The fighter for educational justice

27 Jun 2022

Ceren-Latife Tas is the first in her family with a university degree. She motivates schoolchildren from non-academic households to go on to higher education. Her volunteering work is made possible by the Deutschlandstipendium scholarship at LMU.

LMU student Ceren-Latife Tas

Ceren-Latife Tas is the first in her family with a university degree. | © v.zign

LMU student Ceren-Latife Tas did it. In obtaining a bachelor’s degree, she became the first person in her family of Turkish origin to get an academic qualification – even today, not an obvious step for a working-class child with an immigration background. According to a report into university education in Germany (Hochschulbildungsreport), only 21 percent of young people from non-academic households start a course in higher education, whereas for the children of parents with academic qualifications the figure is 74 percent. Furthermore, young people from non-academic backgrounds drop out of university at twice the rate as their counterparts from better-off households.

The secret to Tas’s success? Unlike many others, she had the good fortune that her parents and teachers always encouraged her. While she was shy and reserved at primary school, she began to develop a strong personality as the years went by as a result of this support, she recalls. And her good grades further bolstered her self-confidence. She completed her Abitur (German higher education entrance qualification) in 2015 with a grade of 1.2 and received a scholarship as one of the best students in her year.

Nevertheless, in contrast to children of parents with academic qualifications, going to university was not an obvious next step. “Despite my school grades, I asked myself whether I was good enough,” says the 25-year-old. What she lacked was role models, people who had done it all before. Moreover, various people from her environment advised her against going to college. This is an experience that children of parents with academic qualifications rarely have to contend with. Only once she had passed her first exam at university did her insecurity begin to abate.

Full-time study and part-time job

Although she had state financial support in the form of the “BAföG” scheme, her financial situation was of course a challenge. As was the question of how to even apply for student jobs: “Whereas other parents read the applications of their children, I had to get to grips with the subject all by myself,” says Tas, who was born in the city of Remscheid in western Germany.

To cover her living expenses, she has been working two-and-a-half days a week for the past seven years – a further obstacle for children of non-academic parents. “With a 20-hour-a-week job, my full-time studies, and my volunteering work, there’s not much time left over for leisure,” says the business psychology student. Her internship in London was actually relaxing for her, because she had Saturdays and Sundays off. However, she does not harbor any resentment toward students whose parents pay for everything. “It’s just that the professors always say that studying is a full-time job – and for working-class children this is not feasible.” And yet these students often hide the fact they have a job for fear that it will be seen as a black mark against them.

To motivate other schoolchildren from families without experience of members going to university, Tas has been volunteering with since she started her master’s degree at LMU. The charity has a team of over 6,000 volunteers throughout Germany who give talks to schools about the possibilities of higher-level education. And so the 25-year-old writes to schools, and when she gets a positive response she stands up in front of classes and explains how other working-class children can make it to university just like her. “At the beginning, the children are often annoyed about having to attend another compulsory event,” she reports. But when people with the same background tell them about their journey, that motivates the young people very quickly. “Ten years ago, I never could have dreamed that I would study at an elite university,” emphasizes Tas. At the latest talk she gave, there were so many questions at the end that they ran out of time.

Tas chairs regular meet-ups

Some of the questions that the young people ask are the same ones that Tas puzzled over, such as how to cover living expenses. Other questions include: Isn’t studying incredibly strenuous? And what should I say to my parents to convince them? If there are still questions that remain unanswered, the schoolchildren can ask them at a regular meet-up on the first Thursday of every month – including via video call or email. This has led to many longstanding mentoring relationships over the years.

The fact that Tas has time to volunteer for on top of her studies and part-time job is thanks to the Deutschlandstipendium scholarship. Among other things, the program supports students who volunteer for charity work and young people from non-academic households with a bursary of 300 euros a month. “That relieves a lot of pressure and is a big motivation to continue volunteering,” she stresses.

The scholarship holder wishes there were many more assistance programs for young people from non-academic backgrounds. “Children from educationally disadvantaged households were hit particularly hard by the pandemic,” she explains. Often whole families had to share the one laptop. Moreover, better-off parents could afford private tutoring for their child.

Become a sponsor now! The Deutschlandstipendium at LMU survives on the support it is offered by companies, foundations and private individuals. Your tax-deductable donation of 150 euros per month is then doubled by the federal government and given, in full, to one of our scholarship students. With this financial support, young people can focus on addressing the future of our society without needing to worry about money — a big relief especially in these times of crisis.

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