By Tamar Bot
— Since January 4th, ten refugee students have joined Dutch language classes at AUC. Twenty-three other students are joining classes taught voluntarily by AUC students. This programme is the pilot of a larger project, with which AUC staff and students hope to contribute to the extension of educational opportunities for refugees in the Netherlands.
The guest students were recruited from various refugee centres in the Amsterdam area. The overwhelming majority is from Syria, while three students are from Uganda, Afghanistan and Iran.
During January, AUC has an intensive period in which students take one course on a daily basis; the refugee students will be joining the regular sections of Dutch A1 as part of the 25 students in the class. Costs for this will be covered by AUC. Twenty-three other refugee students will be taught the same course material by student volunteers.
The system is supposed to expand after January. “We want students to enroll in the full AUC programme next academic year, but it requires time to organize that,” said Sennay Ghebreab, Head of Studies for Social Sciences and one of the initiators of the programme. Several faculty members and students have been working on the development of the programme since September. Besides Ghebreab, this working group consists of Acting Dean Ramon Puras, College Council member and professor Hilla Dayan, professors Ernst van den Hemel and Anne de Graaf, Student Council members Tanushree Kaushal and Anouk ter Linde, Peer Supporter Lisa Maza and Graduate Intern Michael Vermeer.
Most of the organisation is currently led by the student initiative Right to Education at AUC. “As part of the Student Council, I got lots of other people involved,” said Kaushal.
One of these people is Andrea Haefner, who is in charge of Right to Education’s internal and external communications. “Because we could only have 10 students in the regular class, we wanted to offer more refugees the chance to study here,” said Haefner. Before Christmas break, the idea to have AUC students teaching emerged, and from there, things went fast. The student group organized information sessions at the refugee centres in order to recruit appropriate students, and took charge of providing the guest students with books and transportation. Besides Kaushal and Haefner, Right to Education consists of students Els van Dam, coordinator of the classes and class material; Nini Pieters, in charge of the social activities; Lena Reim, coordinator of the homework assistance and Ellen Ackroyd, in charge of the buddy system. Furthermore, Student Council member Ter Linde is in charge of the coordination and communication with the refugee centres.
Right to Education has set up a buddy system which links every guest student to a current AUC student, to enable them to experience AUC student life by participating in social activities as a group or individually with the student they’re partnered with. Yesterday, for example, most of the guest students have joined ASUSA’s Down To Earth Dinner at AUCafé. These activities are entirely financed from donations, as are the books for the language course, class materials and lunches for the guest students.
Every day before and after class, from 9 till 6 o’clock, the guest students have the opportunity to do their online homework on laptops lent out by AUC and AUC students. In this homework lab, AUC students who are native in Dutch are available to answer questions.
“We’re seeing some true desire to help out,” said Ackroyd.
Starting February, the guest students will most likely be able to join classes informally, provided individual teachers choose to open their lectures up to them. Ultimately, the plan is to officially admit students who are eligible for education in the Netherlands for the full three years, but this is not simple.
“Many refugees don’t have their diplomas and paperwork with them,” said Maza. Therefore it is complex to officially register them as students at AUC. However, according to Maza, it is important not to make their background as refugees the framework of evaluation. “I think we should see them simply as international students who need a different procedure because of practical circumstances,” she said. The working group is currently looking into the specifics of the legal and administrative possibilites.
Even though it is yet uncertain how the programme will develop, the pilot already is the start of something bigger — something that gives AUC’s faculty and student body the opportunity to set a leading example for other universities. The University of Amsterdam, for example, is currently exploring possibilites to develop a similar programme. “They are actually taking us as an example,” Ghebreab said.