Introduction: higher education for refugees.

Author:Dryden-Peterson, Sarah
Position:Company overview

Young refugee women and men provide hope for the future in the most uncertain and dire of situations. For their families, they represent the chance for more sustainable economic livelihoods; and for their countries of origin, the possibility of more stable political and social leadership. Yet most are denied opportunities to pursue the kinds of education that would help them to cultivate the skills, knowledge, and critical thinking capacities to live up to these expectations.

Education is not often included in humanitarian responses. This is so, despite a normative framework for the provision of education in emergencies since 2004, in the form of the Interagency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE) Minimum Standards for Education in Emergencies, (1) which is a companion to the Sphere Project Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards; (2) and the institutionalization, since 2006, of an Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) humanitarian response cluster for education. (3) The lack of educational response has been evident, for example, in the Dadaab camps in northern Kenya, where seventy-five additional schools or 1,800 classrooms were urgently needed to serve 75,000 recently arrived school-aged children, and yet education was not included in the July 2011 United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) appeal for the Horn of Africa. (4)

Compounding the lack of emergency response in education is the reality that displacement is not a short-term situation: conflicts between 1999 and 2007 lasted on average twelve years in low-income countries and twenty-two years in middle-income countries. (5) Refugee camps, historically meant to be temporary transit places, often resemble poorly resourced villages and towns. At the start of 2009, 8.5 million people worldwide had been sequestered for ten years or more in long-term refugee situations, (6) without prospects for returning to their countries of origin, settling locally in their countries of asylum, or being resettled to a third country. Currently, there are approximately thirty "protracted" refugee situations (7) throughout the world wherein the average length of stay is now close to twenty years. (8) These refugees represented 63 per cent of the 13.6 million Convention refugees and other asylum seekers located outside of their countries worldwide, as of the beginning of 2009. (9) In addition, there are now 27.5 million internally displaced persons or IDPs, (10) who have been ousted from their homes and local communities due to civil wars, but who remain within their home country borders. (11)

The extended nature of displacement and the lack of possibilities for education in exile mean that most refugees miss out on their one chance for school-based learning. Yet given the uncertainty of the future for refugees, the increasingly globalized realities that most of them face, and the promise of knowledge-based economies, education--that is adaptable and portable--is critical.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) states that recognizing the right to education includes "mak[ing] higher education accessible to all on the basis of capacity by every appropriate means." (12) Realization of this right for refugees requires an approach that conceives of education as a long-term investment for society and the lack of access to quality education at all levels as stunting development potential. (13) Refugees commonly articulate this approach, but it is not generally reflected in policies and practices of donors and UN agencies. While there remain many unaddressed issues related to the provision of quality education for refugees at primary and secondary levels, (14) the issue of higher education for refugees is virtually unexplored in both scholarship and policy.

In what follows, we provide an introduction to the nascent field of higher education for refugees to situate this first collection of papers on the issue within broader debates in the fields of forced migration and education. We begin by examining the opportunities for higher education available for refugees, situating them within an educational continuum from early childhood to post-secondary. Next we explore the socio-economic and emancipatory potential of higher education for both individuals and society. We then outline the papers that make up this special issue on higher education of refugees, mapping new terrain of what is known in this field. Finally, we conclude with some thoughts on the gaps that remain and ideas for ways forward in the pursuit of accessible higher education for refugees.

A Broken Pipeline

Higher education necessarily forms part of an educational continuum, often called a "pipeline," (15) beginning with early childhood education and continuing through primary and secondary school. These levels of education are linked, as the idea of a continuum implies: without successful completion of primary and secondary school, higher education is not an option; and, conversely, in situations where access to higher education is limited or non-existent, children and young people are less motivated to persist in primary and secondary school. (16)

For refugees, education is rarely a smooth continuum from one level of schooling to another, and opportunities narrow at each step of the way. Available data indicate that for refugees the 2009 Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) (17) for primary school was 76 per cent globally, with lower rates of access in urban areas (70 per cent) and for girls (72 per cent). Access drops dramatically at secondary level such that the 2009 GER for refugees globally was a mere 36 per cent. At secondary level, in particular, there are great gender disparities between regions such that, for example, only five refugee girls are enrolled for every ten boys in Eastern Africa and the Horn of Africa. (18)

Among refugees who have completed secondary school, there is almost universal desire to attend university. (19) Yet access to higher education for refugees is even more limited than at primary and secondary levels. Even when refugees have met all academic prerequisites for higher education, there are other barriers to accessing opportunities, including cost; documentation, such as birth certificates or examination results; recognition of learning certifications obtained in another country; and institutions' nationality requirements either for enrolment or the availability of low fees. (20) There are several routes to higher education for refugees that attempt to circumvent these barriers, most commonly self-sponsorship--in the form of savings or remittances--for enrolment in host country institutions or distance and open learning programs; scholarships to host country or Northern institutions (see Peterson, this issue); and free or low-fee services through collaborations between non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and universities (see MacLaren and Purkey, this issue).

No comprehensive data is available on rates of access to higher education for refugees, yet the numbers of refugees enrolled in higher education are certainly small. Data from the largest higher education scholarship program for refugees, the German-funded and UNHCR-run DAFI program, (21)...

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