Denmark supports refugee education

Opening doors to higher education

by Elisabeth Haslund

3 September 2020

Zeinabou, This group of Burundian refugees, living in Mahama camp in Rwanda, have all received DAFI-scholarships to access university. © UNHCR / Antoine Tardy

Opening doors to higher education

by Elisabeth Haslund

3 September 2020

These Burundi refugees, living in Mahama camp in Rwanda, have all received DAFI-scholarships to go to university. © UNHCR/Antoine Tardy

Denmark contributes to UNHCR’s Refugee Scholarship Programme DAFI

At the Global Refugee Forum in December 2019, Denmark announced a contribution of DKK 10 million to UNHCR’s Refugee Scholarship Programme, the Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative (DAFI). This DAFI Programme provides young refugees with scholarships and thus enabling them to access higher education in their country of asylum.

DAFI is the largest higher education scholarship programme for refugees globally, and it is also the most long-standing, operating since 1992. The strategic priorities of the program are to promote self-reliance and create opportunities for refugees as well as empower young refugees and foster future role models.

With this contribution, Denmark is joining Germany as the first new bilateral partner to the programme, which has also received long-standing support from the private Saïd Foundation and Asfari Foundation.

Thanks to the support from Denmark, more refugee students will be able to receive a scholarship and continue their education. Currently, only 10 per cent of the DAFI scholarship applicants receive a scholarship, but the ambition is to rapidly increase the opportunities.

Supporting the DAFI Programme and UNHCR’s strategy to ensure higher education for more refugee youth, Denmark is also contributing to the realization of the Sustainable Development Goal 4: Ensuring Quality Education for all. SDG4 will not be achieved unless the world prioritizes refugee education and works to close the significant gap between refugee youth’s access to education and that of their peers.

“DAFI is not only providing us the opportunity to go to school. It gives us hope. Without the scholarship, doors would be closed to me. Now, they are open.”
— Homam Mohammed Attar

Homam is 22 years old and studying Civil Engineering at Hashemite University in Amman. His family fled Idlib in Syria in the 1980s, and Homam is born in Jordan. He will graduate this summer, and his hope is to continue his studies to pursue a master’s degree and later a ph.D.

Being a refugee all his life, Homam has felt a change in the acceptance of and outlook on refugees in Jordan over the years and with the large influx from the Syrian conflict. But at university, he feels like any other student, being part of the normal campus life.

“With DAFI, I get to be the same as everybody else on campus. I am just a student. In almost all other aspects of our lives we are always refugees. Here, I am myself.”
— Homam Mohammed Attar

The DAFI Programme

UNHCR’s higher education scholarship programme DAFI plays an integral role in enabling refugees worldwide to access higher education. The programme was launched in 1992, and since then it has provided more than 18,000 young refugee women and men with scholarships and the opportunity to pursue higher education in their countries of asylum.

Throughout the years, the programme has continued to grow and expand, both on the students and countries supported. In 2019, 8,347 young refugee women and men studied at 925 higher education institutions in 54 countries on DAFI scholarships.

The DAFI scholars today represent more than 35 different nationalities, and they study in a broad variety of fields, ranging from mathematics & computer science; medical science & health-related; engineering; to commercial & business administration. Gender parity among the DAFI scholars has increased over time, and young women are now receiving 41% of the scholarships.

In addition to the financial barriers for refugees in accessing higher education, many face additional challenges, such as language and cultural barriers, restricted access to electricity and connectivity, sometimes even realities of movement restrictions and legal and administrative procedures that their local peers don’t have to navigate.

To support their academic achievements, DAFI scholars receive additional support through close academic & well-being monitoring; life & soft skills trainings; language classes; psychosocial support; mentoring and networking opportunities through DAFI clubs, community engagement activities etc.

Learn more

The DAFI Programme in numbers

scholarships for refugees since 1992

Source: DAFI, Aug 2020



new DAFI-scholarships in 2019

Source: DAFI, Aug 2020

countries with DAFI scholars

Source: DAFI, Aug 2020
“DAFI has been life-changing. I am really happy about this opportunity, but I also feel bad that so many other people don’t get the same chance, as we do. Young people need the hope and opportunities, that higher education provides.”
— Sara Dardar

Sara is 20 years old and studies Architectural Engineering at Amman Arab University. She is originally from Damascus in Syria, but she fled together with her family in 2012. She finished her secondary school in Jordan in 2017 and received a DAFI-scholarship the same year. She is now on her third year at university and expect to graduate in 2022. 

Sara is hoping that she can one day return to Syria – when it’s safe and possible. Studying architectural engineering and how to plan cities is exactly what will be needed in Syria in the future, she believes.

“I think it’s our generation’s responsibility to go back and help our country and rebuild it. Now, that I got a chance to study, I know I can make a change.”
— Sara Dardar

“These pledges are exactly the support that we require to put the Global Compact on Refugees into action. Higher Education is central to greater self-reliance and leadership. The strong partnerships and commitment demonstrated in the DAFI programme are essential for creating positive change and opportunities for empowerment through education for refugees around the world.”

–Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees

“Without DAFI, I would not be thinking about my future.”
— Ibrahim Toumeh

Ibrahim is 21 years old and studies Architectural Engineering at Amman Arab University. He is from Damascus in Syria and has fled to Jordan twice. First in 2014, and then, after having returned with his family, again in 2017 – the same year, he was accepted to DAFI.

Without the scholarship, Ibrahim is certain that he would not have been capable of enrolling in university and pursuing higher education, but instead be forced to find a low-skilled job. He is expected to graduate in 2022, and he wants to continue his studies.

“I want to keep learning and perhaps go to study in another country as well, because this broadens the horizon and keeps building knowledge.”
— Ibrahim Toumeh

UNHCR’s 15by30 strategy – opening doors to higher education for refugee youth

Despite global progress in recent years, the education gap between refugee children and youth and their peers continue to be a harsh reality. Unfortunately, the gap is only growing with age and education level. Today, only 3 per cent of refugee youth have the opportunity to continue their education and access university or other higher education institutions. A gloomy figure in comparison to the global 37 per cent of youth.

UNHCR and partners have committed to reducing the gap and ensuring that 15 per cent of young refugee women and men can access higher education by the year 2030 – the 15by30 target. The goal is to achieve enrolment in tertiary or connected higher education programmes in host and third countries – and to ensure gender-parity in the enrolment.

Learn more

Denmark as a donor to UNHCR

Denmark has long ranked among UNHCR’s top ten donors. In 2019, Denmark has increased its overall funding to UNHCR, already totaling USD 92 million (up from USD 82 million in 2018). Each year, around USD 25 million of Denmark’s funding is provided as completely unearmarked flexible funding.

A portion of Denmark’s contribution is directed towards strategic solutions-oriented initiatives that promote innovation, self-reliance and other durable solutions.

Another portion is contributed as an annual Emergency Reserve Fund of DKK 50.5 million (around USD 7.5 million), which UNHCR can allocate towards the most urgent needs. The flexibility of this money enables UNHCR to save lives and assist with critical protection needs in also the “forgotten” displacement crises.

At the Global Refugee Forum in December 2019, the Danish government individually and jointly with other stakeholders pledged support and initiatives in a wide range of areas, including asylum capacity building, refugee education and resilience to climate change.