The Pivotal Role Educational Institutes Play for Refugee Education


Today is World Refugee Day. The root of the word refugee is the Latin refugium, meaning, literally, to take refuge, to seek shelter and protection. Typically, refugees are made to flee their countries because of war, political persecution, or natural disasters.


There are well over 80 million forcibly displaced people in the world today. UNHCR has identified over 100 million people of concern.


Displacement interrupts the cycle of formal education which needs continuation and stability to allow learners to thrive. Furthermore, refugees are often in a state of trauma and therefore need more care and scaffolding than other students. However, many of them cannot access education in the first place.


There are different levels of support that refugees might find, ranging from acceptance in national schools to scholarships at private institutions and personal sponsorship. However, these are the lucky scenarios. Many have to make do with ad-hoc schooling arrangements designed by humanitarian organisations in refugee camps and, of course, many children will not be able to access schooling at all. In fact, a 2020 UNHCR report showed that almost half of the refugees of school age were not attending school.


This is part of the vicious (or virtuous) cycle of education in which individuals find themselves cast. Those living lives of economic and social stability will reinforce that advantage for themselves and their children with a continuum of schooling and tertiary education whereas those thrown into the cycle of poverty, instability, and strife, will often be compounded more and more deeply into that place where there are no real opportunities for growth because they and their children are not able to break out of the cycle and attend school and university continuously.


When it comes to accessing higher education, the numbers of refugee students are even lower than they are for school, UNHCR reports that the percentage is in the single digits.


The University of the People has a simple mission: we wish to offer access to high-quality learning. In a world where universities representing quality education are often synonymous with rejection rates, allowing fewer and fewer students any chance to access what they have to offer, it is important for future and current generations that non-selective high-quality institutions flourish and impact society more and more, for the social project is not to keep learners out, it is to let them in, it is by doing this that real social mobility will be created.


Today there are 117,000 students enrolled at UoPeople; out of them, 10,500 are refugees. Some of the testimonies that we hear from refugees pursuing degrees with UoPeople are not only focused on job opportunities that come from higher degrees but also on the feeling of personal replenishment that comes about when earning a degree: in a life that has been turned upside down, any form of stability is welcome and the online university pathway does just that, allowing for the lifeline of learning to continue no matter the circumstances. The degree path keeps the light of hope glimmering at the end of the tunnel and bridges the multiple traumas, gaps and challenges that refugees have to go through.


Let’s spend World Refugee Day reflecting on the extraordinary resilience and fortitude refugees show in building their lives back up socially, emotionally, psychologically, and educationally. As compassion is widely recognised as a core attitude to develop through education, may educational institutions, be they schools, universities, or social centres, look to widen access to refugees for the betterment of humanity


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