Copyright: University of Konstanz

Safe space for students at risk

Training programme to support students in the Hilde Domin-Programme – offered by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and the University of Konstanz.

The political upheavals of our time are largely driven by the participation of young people. In many authoritarian countries, students are increasingly at risk: They are part of a generation that is politically active. They are well-informed and connected, often politically involved and willing to put themselves in danger because of their ideals. They talk about problems openly – and are persecuted by autocratic rulers as a result.

The Hilde Domin-Programme provides academic safe spaces for students and doctoral researchers who have been forced to flee their countries. Starting in March 2023, the University of Konstanz will provide a four-year training programme for about 160 scholarship recipients in the Hilde Domin-Programme. The goal is to provide continuing education for students in exile who might play a key role in reconstructing their own countries at a later stage. The programme also teaches intercultural competencies in order to enable the participants to get a better foothold in Germany.

"All of the students fled their countries, often because of their own political activism. All of them came to Germany on short notice and because they were in danger. They have no idea whether they can go back or whether they will ever see their families again", explains Judith Beyer, professor of Political Anthropology at the University of Konstanz. Along with Anke Hoeffler, Wolfgang Seibel and Ulrich Wacker, Judith Beyer initiated the programme in collaboration with the DAAD and the Federal Foreign Office.

"Within this programme, the University of Konstanz is supporting Germany's strategy of academic diplomacy: research connects people from around, generating innovative ideas for a better future”, says Anke Hoeffler, professor of Development Policy at the University of Konstanz.

Training programme for students
The four-year programme provides students with additional training in the social sciences in face-to-face classes in Konstanz as well as online. The topics include democracy, federalism and the rule of law, social integration and the balance of interests, as well as climate change and the effects of the Anthropocene. Ethnographic case studies address the specific situation in students' countries of origin. The programme brings together perspectives from very diverse disciplines, such as economics, law, politics and public administration, psychology and (political) anthropology.

The training programme emphasizes promoting the individual student as well as strengthening their intercultural competencies, e.g. through leadership development, team building, networking and integrative transferable skills.

"The Hilde Domin-Programme sets new standards for feminist foreign academic policy, as this funding line not only targets women but also other marginalized and discriminated groups of students. These students are prepared to take on a future leadership role not only in the context of the University of Konstanz's programme", says Christian Hülshörster, director of the corresponding division at the DAAD in Bonn.

"Carefully crafted"
For the programme, the broad cultural and linguistic diversity of its participants is not the only challenge. Many of the students had traumatic experiences when fleeing their countries. The programme organizers are well aware of this fact, which is why they have carefully selected teaching formats and course content accordingly. For example, all lecturers have the option to receive training in psycho-traumatology in preparation for their courses. "The programme has been carefully crafted", emphasizes Wolfgang Seibel, a professor of Politics and Public Administration at the University of Konstanz. "Our lecturers really pour their whole heart into it."

Building on past experience with the "Leadership for Syria" programme
The University of Konstanz drew on its experience with creating and organizing this type of programme. Its accompanying politics and social studies programme for the DAAD's 2017 "Leadership for Syria" programme laid the groundwork for the current concept. "We have the structure, the staff capacity and the commitment for this job. We did not have to reinvent the wheel", Wolfgang Seibel says.

Under the leadership of Ulrich Wacker, the Academy of Advanced Studies (AWW) at the University of Konstanz played a key role in both formats, providing the organizational and logistical support, as well as the virtual teaching and learning environment. "As a university, we have consistently developed a model for providing services that makes training programmes like the Hilde Domin-Programme possible. These kinds of programmes are an important building block of our university's social and political contributions in the areas of continuing university education and transfer", explains Ulrich Wacker.

Programme to protect research and freedom
In her speech on international cultural and education policy on 25 January 2023, Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs Annalena Baerbock said: "By promoting freedom in culture, research and media, we strengthen the freedom and security of people, too. This is why, in the current situation, we have expanded protective programmes like the Hilde Domin-Programme whose first scholarship recipient was Nickey Diamond from Myanmar."

"This is exactly where we come in", emphasizes Judith Beyer. "The Hilde Domin-Programme provides an academic safe space for students at risk that enables them to continue their political activism. Our training programme aims to strengthen these students individually as well as to prepare them for playing a role in shaping the future of their own countries."

Key facts:

  • Four-year training programme for 160 students who have received a scholarship in the Hilde Domin-Programme from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and the German Federal Foreign Office.
  • Programme organized and carried out by the University of Konstanz and its Academy of Advanced Studies (AWW).
  • On-campus phase starts 22 March 2022.
  • Based on earlier programme "Leadership for Syria” (2017).