ERBIL—For the past three years, Jesuit Worldwide Learning, a nonprofit organization based in Geneva, Switzerland, has been running a program to offer a liberal arts education to refugees in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. The first eight students—a mixture of displaced Syrians and Iraqis—are set to graduate this year and they hope to use the skills they’ve acquired to help other refugees in the region.
“This program gave me the chance to study again after ISIS came to my village,” says Nagham Dawood, who fled the Nineveh Plains of northern Iraq for Erbil, the region’s capital, when the terrorists came. “It has built my self-confidence and other skills that I would now like to use to benefit other refugees.”
The online program currently enrolls a total of 49 students who study on the brand-new campus of the Catholic University of Erbil or in refugee camps in Duhok. There are also 31 refugees in Amman enrolled in the program.
The diplomas the students are working toward are issued by one of Jesuit Worldwide Learning’s university partners, Regis University, a Jesuit institution in Denver, Colorado, and they come with official transcripts and records exactly as they would for students who complete their studies on-campus in the United States.
The diplomas are not bachelor’s degrees—students earn them after acquiring 45 credits. But after completing a diploma, students have the option to continue studying at an international university and apply those credits toward a full bachelor’s degree.
Currently, two refugees in Amman have already progressed from the diploma program into further study for a full degree.
While the program faces challenges—a big one is the distrust in many Arab nations of online courses provided by foreign institutions—international education officials are hopeful that the program’s liberal arts approach can help refugees resume interrupted educations and put them on a path toward meaningful careers.