As the world marked World Refugee Day on June 20, organisations across the sector reflected on their role in providing equitable access to higher education.
After being launched in September 2022, one scheme’s pilot to help students in Afghanistan start or resume higher education in the US is now seeing some of its 250-strong cohort graduate in May and June.
The Qatar Scholarship for Afghans project, which also ensured an even split of men and women, is a collaboration between various outfits across the world, but with key input from the Qatar Fund for Development, The Afghan Future Fund, Schmidt Futures, and EAA.
The PIE spoke with Edris Tajik, a student from Afghanistan who was studying at Herat University when he was made a refugee.
Through the project, which sends students to the US to finish their studies, he has graduated with a bachelor’s degree in politics from Bard College, New York.
“Access to education is a fundamental human right. The consequences of this lack of access are far-reaching. Not only does it impede individual growth and potential, but it also delays societal and economic development.
“Denying education to refugees not only interrupts their rights but also misses an opportunity to promote the minds that could contribute to global progress,” Tajik told The PIE.
He said that in his home country, his education was limited to textbooks and “dry lectures”. While some professors challenged the system, most did not.
“However, as a student at Bard, I found myself in the midst of vibrant and fruitful classes where we had the opportunity to engage, promote and challenge ideas,” he said.
Due to his attendance at Bard, he also obtained internship positions that have allowed him to bolster his career pathway.
“The consequences of this lack of access are far-reaching”
According to data cited by King’s College London, which marked the day with its “Compassion into Action” theme, only 6% of refugees have access to higher education – which the UN is striving to bring up to 15% by 2030.
“As someone who personally experienced [lack of access] in the early years of my life in Iran, where I was unable to attend official Iranian schools, I can say that education should not be a luxury,” Tajik added.
IIE, which also facilitates part of the project, also marked World Refugee Day with an opinion piece from the head of its Thailand faction in Bangkok.
“In 2021, IIE launched the Odyssey Scholarship, a full scholarship for refugee students pursuing four-year bachelor’s degrees or two-year master’s degrees.
“But with the global refugee population now at more than 110 million, there’s more to do. Universities are a lifeline to answering the call,” wrote Jonathan Lembright.
Lembright lists a plethora of suggestions in how universities in the US can get involved, including leveraging branch campuses internationally to help overcome “restrictive visa policies”.
Additionally, he suggest “short course practical training” and “hybrid delivery options”.
Tajik, who said that the impact of QSAP’s efforts were “strongly felt”, suggested similar thoughts for enhancing the program as it enters its sophomore year.
“For instance, [QSAP] could consider expanding their mentoring program or introducing workshops to help students better navigate their academic journey,” he noted.
World Refugee Day also overlaps with a key anniversary of DACA – the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals scheme.
“I knew DACA meant I could legally work in the country that I consider my home”
On June 13, the Presidents’ Alliance, which has long campaigned for refugee, DACA recipients and international students alike to obtain equitable access to education in the US, reiterated a call for a permanent pipeline for Dreamers and DACA recipients.
Felecia Russell, who works for the Presidents’ Alliance as its higher ed immigration portal director, is a DACA recipient, and reflected on its effect on her life.
“Eleven years ago, I remember sitting at home with tears falling from my eyes because I knew DACA meant I could legally work in the country that I consider my home.
“With DACA, many doors opened for me; I went on to earn my master’s and my doctorate, a privilege I know not all undocumented people have.
“However, I live my life in two-year increments because DACA is a band-aid and not a permanent fix,” Russell wrote.
A recent bill that has been sponsored by both a Republican and Democrat representative would help to achieve legal status for DACA, but the President’s Alliance continues to call for further direct legislation.
“While we implore lawmakers to deliver a permanent legislative fix that only Congress can enact, we also call on the Biden administration to continue to fortify DACA and expand opportunities for Dreamers,” said director of policy and strategy Diego Sanchez – another DACA recipient at the Presidents’ Alliance.
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