The United Nations refugee agency has signed an agreement with the Jesuit Refugee Services that would allow those displaced from their home by conflict to gain access to higher education via both online and traditional courses. The Untied Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Volker Türk explained that ensuring educational opportunities for displaced persons is a priority for the agency, one that until recently their limited resources have made them unable to meet.
The agreement will expand the program in place in Kenya, Malawi and Jordan where thousands of people are already enrolled in online courses which are run by Regis University, a school headquartered in Denver, Colorado. A number of other Jesuit universities located throughout the world also offer certificate and degree programs in refugee camps throughout the world.
In addition, the agreement will expand the courses’ reach to Chad and other countries where UNHCR and the Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins initiative – a JRS partner – operate.
The two organizations are also exploring the possibility of offering distance learning courses in a variety of languages and developing relevant curricula to build the capacities and skills of refugees and host communities.
The UNHCR is in the second year of a five-year program that focuses on expanding higher education access to refugees. The agency is doing this with by funding scholarships to universities around the globe, as well as investing in technology and education infrastructure to bring online distance learning programs to places where the rates of person displacement is high.
The Agency frequently partners with faith-based organizations in its efforts to improve the lot of refugees, and this latest agreement is another example.
The latest agreement strengthens UNHCR’s partnerships with religious and faith-based organizations working in the humanitarian sector following a discussion in December between religious leaders and experts on refugee protection. The discussion was led by High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres.
The partnership joins other efforts to bring higher education to the humanitarian crisis of displaced populations. Late last year, refugees residing in a largest camp in Kenya had a similar opportunity to get a college degree with a branch of Kenyatta University opened right on site.
The university, located in Dadaab, will begin classes next year and will offer programs in marketing, finance, project management and even peace and conflict studies; a subject area close to the heart of its prospective students, many of whom fled their home country to get away from ongoing ethnic and cultural strife.