It’s not just since Russian troops invaded Ukraine, sparking Europe’s latest war, that the mdw has been striving to make it possible for refugees to study at our institution. In such situations, low-threshold access to a university can become an enormously relevant opportunity: being forced to flee one’s country frequently also entails the interruption of one’s education and difficulty accessing educational institutions in one’s new country of residence.
Forced displacement can have many causes: war and violence, human rights violations, hunger, climate change, and last but not least the fear of persecution on account of one’s identity. Common to all of these reasons for fleeing a country is fear for one’s own life. It is remarkable how displacement is criminalised in the present-day media and political discourse, how racist propaganda is used to turn the right to lead one’s own life into a pawn for political ambitions. In recent years, asylum has increasingly been viewed as a synonym for “illegal” migration, as a problem and a danger, and—sadly—less and less often as what it is: a fundamental human right.
As early as the 1990s, during the Bosnian War, the mdw enabled students of the Academy of Music in Sarajevo to continue their studies free from bureaucratic hassles. And more recently, following the summer of 2015 and its “refugee crisis” (which was more a crisis of European border policy), the mdw joined forces with the rest of Austria’s public universities in the refugee initiative MORE run by Universities Austria (UniKo). MORE participants can enrol in courses as non-degree students, thereby becoming acquainted with university life here and—above all—the artistic and academic content on offer at the mdw.
During the late 2010s, it was a modest number of MORE students—mainly from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan—who were enrolled. This period witnessed participation by Afghan students in a research project on Afghan music in Vienna at the Department of Folk Music Research and Ethnomusicology, a project in which their linguistic and musical knowledge were central to the investigation. The past few years had witnessed declining participation in the MORE programme at the mdw, as had also been the case at most of Austria’s universities. But despite this fact, UniKo and the individual universities’ MORE coordinators agreed: MORE was to be continue, independent from acute reasons for displacement, wars, or catastrophes. After all, forced displacement is an ongoing phenomenon.
Sadly, February 2022 saw the MORE programme take on renewed currency and urgency: refugees from Ukraine showed great interest in continuing their studies at our university, in restarting the educational pursuits they’d been forced to drop as the war began. At breakneck speed, mdw’s MORE coordinator joined forces with the Vice Rectorate for Organizational Development, Gender & Diversity, the Vice Rectorate for Academic Affairs and Young Artists’ Promotion, and the Studies Center to develop a programme specially adapted to the needs of Ukrainian students. Central here is affording such students the opportunity to make contact with faculty who teach in their respective areas of artistic specialisation while also gathering informal experience in the context of artistic instruction that was previously inaccessible to non-degree MORE students. Representatives of the various fields of study and departments advise MORE students on an individual basis, which is of great value particularly when it comes to preparing for the artistic components of entrance examinations. What’s more, the Austrian National Bank donated EUR 25,000 to fund scholarships for MORE students, scholarships that are now being disbursed by the Association of Friends of the mdw.
As of this issue’s editorial deadline, nobody can predict when the war in Ukraine will end. MORE would therefore seem all the more important as an avenue via which to access the mdw and continue pursuing one’s life’s dreams even in the face of war and displacement. The MORE programme depends on support by all members of the mdw community and has proven beneficial especially in individual teaching situations, where MORE students can build personal relationships with teaching faculty and their fellow students while being close to their artistic interests. Especially in the context of traumatic displacement, the loss of family members and friends, and political uncertainty in these students’ home countries, this is immensely valuable.
Are you interested in the MORE programme? mdw.ac.at/refugees_mdw/more