According to UNHCR, over 20 million refugees worldwide were registered in 2015, and around half of them were young people under the age of 35, many, students forced to leave their studies from their home countries. This overwhelming number was a result of the ongoing conflicts from Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia – as instability in these countries has forced the largest number of refugees to flee to Germany, Greece, Turkey and other European countries.
In the light of one of the biggest European crisis from the last century, government officials, representatives from the Ministry of Education along with universities from many countries have come together to provide support for the young refugees. This initiative was in accordance with the Lisbon Convention that states that higher education institutions worldwide “have the obligation to establish a system for the recognition of qualifications held by refugees, displaced persons and persons in a refugee-like situation”.
Educational institutions alliances and partnerships dedicated to offering support to student refugees
- Borderless Higher Education for Refugees, along with other institutions, like the Australian Catholic University, and InZone, (a centre at the University of Geneva in Switzerland), have launched the option of connected learning. Dedicated mostly to Syrian citizens, with connected learning, students have free access to an online learning community, similar to a blended learning format. Students were also offered laptops and the opportunity to connect and discuss with visiting lecturers.
- Council for At-Risk Academics (Cara) is an institution who has been helping academics worldwide affected by war to find a position in European universities, whether as students or teachers.
- The Institute of International Education has set up a funding system, called Scholar Rescue Fund, and has been offering fellowships to teachers, scientists and researchers that were threatened or encountered any form of risk in their home countries.
- Open University in partnership with British Council, has offered learning opportunities to Syrian refugees that were temporarily residing in Jordan and Lebanon. The British Council offered English, French and German language courses to young people from refugee camps, while the university provides the opportunity to enrol at online accredited degree courses to around 300 students that proved to have the necessary qualifications and skills.
Universities that opened the door to education to young refugees
Many universities from the UK have come up with various solutions to help refugee students continue or start their higher education studies. Furthermore, they also offered teaching positions to researchers and professors who due to conflicts from their home countries had no one else to teach to.
- The University of Glasgow – has a partnership with the Council for at Risk Academics (CARA) to provide scholarships and waive fees to asylum seekers. Other UK universities that have announced opportunities for scholarships for refugee students are The University of Edinburgh, The University of Sussex, The University of Warwick
- University of Sheffield – has been dedicated in helping refugee students throughout the whole stages of their academic studies, from application and even up to aiding them in finding work opportunities after graduation. In addition, they also support them with advice in terms of finance, housing and other details important for the student life.
- The University of Edinburgh – has been offering support to refugee students as well as professors and researchers. The university staff helps refugees with financial advice, counselling and support with admissions and they can also attend free English language courses.
- Masters in Health Sciences in the UK;
- Masters in Computer Sciences in the UK;
- Masters in Education in the UK.
DAAD has initiated a set of measures meant to encourage German universities to promote and support refugee integration. To ensure refugees access to higher education, DAAD conducted measures such as: recognizing skills and qualifications, ensuring academic language qualification and supporting integration within universities.
- Technical University of Munich allows Syrian refugees to attend German and English language courses at no cost. The initiative is meant to help refugees adjust to the German higher education system.
- The University of Tübingen also has been providing free German language courses and allows a number of students with an appropriate level of education to attend lectures as guest students.
- Bielefeld University offers free courses in sciences and mathematics to refugee students interested in studying these subjects, and the opportunity to also attend German language courses. Students from Syria who were eligible for enrolling or had their qualifications equalled, were guaranteed to have their fees waived.
- Masters in Mechanical Engineering in Germany;
- Masters in Economics in Germany;
- MBA programmes in Germany.
Several Swedish universities in partnership with Scholars at Risk network have promoted the integration of refugees, especially in terms of employment.
- University of Gothenburg has developed a programme that provides traineeship positions to support refugees in finding a job on the Swedish labour market and also offers positions for guest researchers.
- Stockholm University offers free online courses (in mathematics, natural sciences and other fields) to interested asylum seekers, helps academics to find work opportunities and has been giving support to researchers to start or continue their work.
- Masters in Environmental Science in Sweden;
- Masters in Information Sciences in Sweden;
- Masters in Sociology in Sweden.
Equal access to education could clear social and political tensions
Statistics say that around 32% of people around the world have access to higher education, while for a refugee, this number goes down to less than 1 %. Various social theories and studies conducted by UNESCO, stipulate the fact that blocking the opportunity or any inequality or discrimination in education, fuels social tensions and conflicts and may even lead to a new conflict or war of any kind.
For this reason, educational institutions worldwide promote and support the idea of education without borders, facilitating and enhancing educational opportunities to young people who were in a situation of risk. Hopefully, universities will continue to provide degree courses for refugees, and a larger number of higher education institutions will follow their example in order to make the world a better place for all people.