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Sunday, June 13, 2021

Syrian Refugees in Germany Switch Academic Paths

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Zuca Souda, 26, a business informatics student at Nuremberg University, said there was a huge gap between German and Syrian teaching. “Around 80 percent of what I study, I learn on my own, whether from textbooks, YouTube or online courses,” she said. “You cannot just depend on what the professor gives you in lectures.”

Souda was an economics student in Aleppo before she fled to Germany five years ago. She wanted to study bio-chemical engineering and was admitted at Erlangen University, but found the field too challenging, so she switched to business informatics instead.

Filling Employment Needs

There were 1.2 million unfilled jobs in Germany in 2019 before the coronavirus pandemic hit. Training and hiring refugees helped fill those vacancies. Around 49 percent of refugees who arrived in Germany in 2015 are now employed, according to the Institute for Employment Research. (See a related article, “German Apprenticeships Get Refugees Back to Work.”)

Government employment offices coordinate with higher education institutes to encourage unemployed refugees to study fields with higher employment prospects.

Refugee students are also prompted to get personal counseling at the colleges where they wish to study, said Martin Knechtges, a spokesman for uni-assist, an association that evaluates international students’ applications for more than 170 higher education institutes in Germany. This helps them gain better knowledge of a field before officially applying.

Whether they plan to stay in Germany or return to their home countries also plays a role in students’ decisions of whether to start a new field, said Abdallah Haouchar, a student counselor at TU Berlin. Five years ago, the majority wanted to continue in their previous field, Haouchar said. People “felt that they had to do something quickly, they had to get a degree as fast as possible,” he said.

But the situation is changing. In 2019, a survey found that 77 percent of refugee students in Germany thought returning to their home countries was “unlikely” or “very unlikely.” That’s nearly a reversal of the situation in 2016, when around 80 percent were thinking of returning to Syria at some point, says Haouchar.

“Is the degree from TU Berlin recognized in Syria?” was a common question then, Haouchar said. “Now, maybe during one in 10 conversations I get that question.”

But for Modar Aldebiat, a 28-year-old from Salamiyah, in western Syria, the prospect of returning home was one of the reasons he opted for a career switch. Formerly a veterinary medicine student, he decided to start a vocational training in occupational therapy so he could help rehabilitate war victims in Syria.

“We don’t have this therapy in Syria, and we have many war-injured,” Aldebiat said. “Some come to the clinic here and can’t speak German. I feel great that I can communicate with them in their native language.”

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