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First refugee students graduate from Preparatory Year in Leiden

Happy students and proud families, friends and lecturers; on 13 July the first fifteen refugee students graduated from the Preparatory Year for teaching in Leiden. They started a programme in September at a Dutch university of applied sciences or an academic university. 'This is just the start!'

They come from Iran and Syria, where they originally started or in some cases completed a bachelor's programme. With the support of the Hogeschool Leiden, Leiden University and the Foundation for Refugee Students (UAF), the fifteen students have now completed the Preparatory Year in Leiden (VJL) to rectify their knowledge shortfall and to bring their Dutch and English up to the required level. They were presented with their VJL certificates in the Hortus Botanicus in Leiden. The VJL is a starting qualification for Dutch higher eduction. The students can now carry on with their education from where they had to stop back in their home countries. 

The students from the Preparatory Year listening to the personal speeches for each student who earned a diploma.

Useful but hard work

Mido Alshamali (21) is enthusiastic about getting started: in September he will be studying Biology and Medical Lab Research at Hogeschool Leiden. ‘The past year has been useful but also hard work. Dutch was difficult at the start; not speaking Dutch also makes the other subjects, like chemistry, difficult.' Mido studied medicine in Syria. 'But the level of the programme there is lower than here, so here you find yourself in higher general education (HAVO).'

Study skills

‘The same applies to the majority of the refugee students in the Netherlands,' Hildeard Aerden explains. She is coordinator of the VJL. 'The VJL is intended for brushing up subject knowledge and also improving students' Dutch and English. But we also pay a lot of attention to study skills. Our Dutch education system is so different from what these students are used to. They have often never done a group assignment, for example!' The lessons in the VJL, given by teachers from Leiden University and the Hogeschool, include a lot of group assignments and presentations to compensate. 

The right programme

In November twenty refugee students started the programme, fifteen of whom received their certificate on 13 July. Many of them will go on to universities of applied sciences, in Leiden or The Hague, Two students will be going to Erasmus University Rotterdam. Aerden: ‘Finding and choosing the right follow-up study programme is an important aspect of the VJL. We give students active guidance in making their choice: what can you do and what's the right kind of study for you? With this guidance, a number of the students have already switched to an intermediate vocational programme.’

One of the students from the Preparatory Year talking with her teachers after the presentation of the awards.

At the presentation ceremony, Albert de Voogd, head of Student Supervision at UAF, addressed the students. ‘You have given an excellent performance; this was a tough year. But bear in mind that this is just the start. In your studies you will have many difficult times. I encourage all of you to seek contact with fellow students, so that you can become part of the student community.' De Voogd also complimented Leiden University and the Hogeschool on having set up this excellent project in such a short time. 

Proud

The chraiman of the Executive Board of Hogeschool Leiden, Sander van den Eijnden, presented the students with their certificates. 'I am extremely proud of you. Higher education in the Netherlands is of a very high standard and you have managed to be admitted to a study programme here. I look forward to seeing some of you back in the corridors here next year!' Mido, too, is proud of having completed this study. Sporting a broad grin he joins his fellow students for a photo. 'This is a great moment, and then in August I'm going to give a party with my football team.' He is looking forward to starting his study programme and to the EL CID.'  And after that?  'I want to pass my study, and then find a good job. Just like every other first-year student!' 

Photos: Tjeerd Dijkstra