"Education, Participation, Integration – Erasmus+ and Refugees"

Speech by Thomas Rachel, Parliamentary State Secretary to the Federal Minister of Education and Research in Essen, Zeche Zollverein

Thomas Rachel, Parlamentarischer Staatssekretär bei der Bundesministerin für Bildung und Forschung, während seiner Rede
Thomas Rachel, Parlamentarischer Staatssekretär bei der Bundesministerin für Bildung und Forschung, während seiner Rede © Jörg Heupel

Mr Fahle,
Ms Abbas,
Mr Tietväinen,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

We are facing a great humanitarian challenge: Hundreds of thousands of people – mainly young people – are coming to Europe, fleeing from war and repression. First of all, these refugees need food, shelter and medical care. But beside providing these basic necessities, we must also consider another problem: How can we integrate these large numbers of people seeking refuge in Europe? In my view, the answer should be "Education". Education is the key to integration.

I therefore greatly welcome that this conference addresses the topic of "Education, Participation, Integration – Erasmus+ and Refugees".

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Education is now more important than ever considering current developments in the refugee crisis.

More than half of all the people fleeing from war and violence in their home countries and arriving in Germany are under 25 years of age, which means they need education and training.

  • Access to the labour market is not possible without education and training.
  • Social participation is hardly possible without training and employment.
  • Successful integration is impossible without training, employment and participation.

In other words: Integration will only succeed if we welcome the refugees arriving in Germany and Europe by offering them a broad range of education and training programmes which meet the most varied educational needs. This is the only way to enable these young people to view their future positively. We must give them an opportunity to develop their own visions. This will help them recognize and use their own potential and achieve personal and economic success.

My Ministry, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, has launched various initiatives in recent months in order to provide such educational opportunities to young people in particular.

Our first set of measures focuses on such practical aspects as German language programmes, recognition of qualifications, identification of individual potential, and integration in training and employment. Our second set of measures helps refugees gain access to higher education and supports the universities in this effort.

Let me give you a few details:

The first big package of measures focuses on proven instruments which we are developing further. Our goal is to achieve integration through training: Tried and tested instruments such as career orientation will be used to support the integration of refugees.

My Ministry is operating a joint initiative with the Federal Employment Agency and the German Confederation of Skilled Crafts. We want to provide young refugees who are no longer required to attend school with integration courses as well as general and specific career orientation in order to enable them to start training for a skilled trade in a German company.

Furthermore, we will expand the network of the KAUSA Coordinating Office Vocational Training and Migration, and we will also strengthen the intercultural skills of trainers in companies and teachers in vocational schools.

Our efforts to support integration through training will, however, only be successful if we know about the qualifications acquired by each and every individual. We will therefore develop and adapt the instrument of potential analysis, which supports young people in their career choices, to meet the needs of young refugees. The German Recognition Act also contributes substantially to the identification and recognition of qualifications previously acquired by refugees and migrants as a basis for further steps towards integration.

Support for refugees must, of course, be provided at local level. We are assisting our local authorities in their efforts to strengthen local educational management, and we are expanding our "Culture is Strength. Educational Alliances" programme to include measures for young refugees.

And last but not least, language skills are essential for successful integration. From shopping to communication with public authorities – mastering the challenges of everyday life is difficult for people who do not speak German. Language skills are also essential for participation in school classes and training programmes. Learning German is among the major elements which ensure that people have fully arrived in Germany. We are providing an app which helps refugees learn German. Another app is available which helps them acquire professional skills. But apps are not enough to guarantee success. Learning mentors cooperate with teachers to help refugees make quick progress in understanding and speaking German. Training is offered for volunteers who want to become learning mentors.

This is an ambitious package indeed. We will spend an additional 130 million euros on these measures over the next few years. But we are not alone in addressing this huge challenge. Many local partners have become involved and contribute their share. I would like to take this opportunity to express my sincere thanks for their support.

But this is not the end of the story. We have launched a second package of measures which targets people who want to enter university.

No systematic survey has so far been conducted concerning the refugees' individual educational biographies. Nevertheless, we estimate that between 30,000 and 50,000 refugees are qualified for entrance to higher education. The German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees reported for 2015 that almost one third of the asylum seekers aged over 20 had attended an institution of higher education (13%) or an upper secondary school (18%). As much as 25% of Syrian refugees had attended higher education programmes and another 25% secondary education classes. This means that many refugees have great potential which we should develop systematically.

We want to give access to higher education to all the newly arrived who wish to take up a degree course and have acquired the necessary qualifications. My Ministry is supporting the universities in this effort because they play a key role in integration through education. International exchanges have become an established feature of higher education. German universities have gained extensive experience with international students over many years. We can now build on this experience. I am convinced that accepting and integrating the refugees will help us gain new insights which will benefit our own system. This is why we support the universities in the identification of the individuals' potential and skills and the development of language and subject-related competence in the transition to higher education and the integration at universities – for example by means of student initiatives. We have earmarked roughly 27 million euros for this purpose this year, and by 2019 we will have spent a total of about 100 million euros on relevant national measures.

All these measures pursue major integration targets. We want to encourage and promote inclusion, diversity, equal opportunities, gender equity and non-discrimination with our national efforts. And we want to combat violence, racism and discrimination by advancing the development of social, civil and intercultural skills. After all, one thing is certain: Successful integration into training, employment and society will benefit everybody.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Germany is making an enormous effort to integrate the refugees with good chances of staying here. At the same time, we are aware that we cannot solve the refugee challenge on our own. We clearly need cooperation at European level. Addressing global challenges in a joint effort will become an increasingly important mission for Europe which will strengthen the community of Member States.

And what would be better suited to stimulate European participation and integration than the EU's "Erasmus+" education programme.

None of the other European education programmes can compare with Erasmus+ when it comes to fostering political dialogue and the development of cross-sectoral education projects in 32 countries. Erasmus+ thus plays a unique role in meeting current challenges. The European Union is providing roughly 14.7 billion euros for this purpose until 2020.

Particularly in the current migrant and refugee crisis, Erasmus+ is the most important platform for a European dialogue on education, training and youth matters. We must use the programme and its instruments wisely in order to

  • first analyze the needs of the mostly young refugees arriving in Europe,
  • identify existing activities, approaches and solutions and then
  • fill the gap with concrete measures to provide the traumatized young refugees with good prospects for their future.

Erasmus+ is the perfect environment in which to develop and upgrade existing instruments. Erasmus+ allows dialogue between educators, teachers, trainers, youth workers and stakeholders in industry and civil society from different educational sectors and 32 European countries. What other programme has set out to do so?

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Many good projects have already been funded under Erasmus+ and its predecessor programmes "Youth in Action" and "Lifelong Learning". They have developed innovative measures and approaches to support migrants in our society. We would be ill-advised not to use them in the face of today's challenges – and then explore jointly where new approaches are needed to close the gaps.

This is a big task indeed, which will also affect, and possibly challenge, the national education systems in Europe. But it also entails the great advantage of enabling development and growth in our education systems.

The European level in education is where we can still learn a great deal from each other. We should use this opportunity most effectively.

Recent developments in many European countries show that we often take the European dimension for granted in many areas, ignoring the specific assets of the European Union. At the same time, Erasmus+ clearly demonstrates how education and Europe are creating a genuine value added at all levels.

The philosopher Hegel said that education is the ability to see things from someone else's point of view. In other words: Getting to know other people and cultures promotes tolerance. And tolerance is a key to peaceful coexistence in all societies. Tolerance is particularly relevant in view of the diversity of our society. The current situation is a good example: the many people leaving their home countries and coming here are making us prove that we not only demand tolerance, but are tolerant ourselves. This is where Erasmus+ and its predecessor programmes achieved a great deal in the past and where invaluable contributions can be expected in the future because people who have had to cope in a foreign country can better understand the challenges that today's refugees are facing. Erasmus+ promotes intercultural understanding.

European support for the development of intercultural understanding and concrete projects which provide employable skills will enable us to properly address the enormous challenge of migrant and refugee integration.

This conference will give the starting signal for many additional measures. Beside general issues such as recognition of qualifications and teaching language skills, we still need to address a large number of specific challenges in individual sectors. I am convinced that Erasmus+ with all its facets, players and expertise is excellently equipped to help us find answers to the most pressing issues related to integration through education.

I wish us all great success and would like to thank you for your Attention.