Globally, just 3 percent of refugees are enrolled in higher education, according to 2021 estimates. By comparison, the global gross enrolment ratio was nearly 40 percent in 2020.
UNHCR aims to increase the share of refugees enrolled in higher education to 15 percent by 2030 through a plan called 15by30.
Martin noted that higher education benefits both refugee students and their host countries. Education changes students’ lives by providing them with skills development, economic integration, and job opportunities. By giving refugee students’ access to higher education, host countries can support their own economy and development plans, she said.
Moreover, access to higher education enhances students’ motivation to succeed in pre-university education, and their social and economic integration and life chances, she said.
In pursuit of UNHCR’s 15by30 enrolment goal, the policy paper proposes a common set of measures for host countries and educational institutions to adopt.
Among the recommendations are calls for host countries to include the access of refugee students to higher education in their national higher-education policy documents and to establish intra-ministerial coordination structures to facilitate refugees’ access to higher education.
The recommendations also urge countries to adopt an “equal opportunities policy” for refugees’ access to higher education, and to collect enrolment information in a standardized format to allow monitoring of refugee participation in host-country higher education.
Another recommendation calls for making available to refugees easily accessible information on national higher-education systems, admission formalities, funding opportunities, and credential recognition.
The recommendations also include calls to offer structured opportunities for preparatory courses to refugees so they can obtain student status as soon as possible after arrival in host country; to combine preparatory programmes with opportunities for social integration; and to provide special support and coaching programmes to women students.
Three of the recommendations deal with credential recognition. One calls on host countries to offer flexible procedures for recognising refugees’ credentials in general. Another urges them to develop flexible policies on recognition of prior learning (RPL), recognising refugee students’ non-formal and informal prior learning though interview-based documentation.
A third seeks to ensure that credits refugees obtained from higher-educations institutions in their home countries or a host country are recognized and can be applied to further study.
Several recommendations deal with the lack of funding that often prevents qualified refugee students from accessing higher education. One calls for exempting refugee students from tuition fees or linking up with international donors to cover their fees. This proposal will be the subject of later discussion between the concerned organisations and the host countries.
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Another financial-aid recommendation calls for giving refugees access to national, contingency-based student-loan systems to cover their living costs. A third calls for making available funding for higher-education institutions to support refugees.
Finally, the paper calls for organising and supporting networks of higher-education institutions that engage collectively to support refugee students.