CEU’s university preparatory program for people with refugee backgrounds, OLIve (Open Learning Initiative), will return this academic year, with courses offered during the winter and spring terms in Vienna. The program, OLIve-UP, is a full time, fully-funded university preparatory program for displaced people from around Europe.
“It's important to take into account the different educational backgrounds of these groups of displaced people, and how they can contribute to our rethinking pedagogies, as well as ways in which we can better build our learning community at CEU,” notes Prem Kumar Rajaram, Head of CEU OLIve and Professor in CEU’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology. “The benefits go in both directions: the students gain access to higher education, and the university re-examines and improves the learning environments it has created.”
OLIve-UP students receive intensive small-group teaching in subjects they choose, intensive academic English preparation led by highly experienced teachers, courses in academic writing and advocacy workshops. The goal of the eight-month preparatory program is for students to make successful applications into university graduate programs. At CEU, OLIve shares aspects of the university’s Roma Graduate Preparatory Program and is structured as non-degree education program. Since 2017, approximately 70% of OLIve-UP graduates have been accepted to university degree programs at both master’s and bachelor’s levels
Further illuminating the context for OLIve, Rajaram notes the systemic challenges faced by displaced people who seek to access university education: “It can require significant individual resilience, bravery and dedication as well as the capacity to overcome all sorts of obstacles. Generally in Europe, there is emphasis on getting people into work, which can lead to certain cycles of poverty because often the jobs for which displaced people immediately qualify and without certain language skills, are not really those leading to social mobility.” Rajaram additionally highlights that demands such short term residence periods in a particular country, or long shifts in grueling conditions, can hinder individuals from dedicating the focus and energy it takes to enter and complete a graduate program, which would lead to more options.
Another challenge experienced by displaced individuals seeking higher education in the EU is the potential for inadequate recognition of one’s previous education. Some people do not have formal copies of qualifications having fled a country swiftly for safety. Others have had their courses of study interrupted, and may be short of a few credits toward a degree. OLIve’s customized curricula helps bridge these gaps, acknowledging work that has already been completed along with a focus on the assessment of a student’s level of learning and critical capacity for thinking in keeping with CEU’s policy on recognizing the qualifications of refugees.
Several years ago, due to Hungarian legislation, OLIve was suspended from CEU in Budapest, after which the program relocated its work to Bard College Berlin. Here, a team of CEU student and staff worked in fundraising and praxis-oriented research on policy and pedagogy. The operations in Berlin have laid the foundation for OLIve-UP to start anew in Vienna.
During OLIve’s operations in Berlin, 13 students made successful applications to CEU Masters programs having completed the OLIve-UP preparatory program.The team in Berlin additionally led collective work on pedagogic innovation, yielding teacher and student handbooks for creating welcoming environments in university classrooms and trauma-informed teaching. These publications were produced as part of the Erasmus+ Refugee Education Initiatives (REIs) which funded OLIve's work since 2017.
With the multi-year period of the REIs consortium concluding, 2021-22 OLIve-UP activities at CEU will be funded through the Open Society University Network. Bard College Berlin and the University of East London, both part of the initial REIs work on OLIve, will continue to partner with CEU for the program.
Additional civil society organizations are also involved in OLIve’s approach, including the Cordelia Foundation, which is a team of psychiatrists and psychologists specializing in trauma. “Trauma is very much present as you would imagine in the lives of people who have been displaced. It can affect how you are as a student in a university setting and I think it's important for CEU to be aware of as we teach students with such experiences,” notes Rajaram.
On the teaching side, OLIve-UP is currently building the team of educators who will lead the January-June 2022 program. The team will be composed of professional English language teachers as well as those who teach academic subjects. Teaching through OLIve is a rich opportunity for PhD students and faculty at CEU. They develop a syllabus, work with a small group of students and then prepare participants to make an application for higher education. The graduate level courses of study for which the students plan to apply at the end of the OLIve program shape the selection of academic subject teachers.
CEU is now accepting applications to the OLIve-UP program. Individuals with a refugee background interested in applying can learn more here.