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On World Refugee Day, UK universities work together to help Syrian refugees

Mostafa Al-Mossallami

Former Development Policy and Partnerships Manager
Universities UK International
international students

Today is World Refugee Day, and in 2016 its founding principles ­– to commemorate 'the strength, courage and perseverance of millions of refugees' – are more relevant than ever.  

This year, the day ­coincides with the launch of the #WithRefugees petition by the UNHCR which will be delivered to UN headquarters in New York ahead of the UN General Assembly on 19 September.  

The petition will call on governments around the world to:

  • ensure every refugee child gets an education

  • ensure every refugee family has somewhere safe to live

  • ensure every refugee can work or learn new skills to make a positive contribution to their community

Both the first and third points highlight the important role that higher education needs to play in the response to the global refugee crisis. 

Universities have a long history of helping people displaced by crisis, and this has continued during the ongoing situation in Syria. Around five million Syrians have fled the country since 2011 – mostly to neighbouring countries. Almost half of displaced Syrians are children and their education has been halted or seriously disrupted.   

Higher education institutions internationally are responding in different ways to help displaced people pursue higher education. These efforts include, but are not limited to, scholarships, distance learning and language courses, and specific programmes such as the EU's HOPES and DFID's SPHEIR, as well as an EU Trust Fund established for Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries – the Madad Fund.

One of the differences between this and other refugee crises is that before civil war erupted, 20% of 18- to 24-year-olds in Syria studied at university, far more than in most other countries affected by conflict. Now less than 5% of Syrian refugees in this age group have access to higher education.

Coordinated higher education response to the Syrian refugee crisis

The UK higher education sector needs a coordinated response to the Syrian refugee crisis – aligned with both the needs of the affected people and the work of other sectors, multilateral donors and agencies – to ensure that it is as effective as possible.  To this end, the International Unit and the British Council are organising an information-sharing event on 30 June at Woburn House to begin the discussion.   

The event will showcase initiatives by universities and organisations in the UK, Middle East and internationally, in response to the Syrian refugee crisis. It will provide an opportunity for senior university representatives to find out the latest information about the refugee situation in the region, share responses, consider some of the available funding instruments in support of delivering higher education to Syrians, and connect with the UNHCR and other agencies.

The flow of people displaced by the conflict in Syria may continue until long-term peace and stability return. In the meantime, economic, governmental, social and educational reforms can help provide opportunities for displaced people to make a positive contribution to their host communities and develop the skills and knowledge to help rebuild their country post-conflict.

More information on UK higher education and the Syrian refugee crisis

The International Unit has written an information note on the higher education response to the Syrian refugee crisis.

To register to attend the event on 30 June, please email Mostafa Al-Mossallami.  

The call for a SPHEIR demonstration project expressly targeting higher education for beneficiaries affected by the Syrian crisis closes on 20 July. Further information is available on the SPHEIR website.

Leave a Comment

chris walker
chris walker says:
1 July 2016 at 14:57

It's good to hear that syrian people will receive some help from UK Universities, keep it up.


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