Academic dugnad: joining forces for inclusion
A recent report of the UN Refugee Agency highlights the challenge at hand: the report says that 1 % of refugee youth go to university. For youth around the world the corresponding figure is 34 %. This is a stark inequity that calls for collective action.
Offering higher education to those qualified is a win-win, if there is ever such a thing. Our Academic Dugnad (see website) is an effort to integrate refugees and asylum seekers into our educational system.
The term “dugnad” derives from Old Norse ”dugnaðr” and aptly describes the nature of the action required. “Dugnad” captures in a single word what could best be described as a good deed or voluntary work done as a community or collective. What else is a university but a community – a community of students and scholars. It is this community that must take the lead in a collective action for inclusion of qualified refugees and asylum seekers.
The task at hand is complex and demands that partnerships be formed with relevant authorities and organizations. Of particular importance in our own country is the Norwegian Agency for Quality Assurance in Education (NOKUT), which is responsible for authorization schemes for education abroad. On 23 November, NOKUT will be hosting a seminar entitled Integrating refugees in higher education. My speech on this occasion will address the need to “join forces for inclusion”. I will emphasize how important it is to recruit the energy and competence of the range of actors that must co-operate for the “dugnad” to succeed.
Among these actors are the municipality, NOKUT, and the Norwegian Association of Higher Education Institutions (UHR), as well as other higher education institutions including the Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences that has been our partner from the very beginning.
In collaboration with the municipality of Oslo – and under the umbrella of Academic Dugnad - we have established an academic internship programme as part of the two year’s Introduction Programme for Refugees. This programme is available for refugees with an academic background, allowing them to apply for internships in academic environments similar to those they were forced to leave. The aim is to ensure that the time spent in the introduction programme is put to good use in preparing for future studies and a relevant career. The principles embedded in this programme have been adopted by HE institutions and municipalities around the country.
Language is a hurdle to overcome for inclusion to occur. I am happy to announce that our brand new MOOC entitled Introduction to Norwegian is now open for registration. This is a four week language course that will be launched on January 16, 2017. The course is available free of charge for all HE institutions and organizations and is meant to facilitate integration and inclusion. I extend my thanks to the Department of Linguistics and Scandinavian Studies, Faculty of Humanities, for preparing this MOOC in record time.
The enormous contrast in HE participation rates between refugee youth and youth in general highlights the need to facilitate the transition from “camp to campus”. Esther Nyakong (18) used this apt phrase when she stated that «I want to be the girl that made it from the camp to campus and from a refugee to a neurosurgeon.» She is a native of Juba, South Sudan, but currently lives in the Kakuma camp in Kenya. Esther personifies the ambitions embedded in our Academic Dugnad. Her story should be an inspiration to us all.