"NRWege Leuchttürme" - Internationalisation in North Rhine-Westphalia

Five students sitting on the grass and talking

Shaping internationalisation in an innovative and sustainable way – that’s the ambition and mission of the twelve projects funded under the NRWege Leuchttürme (NRWege Lighthouses) programme.


Since 2017, the Ministry of Culture and Science of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia (MKW) in cooperation with the DAAD has supported the integration of refugees ready to study at the state’s higher education institutions by means of the (NRWege Pathways into Studying) programme. The experience and knowledge gained over the past three years will be drawn on in the programme NRWege Leuchttürme (NRWege Lighthouses) to sustainably advance internationalisation of higher education institutions via innovative projects. The twelve lighthouse projects at eleven higher education institutions are outstanding beacons that blaze a trail for other higher education institutions, and, from 2020, they will be supported for three years and funded annually with up to €250,000.

The projects have different thematic focuses:

Qualification of teachers with a refugee status:

Teachers with foreign university degrees often find it extremely difficult to find employment at German schools. Nevertheless, thanks to their international experience and language skills, they represent a major asset in meeting the needs of the diverse range of students in higher education, while at the same time they can contribute to alleviating the acute teacher shortage.

Under the joint title “Lehrer Plus” (Teachers Plus), a total of five independent projects at the Universities of Bielefeld, Bochum, Duisburg-Essen, Cologne, and Siegen are supporting teachers with a refugee status to (re-)enter the teaching profession via tailor-made programmes. The programmes provide them with additional training, which encompasses linguistic, technical, pedagogical-intercultural and didactic components as well as an extended practical training phase at school accompanied by mentors.

Targeted preparation - improving opportunities: academic postgraduate training

Academics with a refugee status find it difficult to enter the German labour market not just in regulated professions. In other professions, academic post-qualification can likewise lay the groundwork for successful entry into the German labour market. The Ostwestfalen-Lippe University of Applied Sciences and Arts has, therefore, initiated a qualification programme in cooperation with the Bielefeld University of Applied Sciences, explicitly aimed at the needs of engineers with a refugee status. In a shortened study programme with an integrated practical phase in regional companies, refugee students acquire language and technical qualifications, preparing them for the German labour market. They gain a recognised higher education certificate that certifies their skills are comparable to those acquired in a German higher education institution.

Holistic support for international students

In certain areas, students with a refugee background face similar demands and challenges to other international students. Hence, the issue of ensuring academic success for both refugee and international students is highly pertinent, especially given the high drop-out rates. Broadening the original target group, which comprised students with a refugee status, to include all international students best meets the needs of students in general and also helps to achieve a sustainable internationalisation of NRW higher education institutions.

The Universities of Bonn, Dortmund, Düsseldorf, and Wuppertal and the University of Applied Sciences Düsseldorf have launched projects with various focuses to support international students. They constitute comprehensive guidance schemes that cover all phases of students' studies, from orientation before they begin to their transition to the labour market and focus on career orientation at an early stage with targeted measures.

Focus on pupils at school

A student is raising her hand

School pupils with a refugee status can experience difficulties in the German education system, not only due to their experience as refugees but also due to the lack of personal support offered to them. The “School Without Borders” project of the Ruhr University Bochum provides them with information and integration at an early stage, giving them the opportunity to orient themselves in the education system and opening up the prospect of studying at a higher education institution.

Accompanying factors: digitisation and the “third mission”

Alongside the programme modules mentioned above, digital media formats are being deployed or developed, and these are expected to be transferable to other projects or higher education institutions in the future and contribute to the sustainability of the funding measures. These range from mobile app development to digitally enhanced teaching and guidance services – the digitisation initiatives undertaken by higher education institutions are remarkable. Linking the project’s activities with social issues highlights the efforts made on integration and the added value of the experiences and skills of international and refugee students, not only for higher education institutions, but also for society as a whole.

Funded by


Logo of the Ministry of Culture and Science of the German State of North Rhine-Westphalia