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Preparatory study year for refugee students

Clothes designer, manager at a multinational or dermatologist: the twenty refugee students who are taking part in the Preparatory Study Year in Leiden (VJL) are burning with ambition. The study year started on Thursday 26 January in festive style.

Many of the students from Syria, Iran and Congo who are taking part in the VJL have completed a study in their country of origin, and are now hoping to pick up the thread again in the Netherlands. 'They already have the knowledge they need, but they have problems with the language and the high admission requirements, and the education system in the Netherlands is different from what they are used to,' coordinator Hildegard Aerden explains.

Dream study

Last year, Aerden put together a special teaching programme so she could give better guidance to refugee students: the Preparatory Study Year in Leiden (VJL). The programme is a partnership between Leiden University, the Hogeschool Leiden and UAF (a foundation for refugee students). The university and the UAF have already signed a  partnership agreement setting out their intention to do more for refugee students. This agreement was a response to a call from Leiden alderman Marleen Damen to facilite the entrance of refugee students into higher education and to address any shortfalls in their prior education. 

Crash course

During the VJL, students are trained for their dream study at an academic university or a university of applied sciences. 'You can see it as a kind of crash course,' Aerden, who teaches Dutch to the students, explains. We also focus on English, maths, history and research skills, as well as practical issues like how to borrow books from the library and norms of social behaviour  in the Netherlands. 'That could cover such things as  the Dutch habit of being very direct, or how to conduct a job interview.' 

Court of Audit

A recent - alarming - report by the Court of Audit in the Netherlands, confirmed that there is an urgent need for this guidance, comments Albert de Voogd, head of Student Supervision at UAF. The report concluded that status holders have difficulty completing language and acculturation courses on their own. 'The Court of Audit has hit the nail on the head.  These refugee students need better supervision and we can't continue to ignore that.' 

Dutch please

Asem Mansour (20) from Syria is very pleased with this extra help. 'Thanks to the VJL, I now have a chance of completing a study in the Netherlands.' Asem fled two years ago to the Netherlands and dreams of starting his own clothing company. 'Having my name on clothes labels: that's my dream.' He hopes to start studying Commercial Economy in September. 'Then I can learn how to sell my clothes. When asked whether he prefers to speak Dutch or English, he replies firmly: 'Dutch please. The only way to learn it is by practising as much as I can.' He fellow students are of the same mind. 

One of these students is Yassen Haskal (30). He still has some difficulties with Dutch, but it's getting better, he says. Yassen obtained his Master's in Business Administration in the Syrian capital Damascus. He hopes that byfollowing the VJL he will broaden his chances on the job market. Although his diploma is recognised in the Netherlands, the language barrier is making it difficult for him to find a job.  ‘If I were a manager, I wouldn't hire myself either. I don't speak the language well enough.'  In September he wants to start the Master's in Economics and Governance at Leiden University. And after that? 'I want to work in an international company, as a manager, and, who knows - maybe one day I'll become a CEO. The sky's the limit!’

Museum pass

Student association LSV Minerva had a nice surprise for the students: twenty museum passes so they could get to know more about Dutch history and culture. The association's charities committee has chosen UAF as its target for funding for this year. One of the ways of raising funds is to increase the price of the beer by 20 cents. 'That soon adds up,' comments spokesman Jochem Nielsen with a broad smile.

Refugee students can sign up for the September 2017 start of the Preparatory Year Leiden from 25 March. After an introductory meeting a selection procedure follows. More information is available on the website of Hogeschool Leiden.

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