World over, access to quality higher education is considered a basic human right that everyone, including refugees, ought to enjoy.
This is because of the prospects that come with having an education such as employment opportunities, skills development, and hope for a bright future. Though education is paramount in the transformation of one’s life, when it comes to access for higher education, refugees have been somewhat left behind, and something needs to be done to bridge the gap.
According to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), until recently, only five per cent of refugees have access to higher education compared to only three per cent years back. However, this is still far below the average higher education enrolment among non-refugees, which stands at 40 per cent.
In 2019, UNHCR and partners under the education strategy, ‘Refugee Education 2030’: A strategy for refugee inclusion set a 15 by 30 target which seeks to see that 15 per cent of young refugee women and men, or approximately 500,000 refugees in total, can access higher education by 2030 globally.
This strategy aims to foster the conditions, partnerships, collaboration and approaches that lead to all refugees, asylum seekers, returnees, internally displaced persons and stateless children and youth and their hosting communities to access inclusive and equitable quality education, including at the tertiary level.
Speaking of partnerships and collaboration, recently, I attended a regional conference on forced Migration in Kampala dubbed; “Access to Tertiary education for refugees. The two-day conference was organized by The Refugee Law Project. During the conference, participants acknowledged that higher institutions of learning both public and private universities play an important role in supporting refugees in Uganda access quality education. But what can be done to ensure more refugees in Uganda access tertiary education, despite the fact that some regulations and policies in these institutions are binding and hard for implementing officers to change.
During the discourse, refugee students from different universities pointed out some of the challenges they encounter in the pursuit of higher education in Uganda. Some of them include; financial constraints, lack of information regarding study opportunities such as scholarships, lack of counselling services in some universities yet many of these refugees grapple with psychosocial and mental health challenges as a result of horrific experiences encountered as they freed their countries of origin.
And of course, stringent and tight avenues to university entry related to hardships in getting their prior credentials recognized, certification and lost identity. Then social and institutional biases on refugees that they are rich but are just pretending.
Here are some of the key actions higher institutions of learning can take:
(1), Information sharing by making aware of the available opportunities to the refugees such as scholarships,
(2), provide guidance and counselling services for students struggling with mental health challenges, particularly refugees to help them get to know themselves better and find effective solutions to their daily problems.
(3) Provide career guidance so that they can make right decisions when choosing courses from a wide spectrum of programs offered by universities. Remember, most of these refugees come from countries whose education systems are different from Uganda’s.
On the other hand, refugee students were also encouraged to form associations, work together to look out for opportunities, but also be part of numerous student activities to ensure they are not left out.
Pushing for more refugees to access quality higher education benefits both the refugees and host communities. Whereas the refugees get to acquire knowledge and skills, strive to rebuild their lives, and live fulfilling lives, when they are allowed to work and make money, they contribute towards the country’s economic growth through tax revenue, boost innovation and raise productivity.
Having more refugees globally access tertiary education contributes toward the realization of Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4), which calls for delivery on inclusive and equitable education, and promotes lifelong learning opportunities for all.
Kudos to all countries hosting refugees including Uganda for different frameworks put in place to support refugees access education at different levels. Uganda holds a record for hosting the largest number of refugees on the African continent, with over 1.5 million refugees living in the country.
Though the country has an emergency education plan for refugees, the plan only focuses on primary and secondary education, leaving out tertiary education.
This is a call to different stakeholders and development partners to work together, put measures in place to ensure more refugees enrol for tertiary education.
And step by step, with right partnerships, collaboration and commitment, it is possible to achieve UNHCR’s target of seeing 15 per cent of young refugee women and men access higher education by 2030 globally.
The writer is a journalist and communication consultant