Recognizing that quality education in times of conflict or natural disasters provides protection and enhances resilience, providing education to refugees is now seen as an integral part of humanitarian response.

Yet regarding higher education, only 1% of refugees have access to it. As mentioned before, the inclusion of tertiary education within the sector of education in emergencies is a new emerging trend even if “refugees who have completed secondary school almost universally voice the desire to attend university (WOMEN’S REFUGEE COMMISSION 2009).

On the UNHCR website one can read:On the UNHCR website one can read:

Access to accredited quality higher education for refugees is an integral part of UNHCR’s protection mandate and included in our strategic directions for 2017-2021.
Higher education plays a central role in protecting young refugees. It helps to nurture future generations of highly educated individuals who are not only able to work in the public and private sector, but who also engage in their communities to make a difference. With knowledge and skills obtained from an accredited higher education institution and often the acquisition of a new language, educated young refugees stand a greater chance of becoming self-reliant.

Though provision of education to refugees is only part of the UNHCR mandate to the extent that it is a protection issue, this organization has been playing a leading role among a range of multilateral agencies that support education in crisis such as UNICEF, UNESCO, the World Bank and the European Union.Though provision of education to refugees is only part of the UNHCR mandate to the extent that it is a protection issue, this organization has been playing a leading role among a range of multilateral agencies that support education in crisis such as UNICEF, UNESCO, the World Bank and the European Union.


In the higher education sector, UNHCR manages the Albert Einstein German Academic Refugees Initiative (DAFI Programme), launched in 1992, which provides scholarships for study at colleges and universities in host countries. As the oldest and sole global programme supporting higher education for refugees, the DAFI programmeallowed thousands of refugee students to pursue higher education in their country of first asylum. Although figures vary slightly from publication to publication, it seems fair to assume that in 2016, some 5000 students have received scholarships in 40 countries worldwide whereas “since 2016, Germany has increased its financing substantially allowing a record of about 6,700 refugees from 50 countries to receive a DAFI scholarship in 2017. Refugees who return to their country of origin as part of UNHCR’s repatriation programme are also eligible to apply for a DAFI scholarship” (Report of the UNHCR to the UN General Assembly – period of 1 July 2016 to 30 June 2017).


Further to the DAFI Programme, according to its website, UNHCR also works to strengthen access to tertiary education through:

• Connected Learning programs – a blended learning approach in partnership with a network of accredited universities;

• Establishment of complementary pathways to protection for refugees through higher education opportunities in third countries;

• Advocacy with ministries, universities and academia to expand access for refugee students to universities and to mitigate barriers that prevent refugees from enrolling in university.

Further to the DAFI Programme, managed by the UNHCR, there are several other scholarships programs for refugees, including through:

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The World University Service Canada (WUSC) – In 1978 it launched the Student Refugee Program (SRP), the only one of its kind to combine resettlement with opportunities for higher education. The program supports over 130 refugee students per year through active partnerships with over 80 Canadian campuses. WUSC has empowered over 1,700 young refugees from 39 countries of origin to continue their education in safe and supportive environments in Canada since the program began. Crucial to the program’s success is its unique youth-to-youth sponsorship model which empowers young Canadian students to play an active role in the sponsorship of refugee students. Campus-based Local Committees raise funds and awareness for the program on their campus and in their community. They also play a critical role in offering day-to-day social and academic support to SRP students.

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The Windle Trust – Core to its work is enabling access to higher education and training to those from conflict affected communities. Since the Windle Trusts were formed it has supported the education of disadvantaged and talented students through scholarships at postgraduate and undergraduate level. Through access to higher education and other programs. The Windle Trust promotes the education of girls and women. Around 70% of scholarships are awarded to girls through its undergraduate scholarship program. We believe supporting access to higher education is essential for developing the knowledge, skills and abilities needed for individuals to take charge of their ownlives and societies to grow. Windle Trust International’s work is the legacy of Dr Hugh Austin Windle Pilkington, who dedicated his life to helping refugees access further education. He drew his inspiration from the young Ethiopian refugees he met through his academic work at Nairobi University in the 1970s. He became increasingly concerned with the plight of African refugees arriving in Kenya and with the need for educational development in Kenya. In 1977 Windle Trust Kenya was established to support the education of talented refugee and Kenyan students in order to realize their potential. After his death in 1986 his personal estate was used to establish a trust in his name (The Hugh Pilkington Charitable Trust “HPCT”). Since then, his work has been expanded to respond to the educational needs of conflict-affected communities in Uganda and in Sudan in the 1990s and in South Sudan since 2005. Windle Trust Uganda registered as an independent organization in 2004. Windle Trust International (WTI) registered as a charity in 2002 and is a company limited by guarantee in the UK. WTI formerly operated as HPCT and was formed to manage the operations of the Trust.

IIE Logo Institute of International Education – For nearly a century, it has quickly responded to education in emergencies and provided a variety of programs that offer urgent financial support and services to help protect students, scholars and artists. It embraces several programs such as: Emergency Student Fund, Scholar Rescue Fund, the Artist Protection Fund and the IIE Platform for education in emergencies response (PEER).
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The Jesuit Refugee Service that developed a pilot programme that delivered an online Diploma in Liberal Studies and shorter modules to camp based refugees in Malawi and Kenya (Jesuit Commons: Higher education at Margins- JC:HEM).


The Australian Catholic University (ACU) on the Thai-Burma Border – The Diploma in Liberal Studies program launched by ACU in 2009 is taught in partnership with York University in Canada through a combination of online and face-to-face lessons. It provides a unique opportunity for bright young refugees to have access to internationally recognized qualifications in higher education.


SPARK – a Dutch NGO founded in 1994 that offers access to higher education and supports entrepreneurship development in fragile states so that young, ambitious people can lead their societies into stability and prosperity. It develops its activities in the Balkans, Liberia, Rwanda, Burundi, the Occupied Palestinian Territories and in the MENA region. SPARK is responding to the higher education crisis for Syrian refugees and vulnerable youth residing in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq/KRG. A lack of opportunities can lead young adults into poverty, radicalisation or to take the dangerous journey to Europe. By offering young people a chance tocontinue their education in the region, an educated workforce will be available to rebuild Syria once theconflict is over. Scholarships are offered for courses necessary for rebuilding, e.g. Civil Engineering,Childhood Education and Psychology. In the MENA region, SPARK offers three solutions: scholarship packages, language & vocational trainings, and advocacy. Their scholarship packages allow vulnerable young people, primarily Syrian refugees, to access higher education in the region. By partnering with local universities, we ensure thatsuccessful applicants are automatically offered a place at an institution, without having to further apply. The packages also offer student services, including psychosocial support; economic empowerment courses; and leadership development. In addition to these activities, smaller-scale vocational and language courses are provided. Finally, SPARK encourages hosting governments to introduce better regulations for integrating refugees into theeducational system. 


Fakhoora’s scholarship and empowerment program Dynamic Futures – Dynamic Futures offer s an opportunity to talented young students in Gaza, to undertake grants for Vocational, Degree, Master and PhD – level further education, alongside an enriching ‘Empowerment & Advocacy Program’, provided by Al Fakhoora and its partnership with UNDP.

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Islamic Development Bank – thought not specifically for refugees, the Bank funds and implements its scholarship programs as part of its overall effort to develop the human resources of its member countries and those of the Muslim communities in non-member countries with the motto: “Developing the Ummah Worldwide”.

 agha khan foundation Aga Khan Foundation – though not specifically for refugees, it provides scholarships (as 50% grant and 50% on loan) for “postgraduate studies to outstanding students from select developing countries” that happen to be most of them affected conflict countries (notably Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Syria, Egypt, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Madagascar and Mozambique). 

Global Platform for Syrian Students – a Portuguese NGO chaired by Jorge Sampaio, former President of Portugal. This NGO mission has a threefold aim seeking at a) implementing an emergency scholarship programme for Syrian students; b) making wider advocacy for higher education in emergencies at the international level, notably atthe United Nations; c) setting up a rapid response mechanism for higher education in emergencies as a systemic response for a systemic problem aiming at achieving more, better and faster results.

 jusoor JUSOOR – A NGO of Syrian expatriates supporting the country’s development and helping Syrian youth realize their potential through programs in the fields of education, career development, and global community engagement. As a community of Syrians living around the world working together to launch programs that benefit the Syrian community inside and outside Syria. JUSOOR develops several programs, such as the refugee education programme, Jusoor scholarship program and an Academic Mentorship program among others.
 MADAD EC EU MADAD Funded Programs – As a direct reaction to the Syrian crisis with the objective of empowering young people from Syria to build their own career paths by directly addressing their education needs. Funded, in April 2016, with an investment of 53 million euros alone from the EU’s Regional Trust Fund in Response to the Syrian Crisis (the MADAD Fund), a major scholarship program was launched to support Syrian refugees and vulnerable young people from host communities in the Middle Easy called H.O.P.E.S. (Higher and Further Education Opportunities & Perspectives for Syrians). This program, implemented by DAAD together with the British Council, Campus France and NUFFIC, comprises “around 3800 full scholarships, nearly 6000 language courses and over 40.000 counselling sessions” (Report on Conference on Higher Education and Refugees in the Mediterranean Region, Beirut, 26-27 September 2017). The H.O.P.E.S. programme is supposed to last until November 2019. It is important to point out that more information on existing scholarships programs is necessary as well as a kind of global mechanism for monitoring scholarships – as suggested in the recent UNESCO Report on SDG 4, target 4.b – “in order to report on indicators such as number of scholarships awarded, number of scholarship years awarded, number of recipients who complete their studies and number of recipients who return home”.

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