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For the last three decades, the Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative, known as DAFI, has offered refugees the chance to pursue higher education, giving them, their families, and their host communities hope for a better future.

The DAFI is in fact one of the most renowned and long-standing higher-education scholarship programmes for refugees.

Since 1992, it has transformed the lives of more than 22,500 refugee students around the world, from the Syrian Arab Republic to Afghanistan to South Sudan to Mexico.

In 2022, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, undertook a comprehensive independent evaluation of the DAFI programme to gain insights into its effectiveness and identify opportunities and areas for improvement through the voices and perspectives of refugee students themselves.

“The evaluation process, from designing the evaluation all the way through to receiving the findings and recommendations, was of immense benefit to the DAFI programme. The guidance of the Evaluation Office in the design phase of the evaluation supported us to look critically and to pose questions about all aspects of the programme, uncovering unique aspects that we’ve been able to amplify to the benefit of refugee students,” shares Manal Stulgaitis, Education Officer and Evaluation Manager.  

What have we found?

One of the most notable findings of the evaluation is that simply awareness of the DAFI programme and counselling contributed to motivating students to finish secondary education. Approximately 83% of the respondents indicated that the possibility of being selected for the DAFI programme served as an incentive to complete their secondary education. This effect was found to be more pronounced in camps than in urban settings and was stronger for girls than boys.

Another significant achievement highlighted is that between 2014 and 2020, the average graduation rate stood at 84%, reaching a peak of 87% between 2016 and 2019. Financial support, including tuition payments and living allowances, played a crucial role in maintaining high completion rates, with many students acknowledging that they would not have been able to finish their degrees without this support.

Additionally, services like counselling helped students to continue pursuing their studies during challenging times.

While the DAFI has been successful in providing higher education opportunities to refugees and through it, hope for a better future, the evaluation also highlighted a couple of areas for improvement, including the need for the programme to achieve better gender parity. Efforts have been made to improve the rate of participating girls and young women, but these have remained relatively static at around 40% between 2014 and 2020.

Refugee girls’ high dropout rates from secondary education have been identified as a major obstacle in achieving gender balance among DAFI scholars. To address this issue, student-led DAFI clubs have been established to better provide information sessions and further promote the participation of girls and young women in higher education.

Students also shared a need for better guidance in their transition into the labour market with almost half of the surveyed participants expressing the desire for more direct support in gaining employment upon graduation.

How can we improve?

Here are some ways the DAFI programme can be improved based on the evaluation findings.

Supporting students’ transition to the labour market
Given the challenges faced in this area, the evaluation recommends further investing in providing graduates with upskilling opportunities, internship opportunities in collaboration with companies and governments, as well as soft skills development. This will be essential to enhance the student’s career prospects.

Increasing participation of girls and young women
The evaluation outlines recommendations to help DAFI improve girl and young women participation rates. These include outreach activities in refugee communities to emphasize the importance of higher education for girls, working with existing women’s networks to share information about the DAFI programme, encouraging girls to pursue their education and other actions.

Group photo of  five students
For the last 30 years the DAFI programme has helped transform the lives and prospects of many young refugees (click to enlarge) ©UNHCR/Antoine Tardy

Facilitating timely payment
The evaluation found that delayed or missing payments can affect students’ stress levels or lead to the adoption of negative coping mechanisms. It is important to avoid delays and ensure that allowances are paid on time.

Enhancing the financial sustainability of the programme
The evaluation recommends UNHCR and its partners increase fundraising efforts for DAFI to ensure its financial sustainability in the medium- and long term.

Increasing awareness
Given the “pull effect” that awareness of DAFI has on the rate of completion of secondary education, the evaluation emphasizes the importance of increasing awareness about the programme among school students (particularly girls and young women) in refugee communities.

“Through the evaluation of the DAFI programme, we have witnessed the transformative power of education in the lives of refugee students. This evaluation is not only important for understanding the programme’s effectiveness but also for highlighting the immense hope it brings to displaced people around the world in line with this year’s theme of World Refugee Day. Let us then recognize the significance of education as a beacon of hope, providing opportunities for refugees to pursue their dreams, and contribute to a brighter future for themselves and their communities,” says Lori Bell, Head of the Evaluation Office.

Learn more about the DAFI programm. Read the Full Evaluation Report  and discover UNHCR’s Evaluation Office. The evaluation was conducted by Matteo Valenza.