New UN agreement expands higher education opportunities for displaced persons

Sterlin works on a computer which has been his dream job. Photo: UNHCR/P. Smith

11 April 2013 – An agreement between the United Nations refugee agency and the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) announced today will allow forcibly displaced persons in various African countries to pursue higher education through online and on-site courses.

“Ensuring access to education is a universal right and a priority for UNHCR in all of its operations,” said the Director of International Protection for the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Volker Türk. “Education is a continuum. In addition to primary and secondary education, UNHCR also wants to provide opportunities for refugee students in higher education, but limited resources have remained a barrier for us.”

The agreement will expand access to online courses currently offered to refugees in Jordan, Kenya and Malawi, where hundreds of refugees are already enrolled on higher education classes and diploma programmes with the Regis University in Denver, Colorado in the United States. Many are also on track to complete certificate courses offered by other Jesuit universities.

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.

Last year, UNHCR introduced a five-year education strategy that aims to increase access to higher education, expand the number of university scholarships and develop access to accredited distance-learning programmes for refugees.

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.

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