In advance of the World Humanitarian Summit (May 2016, Istanbul), UNHCR and the Global Education Monitoring Report jointly released a policy paper, which shows that the education rights of forcibly displaced populations are being neglected on a large scale
I have one simple question to ask the RSA community: whose responsibility is it to make university level-education possible and accessible to refugees in camps and/or urban settings worldwide?
You might respond by asking if this is really a priority at a time like this. Aren’t there more pressing matters? Why would we concentrate on this specific youth while our own children struggle to pay for an increasingly commercialized third-level education? Aren’t there organisations already in place that deal with this kind of issue?* You might even ask if there is really a need for this?
Let me answer that by sharing some sobering statistics, which demonstrate that the need has never been more urgent than now, nor is it likely to diminish any time soon.
- Today there are more than 60 million people of concern to the UNHCR. If displaced people had their own country, it would be the 24th most populous in the world.
- Of this figure, 40 million are internally displaced people due to political violence or natural disasters and 19 million are refugees.
- Developing countries host over 80 percent of the world’s refugees.
- Turkey and Pakistan have the largest number of refugees worldwide, followed by the Islamic Republic of Iran, Germany, and Kenya.
- Refugee women and girls account for 48 percent of the refugee population, a proportion that has remained constant over the past decade.
- Children below 18 years constitute 51 percent of the refugee population.
I think you will probably agree that this is a moment for action for the educational rights of the displaced youth.
So – who am I and what do I propose? Following a decade in university education, political reconciliation, and inter-cultural dialogue in politically divided Cyprus, I moved to wealthy and peaceful Singapore. At Nanyang Technological University I became convinced of how humanitarian ideologies can be harnessed to emerging technologies and in so doing reach out to change lives on a potentially colossal scale. We use terms like ‘e-learning’, ‘technology enhanced learning’, and ‘blended learning’ on a daily basis within our own institution. But what would happen if we took these established ideas, these ubiquitous technologies, these online lessons, and allowed them, at negligible cost, to be filtered to refugees, internally displaced persons, asylum seekers, and stateless persons as a means of keeping their educational ambitions alive?
With this in mind I have created an initiative called OUR - Open Universities for Refugees. Here is briefly what we do:
Open Universities for Refugees brings together students, universities, donors, governmental and non-governmental agencies, to build consortia which, individually and collectively, enable displaced students to realise their goal of higher education studies. In recent months OUR has been working in Malaysia and Turkey specifically, meeting current stakeholders and potential students to understand better the nature of, and demand for, higher education in urban Kuala Lumpur and in the refugee camps at Gaziantep and Adiyaman, Turkey. We are learning about the challenges faced by those wishing to access education, the current academic opportunities available to them, and potential options for the future. We are also working to comprehend the nature of current infrastructures to support potential students within communities and their higher education providers. There is a great willingness to help – there is a debilitating lack of co-ordination. In addition, with the support of UNHCR in Malaysia and of government and NGO officials in Turkey, OUR is networking seemingly fragmentary and disparate organisations and individuals internationally into a homogeneous and effective unit. Accordingly, OUR has facilitated the creation of carefully engineered mutli-disciplinary collaborations between experts in professions who might not normally associate or collaborate with one another but who are now united by common bonds of caring and responsibility.
And so I ask on this blog - working with the fellows of the RSA, can we create an expanded network of ideas and a pool of talent, which, through education, will return hope to those who are currently denied it, dignity to a generation in limbo, and long-term strategic planning to entire communities whose fragile cultures are at risk and whose communities will have to be entirely rebuilt in the future?
Sometimes solving a seemingly intractable problem takes a fresh way of thinking about it and definitely a collaboration.
*Besides the UNHCR Dafi program, BHER, York University, JC-HEM, In-Zone, and ACU are the few institutions and programs which have been offering higher education for the forcibly displaced people.
Dedicated to the memory of Jo Cox MP who was fighting for the rights of refugees.