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UNHCR to expand higher education opportunities for the forcibly displaced

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UNHCR to expand higher education opportunities for the forcibly displaced

11 April 2013

The UN refugee agency and the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), through its partner Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins initiative (JC:HEM), have signed an agreement to enhance higher education opportunities for refugees and other forcibly displaced people through online and on-site courses.

The agreement expands access to Online courses are currently offered to refugees and other displaced students in Jordan, Kenya and Malawi. The agreement will expand the courses to Chad and several other countries where UNHCR and JRS operate. Assessment of students is already under way in Chad.

"Ensuring access to education is a universal right and a priority for UNHCR in all of its operations. Education is a continuum. In addition to primary and secondary education, UNHCR also wants to provide opportunities for refugee students in higher education, but limited resources have remained a barrier for us," said Volker Türk, UNHCR's Director of International Protection, welcoming the agreement.

Hundreds of displaced people in Jordan, Kenya and Malawi are already enrolled in online higher education courses and diploma programmes with the Regis University in Denver, Colorado, as well as certificate courses offered by other Jesuit universities. JRS is a UNHCR partner and an international non-governmental Catholic organization that advocates on behalf of refugees and other forcibly displaced persons globally. JC: HEM is a global initiative of the Society of Jesus to ensure those who live at the margins have access to higher education.

"Forcibly displaced - and frequently living on the margins of society - we have seen how education offers refugees the intellectual nourishment to become the leaders of tomorrow. In the midst of conflict and instability, education can be a form of healing to refugees hungry to rebuild their communities", said Peter Balleis, director of JRS International.

The partnership is exploring the possibility of offering distance learning courses in a variety of languages. It plans to develop relevant curricula to build capacities of refugees and host communities. Students benefit from online instruction and guidance from faculty members, drawn from Jesuit higher education institutions around the world.

"Only a tiny percentage of [refugee] students currently have access to higher education. By harnessing technology, we have brought universities to refugees. We hope this agreement will make the provision of third level education to refugees the norm rather than a novelty in the future," said Mary McFarland, JC:HEM International Director.

In 2012, UNHCR introduced a five-year education strategy that aims to increase access to higher education, expand the number of university scholarships and develop access to accredited distance learning programmes for refugees. In addition, the current agreement strengthens UNHCR partnerships with religious and faith-based organisations working in the humanitarian sector as a follow up to the dialogue on faith and refugee protection led by High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres. Religious leaders and faith experts gathered in Geneva last December and discussed how the values of world religions underpin refugee protection and humanitarian action for millions of forcibly displaced and stateless people.

For further information on this topic, please contact

  • In Geneva: Babar Baloch on +41 79 557 9106