Universities join global HE clearinghouse for refugees

The Institute of International Education, or IIE, and the Catalyst Foundation for Universal Education have launched an online clearinghouse to connect displaced students with opportunities to continue their education in safety around the world.

With the support of eight international organisations, the new IIE Platform for Education in Emergencies Response, or IIE-PEER, currently offers more than 600 scholarships, language learning and online courses in numerous countries for college and graduate students whose access to education has been cut off by crises in their home countries.

Allan Goodman, president and CEO of the not-for-profit Institute of International Education, told University World News: “There are already 65 million people who have been displaced in Syria and other countries in conflict. The number of students who are unable to access university is continuing to grow as the years pass.

“The only way we can get ahead of this increasingly urgent situation is for more universities, donors, and governments around the world to offer whatever opportunities they can make available to equip the future generation with the knowledge and skills they will need.”

Universities can sign on to the platform to feature their opportunities for refugees and learn more about the initiative. Universities from the United States, United Kingdom, continental Europe, Australia, Hong Kong and China have already joined the platform.

Organisations dedicated to providing higher education for refugees are also among those signed up.

These include DAFI, the UN Refugee Agency’s scholarship programme; and others such as Borderless Higher Education for Refugees and Jesuit Worldwide Learning, formerly Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins, which work with universities around the world to provide blended learning programmes, that mix online and face-to-face tuition, to refugees in learning centres in the camps and urban locations where they live.

The IIE said education in emergencies is one of the most underfunded sectors in humanitarian aid. However, the need for higher education is especially acute in places of conflict, where it is crucial in rebuilding societies and maintaining stability.

Higher education is strongly linked to increased opportunity, strengthened economic development, improved public health and safer communities. It offers young people hope and a path towards a sustainable and independent future, the IIE said in a press statement.

It also provides a way to strengthen education of refugees at all levels, by producing graduates and training teachers who can teach at primary and secondary level in refugee communities. It also contributes to greater enrolment and retention of refugee children in schools, because there is another level of education to move onto afterwards.

Current conflicts, persecution and violence are hitting university-aged youth particularly hard. IIE estimates that as many as 200,000 Syrian students are currently out of university because they have been forced to terminate their studies due to the ongoing crisis.

John Sexton, former New York University president and founder of the Catalyst Foundation, said: “If they have school, the displaced students can turn their lives around. We aim to provide them with the education they deserve."

While will initially feature opportunities specifically intended for displaced Syrian students, PEER aims to expand in order to help students displaced by conflict from anywhere in the world to resume their studies online and at locations worldwide. PEER will also add personalised advising services for students.

Eight international partners

IIE and the Catalyst Foundation are joined in this effort by eight international partners: the German Academic Exchange Service or DAAD, the British Council, the Global Platform for Syrian Students, Global Citizen, Jusoor, World University Service of Canada, the Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education and Universities UK, reflecting a growing commitment in the international community to address the higher education needs of displaced populations.

Goodman said: “We have been encouraged to see so many partners committing to support Syrian students and contribute to the PEER clearinghouse. The website has had more than 10,000 page views since its launch on 1 March, and we anticipate that this number will continue to grow. We are grateful for all who are helping to connect students with resources and opportunities in so many different countries."

Universities able to offer scholarships, language classes or online courses for displaced Syrian and other students can sign on to PEER here. However, PEER is not able to provide funding for new initiatives or programmes.

Governments and other donors are asked to join the effort to expand its reach to displaced students in higher education in all world regions.

Gerald P Doyle, vice-provost at Illinois Institute of Technology in the US, one of the universities that has already signed up to the platform, said: “Our work to support PEER draws upon great traditions and our own history of ensuring that access and opportunity remain open to all, from all places.”

PEER is the first major initiative of the Catalyst Foundation, which is dedicated to expanding access to high-quality education for children and youth around the world. It provides catalytic funding for education and advocates for increased government and private sector support from around the world.

At the celebration of its founding held in September at IIE’s headquarters in New York, former UK prime minister Gordon Brown, who is the United Nations special envoy for global education and a member of the foundation’s advisory board, led a discussion on ways that leaders in education, government and philanthropy can help meet students’ emergency needs.

Two-thirds of refugees are in protracted refugee situations and on average refugees face 17 years in exile. Yet fewer than 1% of refugees of university-going age have access to higher education worldwide compared to 32% of the global population, according to UNESCO data.

“Education is a basic human right,” Brown said in a recent commentary piece on educating Syria’s rebuilders . He said refugees typically spend many years away from their home country.

“If they are deprived of an education during that time, they will have few employment opportunities in the future. Not providing an education for displaced people has been one of our humanitarian aid system’s biggest failures.”