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UNHCR celebrates DAFI's 30 years of refugee scholarship support, calling for more investment in education

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UNHCR celebrates DAFI's 30 years of refugee scholarship support, calling for more investment in education

17 October 2022 Also available in:
Najwa, a 25-year-old Sudanese refugee living in Egypt, works as a trainee lab technician after completing a biochemistry degree at Cairo University thanks to a DAFI scholarship.

Geneva – For the last 30 years, the German-backed DAFI scholarship programme has helped transform the lives and prospects of numerous young displaced people, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, said today as it urged more investment in access to higher education for refugees to help realize their potential.

The Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative (DAFI) scholarship programme has transformed over 21,500 refugee students’ lives around the world, with most in recent years from the Syrian Arab Republic, Afghanistan, South Sudan and Somalia. They are majoring in fields from medicine to business administration, social and behavioural sciences, mathematics and computer sciences, among other subjects.

“Over three decades, DAFI has been transformative, providing opportunity and hope to thousands of refugee students, enabling them to fulfill their potential, and change their lives for the better,” said Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees. “It’s a proven model that must be scaled up to help ensure we reach our ‘15by30’ goal - to get 15 percent of refugees in tertiary education by 2030!”

In its 2021 DAFI report, ‘Higher Education: Now is the Time’, UNHCR warns of widening disparity in both education quality and access between high- and low-income countries, where most refugees are hosted. Uneven re-openings of schools following the COVID-19 pandemic heightened the risk of reversing hard-won gains.

By the end of 2021, over 8,300 young refugees from 53 countries were enrolled in DAFI scholarships in 55 countries, an impressive leap of nearly 1,000 students compared to the 2020 cohort. Female students represented 41 per cent of the total, and achieving gender parity remains a core aim of the programme.

Nearly half of the students were studying in Ethiopia, Türkiye, Pakistan, Kenya and the Islamic Republic of Iran, countries that host some of the largest refugee populations worldwide.

Last year drew record applications of more than 15,800, reflecting increased demand and greater need for investment in higher education scholarships and opportunities for refugees. 

Still, refugee enrolment in higher education stands at only 6 per cent, although this continues an upward trend from a mere 1 per cent only a few years ago. 

“Due to host community restrictions, severe cost and financial barriers, the lack of opportunities for employment, the language barrier, and other factors, access to higher education for a refugee seems impossible,” said a graduate from the DAFI programme, Khatira, a finance officer working in Pakistan, regarding the broader barriers refugees face in accessing higher education. "In these circumstances, opportunities like the DAFI scholarship are nothing short of a miracle.”

Notes to editors

For 30 years, the German Government has been the principal donor to the DAFI programme. In 2021, the Government of the Czech Republic again committed support and financial backing. The continued partnership with the Danish Government, private sector actors and charitable bodies has ensured DAFI students can continue studying. Additionally, in 2021, the Aiming Higher Campaign – the UNHCR global fundraising campaign for tertiary education – raised US $3.3 million to directly fund talented refugee scholars.

Through profiles and conversations with DAFI students, alumni and key partners -- including Teach For All, Duolingo, Times Higher Education and Mosaik Education -- the 2021 annual report highlights women in higher education, complementary education pathways, the right to work, transitioning to employment and building inclusion in higher education all as critical areas of focus in collective pursuit of the 15by30 target.

On Tuesday UNHCR Deputy High Commissioner Kelly Clements will join a UNHCR event with DAFI students and DAFI alumni in Berlin, Germany. The German Foreign Office, as main sponsor of DAFI, and Volkswagen, as a private donor, will be present to discuss the results and the future of this worldwide scholarship initiative.

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