What is OLIve (Open Learning Initiative)?
OLIves are educational spaces for people who have experienced displacement (including those with a refugee background or interrupted learning trajectory). OLIves offer different types of programmes from part-time to full-time, for students without formal education to those with university qualifications. OLIves are spaces for teaching, learning, solidarity, activism, and advocacy. OLIves aims to create welcoming learning environments, typically within a university setting.
Why does OLIve exist?
OLIves are set up by those who believe that education should be inclusive not exclusive. OLIves exist because universities have a duty of care towards its students or potential students (including those who are not usually seen as typical potential students). This means that universities should undertake a proactive role in exploring who gains access to its programs and who are prevented or blocked by social, political, cultural, economic or other factors. It emerged from cooperation between members of a university and local solidarity groups. OLIves continue to exist because sometimes states fail to do their duty and because there is a gap between what universities offer and the needs of those who have experienced displacement, especially when it comes to questions of access and qualification (i.e. the recognition of multiple forms of prior learning).
What types of programmes does OLIve offer?
OLIve programmes include, or have included, part-time weekend programmes, youth focussed or women focussed programmes and full-time university preparatory programmes. Courses offered within programmes include disciplinary specific academic classes, skills development (e.g. language, digital literacy, careers, university application), advocacy focussed workshops and creative/artistic sessions.
All programmes are built on the principle of access: OLIve programmes aim to open up universities and to support the students in successfully navigating these environments. When designing OLIve programmes, it is important to keep in mind that ‘refugee communities’ are diverse and the programmes should be built to address the specific needs of the students. Like in any other recruitment process, we recommend an intersectional approach (for example, gender and class should be taken into account in ensuring diversity). OLIve programmes also might admit students with different personal and political experiences (e.g. from two different ‘sides’ of the same conflict) and thus remains sensitive to this type of diversity too.
A distinctive feature of OLIve programmes comes from the fact that displaced people may not always have copies of qualifications, or they may have not completed education programs for reasons relating to their flight. Qualifications may be difficult to understand for university administrators. Creative student-centred assessment of actual levels of learning is encouraged, as is sharing knowledge about how learning is assessed.
How does OLIve relate to students?
OLIves promote life-long learning for people of diverse backgrounds. OLIves are a safe space for achieving personal and professional goals; where ‘teachers’ are facilitators of various forms of knowledge, capacities and experience; where trust, respect and confidentiality are key; and where the potential impact of trauma on the learning process is acknowledged and addressed, without allowing trauma, legal status or marginalising categories to prevent students from pursuing and achieving their goals. OLIves also acknowledge that power imbalances may arise within the programmes; however, OLIves strive for accountability and to address the dynamics in the best possible way based on the available resources at that time and informed by the OLIve principles.
What does OLIve think about teaching and learning?
OLIves support critical pedagogies, dialogical learning and flexible student-centred learning. However OLIves also recognise that when helping students apply to full-time university study they must navigate, to some degree, mainstream European educational norms. OLIves encourage ongoing teaching training, reflection and learning. OLIves aspire to co-create communities of learning between students, teachers and other staff and volunteers.
What is OLIve’s relationship to the university?
OLIve programmes are mostly based in universities, but universities do not own OLIves. When in universities, OLIves should be recognised, autonomous, funded academic units which exist at the discretion of the communities they serve. OLIves recognise that there is an ongoing tension between the exclusionary dimension of the institutional hierarchies and inequalities within higher education institutions and the critical pedagogy, non-Eurocentric, decolonising aspirations OLIve tries to advance in these contexts. OLIves can help universities become spaces that resist hostile anti-migrant environments, be responsive to those who seek education, and expand their mission by rejecting standardized notions of who is/can be a student.
Who works at OLIve and how?
OLIves are staffed by a community of administrators, teachers, mentors, and alumni (some of whom are paid and some of whom volunteer). OLIves should be a microcosmos of the type of societies we strive for, with equal treatment of qualifications, expertise and forms of work (i.e. the opposite of neoliberal, exploitative, precarious, prestige based labour relations). OLIves should rely on shared responsibilities, collaborative working and fair pay, no abuse of volunteers and realistic budgets for any work needed and promised. As many positions as possible, including and especially the higher positions, should be filled by those from the communities OLIves serve, and real efforts should be made to accomplish this.
How does OLIve relate to local communities and civil society?
OLIve began as a cooperation between civil society and members of a university. It continues to build alliances with other social justice groups and organisations outside of the university and complements local community efforts. Striving for and learning from such connections is crucial in developing OLIve’s mission, ethos, and work.
How is OLIve funded?
When running programmes in universities, OLIves wish to be completely funded by them as part of their regular activities. Until this is achieved, OLIve seeks funding sources that allow it to function whilst keeping its core ethos. OLIves should be aware of institutional changes and other compromises that may occur through funding, whilst remaining true to its core principles that should not be compromised. OLIves’ main responsibilities are towards its students and no funding criteria that require a compromise on that should be accepted.
Who can use the OLIve name?
Those who abide by this charter. Those who use, including adapting and reworking, core OLIve curricula. No one owns OLIve, but it cannot be any ‘refugee education initiative’. Those who have learnt and worked within OLIves encourage the establishment of new OLIves and will support them however they can.
What is not OLIve?
It is not a franchise or brand used by ‘civic engagement’ efforts to get donors for universities. It is not about making a university (or any educational environment) look better; it is about making it a genuinely better, more inclusive space/place. It is not (or aims not to be) exclusionary and unnecessarily hierarchical, like universities tend to be. It is not a form of profit making for an institution (i.e. to raise funds that pay for non-OLIve related costs of the university).
How was this charter created?
This charter was created by those who have learnt, taught, advised, supported, and worked at different OLIves. It will be reviewed and renewed on an annual basis.
Where are OLIves?
Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (Greece)
Bard College Berlin (Germany)
Central European University (Austria)
Open Education (Hungary)