France is experiencing an unprecedented influx of refugees. 252,264  (UNHCR 2014 data) were residing in France in and this number is growing rapidly every day. President François Hollande has pledged to take in 31,000 more Syrian refugees in the next two years. Camps in Calais and Paris are overflowing, although regularly they are cleared and refugees moved to social housing. The French government has promised to fast track applications towards a ten year residence permit.

Refugees, asylum seekers and displaced people in crisis regions face exceptional obstacles when accessing higher education in their host or home countries. In the 2013 Global Trends Report, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees identified the main challenges

  1. lack of legal documentation;
  2. high international student fees;
  3. lack of educational institutions’ capacity as well as;
  4. language barriers.

These hurdles prevent people to live up to their potential and therefore, lead to higher integration costs for host countries.

Description of the initiative

Kiron University is a non-governmental, non-profit organisation , whose mission is to remove the barriers for displaced people to access higher education. The students will complete the first two years online and the third year at one of our partner universities. The degrees that we offer are accredited thanks to cooperation with partner universities. By virtue of this concept, refugees can

  1. study without legal documents,
  2. do not have to pay tuition fees
  3. an enrolment capacity to accommodate all interested students, and
  4. opportunities for language courses.

    Currently Kiron is offering degree programs in Business, Engineering, Architecture, Computer Science and Inter-Cultural studies.

Although designed as a three year programme, many students will require longer than that to complete the program, especially if they do not have the English language skills required to follow online courses, or the language skills required to join the partner university.

Any refugee can apply to study with Kiron, but they must have official documents stating that they are a refugee or asylum seekers. Indeed, they can begin to study without having the refugee status. If they are in the asylum application process, it must be provided before the final year at the partner university.

Our surveys suggest 65 percent of refugees in the 15- 30 age bracket would like to go to University, but do not have the documents required. 95 percent plan to stay in France. Assisting them in gaining a degree and learning both French and English will not only aid their integration into society but offer them better employment prospects.

Implementation of the initiative

The two years of online studies are enabled through Massive Open Online Courses and Small Private Online Courses (MOOCs & SPOCs). These courses originate from world-class universities like Harvard, Stanford, MIT and Yale, which are already openly accessible to everyone in the cloud through providers like edX, Hasso Plattner Institute and iversity. We collaborate with these providers, take their open source online courses, and combine them with the latest e-learning technology to create study modules. Our partner universities count the credits of these online courses and give the students the opportunity to accomplish their last year on-site at the local campus. So far, we have been able to pave the way for five accredited degrees, with around 400 courses to choose from. Currently, we are negotiating with over 30 universities at the moment and are open for further academic partnerships. Our partner universities include the University of the People in New York (Computer Science), Macro Media University of Applied Sciences in Berlin (Intercultural Studies), University of Lüneburg (Language School), and the Open University of West Africa (Computer Science, Entrepreneurship), the University of Heilbronn (Business) and the University of York (Teaching).

We are collaborating with Keepod, SAP, Google for Education, and Dropbox. These organisations will provide laptops and the necessary software, for some of our students, in order to bridge the technology gap. As partners, Samsung, Facebook ( and Telecom will provide the hardware and internet connection for our students.

All our courses will be provided in English, with the option of subtitles in other languages. To help our students to learn English, French and other foreign languages, we are collaborating with Duolingo, the language center Instituto Cultural Colombo Alemán (ICCA), the university of Lüneburg and the Open University of West Africa. Volunteers give language lessons to refugees to improve their English and French. Professors from Sciences Po and other Universities have also offered to teach sessions in the classrooms in their subjects. In addition, we will organise spaces where our students can interact in person, either on the campus of partner universities or within our office spaces.

Resources dedicated to the initiative

Financial sources

Budget dedicated to the project or programme: aiming for 15,000 € per year

Main financial source: Initially a grant from the Berlin head office, crowd funding and donations, then sponsorship in the future.


Refugees gaining degree, which is measured by how many refugees gain a degree after studying with Kiron.

Refugees learning French (in order to study in Paris) and English (in order to take the majority of online courses).

Critical success factors

Kiron Paris has found from surveys and discussions with both refugees and social workers that many refugees do want to go to university, and this project facilitates it.

Biggest obstacles

Kiron Paris is looking for funding and for partner Universities. All Universities we have contacted so far have been keen, but it takes a few weeks to go through the system and make the necessary agreements.  Kiron Paris also needs funding and is currently in the process of applying for funding from different avenues.

Furthermore, Kiron Paris requires an office space large enough for both the volunteer staff to work from and students to study in.

Starting date

15th January 2015

The organisation

Kiron University is a non-governmental, non-profit organisation, whose mission is to remove the barriers for displaced people to access higher education. The students will complete the first two years online and the third year at one of our partner universities.