Global clearinghouse for refugee student scholarships

A new global clearinghouse to identify scholarships and opportunities and connect refugee students with resources they can use anywhere in the world was announced in New York on Thursday.

The Platform for Education in Emergencies Response or PEER will be established by a new Catalyst Trust for Universal Education and the Institute of International Education or IIE, it was announced at IIE’s New York headquarters.

The new trust will support projects and organisations that bring educational opportunities “directly to the neediest children and youth, whether they live in a conflict zone, a refugee camp, or a place that lacks the means or ability to provide a meaningful education”, the IIE announced.

PEER will be a web-based, mobile-ready platform in both English and Arabic, giving students access to a comprehensive database of education and scholarship opportunities and application guidelines, as well as other important resources such as online courses and massive open online courses or MOOCs, translation services and education advocacy groups, and to connect students with advisory services, according to IIE.

The advisory service will involve face to face and virtual guidance to help students through the process of accessing education. PEER will also coordinate efforts between stakeholders to assess what opportunities are available. It also plans to convene a conference on best practice in higher education in emergencies to share experience and expertise between stakeholders.

The PEER clearinghouse will build on the resources that IIE has leveraged over the past five years through its Syria Consortium for Higher Education in Crisis.

The Catalyst Trust is providing the initial investment in PEER with the goal that governments and other donors will join the effort to expand its reach to refugees and displaced people at all levels of education and in all world regions.

According to a report released this month by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, only 50% of refugees have access to primary education, as opposed to the global average of 90%. That enrolment gap grows with age: 22% of refugees are enrolled in secondary schools, compared with 84% of secondary school age children globally, and only 1% of refugees have access to higher education, compared to 34% of university age youth globally.

The situation is “particularly tragic for Syria, a country that, before the war, had school and university enrolment rates as high as or higher than the global average. In the context of global education, the needs of Syrian students are urgent and acute”, the report said.

The IIE said when the Syrian Civil War started more than five years ago, more than one in four of the country’s 18-24 year olds were already enrolled in tertiary education. Now, at least 150,000 university-qualified Syrians who were enrolled in university or on track to do so when war broke out, are not in higher education.

A significant problem is that humanitarian relief organisations are so overwhelmed that less than 2% of funds raised today are being spent on education at any level.

For example, Melissa Fleming, chief spokesperson for UNHCR, told University World News last week that UNHCR’s needs-based budget is designed in a way that makes life-saving the essential priority, followed by recovery from trauma, and support for other more long-term needs gets cut when the money – pledged by governments – doesn’t come in.

PEER will at first be focused on helping Syrian refugee students with a view to expanding over the next few years to be able to help displaced students from anywhere in the world.

Bringing together so many disparate resources into one platform is seen as “an essential step on the path to helping millions of students worldwide access the tools they will need to build their future and rebuild their communities”, IIE said.

John Sexton, former president of New York University and a founding director of the Catalyst Trust, said if they have access to education, the displaced students can turn their lives around. “Many in the higher education community have indicated that they are willing to accept refugee students. We aim to provide them with the education they deserve."

Waive tuition fees

IIE’s Syria Consortium has mobilised higher education institutions to reduce or waive tuition for Syrian students who enrol for full degrees, and earlier this month IIE joined with Jusoor, a non-governmental organisation established by Syrian expatriates, to create a new scholarship fund, ‘100 Syrian Women, 10,000 Syrian Lives’.

Allan Goodman, president and CEO of IIE, warned that as the refugee crisis multiplies, there is a real prospect of a “lost generation”.

“We must not let that happen. IIE’s new partnership with the Catalyst Trust to build the PEER clearinghouse is a tremendously valuable breakthrough in connecting displaced students with resources anywhere in the world.”

The PEER clearinghouse will also add assistance and opportunities for K-12 (primary and secondary) students.