Skip to content

September 26, 2022

UoPeople President Urges World’s Universities to Join Forces to Address Growing International Refugee Crisis


If every university enrolls just 15 refugee students, the refugee higher education crisis will be over

PASADENA, CA (Sept. 27, 2022) – To address the growing international refugee crisis, University of the People President Shai Reshef is urging each of the world’s more than 31,000 universities to enroll 15 refugees each. Reshef made the major announcement earlier today at the Refugee & Migrant Education Conference at the Pontificia Universita Gregoriana in Rome, Italy.

The call to action is in support of the UN Refugee Agency’s 15by30 initiative which aims to enroll 15% of the world’s 3.3 million university-aged refugees by 2030. Currently, only 6% of university-aged refugees have access to higher education, compared to the global average of 39%. 

“If every university enrolls just 15 refugee students, the refugee higher education crisis will be over. Sympathizing with refugees and talking about the crisis is not enough anymore. The world’s universities need to go beyond words and take action to resolve this issue themselves,” said President Reshef.

University of the People, the first non-profit, tuition-free, American, accredited online university, currently enrolls more than 126,000 students from over 200 countries. UoPeople’s student body includes more than 16,500 refugees – more than any other university in the world. The university’s refugee students come from dozens of nations, including Ukraine, Afghanistan, Syria, Nigeria, Ethiopia, and Myanmar. UoPeople has pledged to enroll 25,000 refugees by 2030.

“I realize not every university can enroll as many refugees as UoPeople, but every university can easily

enroll 15 additional students without a major impact on their budgets since these students only would represent a small percentage of their overall enrollment,” said President Reshef.   

The Initiatives in Refugee & Migrant Education Conference is an international gathering of university administrators, faculty, and education practitioners as well as leaders of NGOs, international agencies, and humanitarian organizations who are committed to enhancing and expanding educational opportunities for refugees and displaced peoples. The conference is organized by the Refugee & Migrant Education Network in partnership with the UNHCR.

The keynote speakers at the conference include Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and Tom Smolich, SJ, International Director of the Jesuit Refugee Service. Pope Francis will meet with conference participants at a private audience in the Vatican on September 29.

Since the start of the Russian invasion, more than six million Ukrainians have fled their homeland, joining 100 million fellow refugees and forcibly displaced people from around the globe. Armed conflicts, religious persecution, natural disasters, genocide campaigns, climate change, and a host of other factors are fueling a rapidly expanding international refugee crisis.

The root causes of this crisis are varied, however, most of these refugees do have one thing in common – little hope for a better future due to the lack of educational opportunities. According to the UN Refugee Agency, higher education is a critical link between “learning and earning, allowing young people to thrive and transition to the pursuit of sustainable futures.”

“This is not just a human rights issue but a way for higher education institutions to address a major global crisis while at the same time greatly enriching the educational experience for all of their students,” said Reshef. “Refugees bring their spirit of resilience, diverse cultures, and unique perspectives into the classroom. We can learn much from their life experiences.”

“Providing critically needed educational opportunities to refugees would not only benefit the participating universities, but it also would benefit the host nations and the rest of the world,” according to President Reshef. Investing in the education of refugees has proven to be a sound strategy over time. Just look at the contributions of refugees such as Albert Einstein, Victor Hugo, Madelaine Albright, and Henry Kissinger.

# # #

About University of the People

University of the People (UoPeople) is the Education Revolution. It is the first non-profit, tuition-free, American, accredited online university. Currently, there are over 126,000 students from more than 200 countries and territories. Designed to open access to higher education globally, UoPeople helps qualified high school graduates overcome financial, geographic, political, and personal constraints keeping them from collegiate studies. The university offers associate and bachelor’s degree programs in business administration, computer science, and health science, as well as an MBA and M.Ed. program. Graduates of UoPeople can be found working at such companies as Deloitte, Amazon, Apple, Pfizer, Google, Microsoft and IBM. UoPeople collaborates with Harvard Business School Online, New York University, McGill University, and the University of Edinburgh and has been supported by foundations such as the Gates Foundation, Ford Foundation and Hewlett Foundation. Learn more at

University of the People