"Access to education is a fundamental human right. It is essential to the acquisition of knowledge and to the full development of the human personality, as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states. More than that, education makes us more resilient and independent individuals."
Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
2017 was a milestone year for the Albert Einstein Academic Refugee Initiative (the DAFI programme), marking 25 years of providing higher education scholarships to refugees. UNHCR celebrated this achievement with partners, current and former scholars in the 50 countries that host DAFI students. Since the programme began in 1992, over 14,000 young refugee women and men have received accredited undergraduate degrees in various disciplines across the arts and sciences in universities and colleges in their country of asylum. This helped them to develop leadership skills, benefit from greater protection and to increase self-reliance for themselves and their families. In addition, students participating in the DAFI programme have become leaders and peace-builders in their communities. The case studies highlighted in this report show only a small fraction of the talents and achievements of DAFI graduates and the wider impact they have had on their communities.
In 2016, 193 countries adopted the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants and its annex the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF). Signatory States confirmed their commitment to share responsibility for finding sustainable solutions to forced displacement and affirmed their solidarity with those who are forced to flee. They also reinforced their 2015 commitment to Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4) on equitable and inclusive access to quality education and lifelong learning for all, and explicitly recognized that the educational needs of refugees must be upheld as a right. The CRRF and the Programme of Action of the Global Compact on Refugees affirm that participation in higher education can generate positive change in conflict and crisis situations. Higher education gives young refugee men and women an opportunity to acquire knowledge and build skills that will allow them to contribute to society. The CRRF states that higher education is integral to refugee empowerment because it fosters inclusion and promotes skills that are essential for recovery and rebuilding after conflict. In addition, the academic and social benefits of education help young people in exile to be resilient. The DAFI programme embodies these principles and promotes the inclusion of refugees in national education systems in their country of asylum. By providing higher education scholarships and facilitating pathways to livelihood opportunities, the DAFI progamme improves protection, helps to achieve long-term solutions for refugees and the communities that host them, and advances the vision and goals of the CRRF and the Global Compact on Refugees.
The DAFI programme has almost tripled in size in the last three years. The number of students doubled from 2,321 students in 2015 to 4,652 students in 2016, and rose again to 6,723 students in 2017. This rapid growth was partly due to the Syrian crisis. In 2017, Syria was the largest country of origin of DAFI students (2,528), the majority of whom are studying in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. The programme also expanded significantly in Sub-Saharan Africa, which hosted 41% of DAFI students in 2017. The crisis in South Sudan caused a major influx into surrounding countries, particularly Uganda, which hosts the majority of South Sudanese refugees. The DAFI programme responded by increasing scholarships for South Sudanese refugees, enabling UNHCR Uganda to provide the fifth highest number of scholarships (438) in 2017. The other top four countries in terms of numbers of DAFI scholarships were Turkey (818), Ethiopia (729), Jordan (721) and Pakistan (490).
In 2017, the DAFI programme awarded new scholarships to 2,582 successful applicants selected from among 12,570 applicants. In the same year, it expanded geographically to include 13 new programme countries. The growth of the DAFI programme has been made possible by generous increases in funding from the German Government and greater support from private partners, including the Saïd, Asfari and Hands Up Foundations. The DAFI programme’s success is equally due to the many global, regional and national actors that collaborate closely with UNHCR, including Ministries of Education, education institutions, and non-governmental organisations. Additionally, UNHCR works with other scholarship providers, sharing good practices and ensuring that higher education scholarship initiatives for refugees take account of protection considerations.
In addition to scholarship provision, access to higher education has expanded through innovative connected learning opportunities that help refugee students overcome barriers to higher education by participating in accredited blended learning programmes. UNHCR and the University of Geneva co-lead the Connected Learning in Crisis Consortium (CLCC), a network of 16 universities, non-governmental organisations, and blended learning providers that offers flexible learning opportunities to displaced learners in a variety of fragile contexts by combining online and face-to-face instruction. In 2017, over 7,000 refugee students participated in short courses, diploma and degree courses associated with connected learning programmes. In March 2017, UNHCR and UNESCO brought together 750 experts from 60 countries and over 500 organisations to discuss ‘Education in Emergencies and Crises’ during the Mobile Learning Week in Paris. Five refugees, one DAFI scholar, three studying through connected learning programmes and one teacher participated in the event by sharing their experiences, leading to the initiation of several new programmes on refugee education.
The success of the DAFI programme and its students is inspiring. However, the scale of displacement means that much remains to be done. In 2017, 68.5 million people were forcibly displaced, of whom 19.9 million were refugees with 52% being children below 18 years. In 2017, UNHCR released its annual education report, Left Behind: Refugee Education in Crisis, highlighting major gaps in refugee access at all levels of education. At secondary level, only 23% of refugee adolescents are enrolled in school. At tertiary level, the figures are even bleaker: only 1% of young adult refugees are enrolled in higher education, compared to 36% of young adults globally. Additionally, as the report Her Turn: It’s time to make refugee girls’ education a priority points out, refugee women and girls are particularly at risk of being denied educational opportunities. The report calls on the international community to improve their access to education.
Against this backdrop, the DAFI programme has continued to motivate young refugee men and women to complete their upper secondary education and to overcome barriers to pursuing higher education. Crucially, it has also served as a model for other scholarship providers and new partners interested in supporting higher education for refugees. The DAFI programme has helped showcase the success that can be achieved through sustained investment in higher education for refugees. On the 25th anniversary of the DAFI programme, UNHCR and its partners reaffirm their determination to expand access to higher education for young refugee women and men, at a time when it is needed more than ever.