From camp to campus: higher education for refugees

From camp to campus: higher education for refugees

EAIE Liverpool 2016 has come to an end and what an exceptionally productive week it has been. What a wealth of knowledge our participants, speakers, chairs, Leadership, exhibitors, sponsors, University Partners and presenters bring to the table at our conference! This is exactly the kind of energy that has the potential to make a real difference in the world. In a moving keynote address – closing both the ‘Refugees in Focus’ track and the 28th Annual EAIE Conference – Melissa Fleming, of UNHCR, urged participants to make a commitment to refugee education.

Today’s Closing Plenary was an eventful affair. The EAIE Choir set the stage for Melissa Fleming’s inspirational talk to the tune of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’. EAIE Immediate Past-President Laura Howard passed the torch to our brand new President Markus Laitinen. Shortly before Markus introduced our headlining speaker for the day, the three last EAIE Awards were presented to some of our most outstanding members. The day was off to a good start, and things only got better from there.

Hungry for education

The latest UNHCR report on refugee education, Missing out: Refugee education in crisis, confronts us with chilling figures about the kinds of educational opportunities available for this population. Only 1% of refugees will ever make it to higher education. As an organisation that applies for its funding annually, UNHCR is tasked with developing a proposal for what is needed. Using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Melissa showed how the basic needs at the bottom are often funded without questioning, yet “as you go further up the ladder, especially when you get to education [self-actualization], those are the first things to be cut off”. This is of particularly important as many refugees are school-aged children and adolescents. She continued, “as administrators, you know that students will never get as far as higher education if you break the chain that begins with primary and secondary education”.

When we say that European higher education is struggling with refugee admissions, what we are really saying then is that, of the very few that even come close to having an opportunity to study, many still face bureaucratic barriers. Admissions, credential evaluation, language barriers, the issues abound. Yet Melissa’s words of encouragement to our participants are this: “there is probably no other group of people more hungry for education than refugees”. Why? “It allows them to think of their future and not the nightmare of their past or the gruelling circumstances of their present”. Educating this eager population is more than a moral imperative: it would be tremendously short-sighted and self-depleting not to do it. Extremism and cycles of violence can only be broken through education: “there are so many casualties of war; education should not be one of them”.

The impact you can have

Melissa began her talk with an account of her experience taking her own daughter through the steps of studying in France. She then told us about Esther, a young refugee whose main aspiration is to become a neurosurgeon. The contrast, in terms of opportunities for these two equally young and motivated women, is evident. If education offers life opportunities, why are we failing to provide this to those who need it most? As Melissa put it: “my daughter’s future is in her hands, Esther’s is in ours”.

The admission requirements and different expenses that are incurred in the process of arranging higher education are highly prohibitive for a large part of the world’s refugees. It is in our hands, as administrators, educators, grant providers, etc, to develop the solutions that will open doors for this population. Scholarships provision and flexible admission can truly have an impact on individual lives and collective outcomes. Your actions and work can hold the key to forging understanding between people and, ultimately, to a world. In the words of John Lennon: “imagine all the people living life in peace…”

Looking forward

After EAIE Leadership changes, the rewarding of excellence in the field and words of wisdom from Melissa Fleming, the Closing Plenary ended this conference by dreaming of the next. Seville – with its magnificent architecture, multicultural influences, Flamenco dancers and much, much more – awaits us in 2017.

If you’d like to join the ranks of EAIE speakers and submit your own conference session, workshop or poster proposal for next year, stay tuned! The call for proposals begins early October.