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Universities providing scholarships to refugees call on others to do the same

Speeches and statements

Universities providing scholarships to refugees call on others to do the same

26 November 2019

Germany. Portraits of DAFI scholarship winners and refugee students
DAFI students attend a workshop in Berlin held by Kiron, an NGO providing open access to education for refugees through digital solutions.

Dear fellow Vice-Chancellors, Presidents, Rectors and Principals of Higher Education Institutions,

You know, better than anyone, the crucial role that education plays in all our lives. Education imparts knowledge and skills for life. It expands minds and gives students the chance to forge their own futures. Education is life-changing.

For far too many refugees, however, education remains out of reach. Of the 7.1 million refugee children of school age in the world today, more than half – 3.7 million – are out of school. At primary level, 63 per cent of refugee children are in school, compared to a global level of 91 per cent. As they get older, those figures drop alarmingly. At secondary level, only 24 per cent of refugee children are enrolled in school, compared to a global level of 84 per cent.

The consequences of this are as predictable, only 3 per cent of young refugee women and men have access to some form of higher education, versus a global enrolment figure of 37 per cent. This gap persists even though it is widely acknowledged that higher education is the key to better employment, greater self-reliance, sustainable livelihoods, leadership and more – especially in communities in greatest need of such benefits and opportunities.

It is this urgent situation that is the focus of our letter to you today. Governments, humanitarian workers, development agencies and their many partners have their roles and duties – but it cannot be solely their responsibility. It is up to us, as members of the higher education community, to step up and ensure that all aspiring scholars, especially the most vulnerable, receive a full education of good quality.

For refugees, the barriers to accessing and completing higher education are considerable – from tuition fees and living costs to language barriers, from a lack of documentation proving prior learning to the refusal of some institutions to recognise and accept what certification refugees are able to provide.

Today we are calling on you to join Universities such as Bard College in Berlin, University of Sussex, in the United Kingdom and Arizona State University in the United States are stepping up to make a difference – by providing scholarships, tuition waivers and access to online and blended degree programmes to refugees and to accept refugees who are lacking documentation of prior learning so that they can have access to a higher education. Our goal is to raise that 3 per cent enrolment figure to 15 per cent by 2030 (#15by30). Without your help in overcoming the many barriers refugees face, it will not be possible.

The forthcoming Global Refugee Forum in December is the moment to start making this a reality. We urge Vice-Chancellors and Principals of Higher Education Institutions to join us in taking action so that refugees have fair access to degrees, connected education and vocational programmes. Higher education must not only be desirable, it must also be achievable. As educators, volunteers and campaigners, we need to turn this around. Please join us in making this a reality for young refugees.

Please see 5 actions that Universities can take to support:

  1. Offer scholarships and tuition waivers to refugee students.
  2. Create and develop connected learning programmes.
  3. Support and partner with universities in the top refugee-hosting countries.
  4. Encourage student groups to welcome and support refugee students through language training and support for cultural integration
  5. On 25 November, the world community sent a strong signal to higher education institutions to accept refugees lacking sufficient documentation when UNESCO’s General Conference adopted the Global Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications concerning Higher Education. Find out how your university can better support refugees who are lacking documentation


  • Adams State University
  • American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admission Officers
  • Arizona State University
  • AUF (Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie)
  • Bard College, Berlin
  • Caritas Diocese of Salford
  • Colorado Department of Higher Education
  • Ecole Internationale de Genève
  • Educational Credential Evaluators
  • Emily Griffith Technical College
  • Global Platform for Syrian Students/Rapid Response
  • Habesha Project
  • Indiana University
  • Institute of International Education
  • Libraries Without Borders
  • Mechanism for Higher Education in Emergencies
  • National University of Political Studies and Public Administration – Bucharest
  • Refugee Law Initiative, School of Advanced Study,University of London
  • Student Action for Refugees 
  • The University of Sussex
  • University of Essex
  • West University of Timișoara

Universities announcing pledges to provide scholarships today led by STAR and City of Sanctuary:

  • Aden university - Art Faculty
  • Cardiff University
  • De Montfort University
  • Kingston University
  • University of Bristol
  • University of Glasgow
  • University of Nottingham
  • The University of Northampton
  • University of St Andrews
  • University of Stirling
  • Newcastle University
  • University of Essex   
  • University of Roehampton
  • University of Reading
  • Birkbeck College
  • Cardiff Metropolitan University
  • De Montfort University
  • University of Bradford,
  • University of East Anglia
  • University of Exeter
  • University of Hull
  • University of Leicester
  • University of Lincoln
  • University of Liverpool
  • University of London,
  • University of Manchester
  • University of South Wales
  • University of Sussex
  • University of Warwick,
  • University of Winchester
  • University of York
  • York St John University