. After that, first year students can then enroll in MINT courses.

Thanks for sitting down to talk with me.

Education without documents or transcripts – in numbers

  • The first entrance exam took place in October 2015, and 13 successful applicants have since been taking a German course at the University of Saarland

  • A mathematics course began in 2016 as preparation for the entrance exam

  • The entrance exam takes place for the second time in February 2016, with roughly 50 seats planned for the German language course.

Lara Render
19 years old, Nancy (France)
. . . loves to get to know other cultures by meeting other people.