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Good Practices on Prisoners from FernUniversität in Hagen

The FernUniversität in Hagen opens up the opportunity for incarcerated persons to pursue higher education studies as part of the mentioned educational activities. These studies range from continuing education to an academic degree to provide, maintain and promote skills for successful employment after they can leave prison.

The prospective students can select from the complete range of studies that the FernUniver-sität has to offer:

- Academic studies: The students can select from all courses and modules, depending on their interests. However, not all faculties allow students to enrol in any module, especially not in those modules with practical training or seminars.

- Bachelor’s or master’s degree: These degrees are the first and second professional university degrees. Students in prisons can enrol in all university degree programs as long as they fulfil the admission requirements.

But the students also have to fulfil specific technological requirements. They need access to a computer connected to the internet, as the FernUniversität provides courses and learning content in its course management and video content management systems, available via the internet. 

University management

The university management supports the participation of students in prison through a general agreement with the federal government, though no additional resources are associated with this arrangement. Most of the university’s services, e.g., the central IT department, library, and student services make their services available to students in prison.

Student services are the first point of contact for prospective students and their supervisors in prison. They inform the prospective student and the supervisor whether a study of the desired course of studies is possible under the conditions of the correctional institution. If the study is possible, the student can be enrolled and subsequently access the university’s online infrastructure and services via the elis-platform (see below).

In addition to the elis-system, the students in prison also receive their student registration. Only this registration allows access to the university’s digital learning infrastructure. The student registration comes with a personal email account, which students in prison are not al-lowed to use, as they are not allowed to communicate with people outside prison freely. Access to the course management system is also limited, as the students in prison are not allowed to communicate with the other students. So, while access to the learning materials is possible, students in prison are limited in their digital communication.

These limitations make studying more difficult and sometimes require additional support by instructors and lecturers. Some study activities are not able for the student to do, so lecturers have to provide alternatives to these activities. As the university also has no specific staff to support students in prison, it is sometimes difficult for students in prison to get answers to their particular questions.


The acronym elis stands for “E-Learning im Strafvollzug”, which translates to e-learning in the penitentiary system. Elis is operated by the “Institut für Bildung in der Informationsgesell-schaft“ (IBI), a nonprofit limited liability company. The elis-platform enables students in prisons to access the ICT infrastructure of the university. Access to the learning infrastructure is enabled via cooperation between the university, IBI, and the various prisons. The university provides the ICT infrastructure and specialized operation modes for the elis-system. The elis-system is accessible for the students in jail and enables them to access vital parts of the digital learning infrastructure.

The elis-platform is financed by the federal states of Germany. Elis currently connects more than 120 prisons and enables the prisoners to access offerings of the FernUniversität, but many other websites with learning content, content relevant for the transition phase (e.g., website of the Employment Agency), and various video libraries.

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