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IIE Summit highlights broader access goals

“Of the young refugee population of the world, only 1% will have the chance of higher education. Only 20% will have secondary education,” advised Gordon Brown, United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education, at IIE’s Summit in New York City in February.

Brown talked about the imperative of access to education to lessen disparity between the privileged and the under-privileged. Photo: The PIE News

"The biggest problem we've got at the moment, is the refugee population and disaffected youth"

Brown highlighted the challenges the world still faces in ensuring access to education for all – chiming with a panel discussion about the future of student mobility in which DAAD’s Dorothea Ruland spoke about Germany’s success in integrating refugees into its higher education system.

Brown delivered a rousing closing address at the IIE event that marked its centenary. “You have always led the way in efforts to build a more cooperative world”, he told the 80 IIE staffers among the delegates.

According to the former UK prime minister, by the year 2050, 55% of people in Korea and Japan will have higher education qualifications, while in America and Britain estimates put this at around 35%.

“But where it comes to sub-saharan Africa, you are down to only 5%, even in 2050,” Brown highlighted.

“All the trends show that the distribution of opportunity will be such that not only will such a few number of these people have these opportunities for education, but the disparity between the good countries that are doing well and the poor countries that are doing badly will be even greater than it is now,” he added.

“The disparity between the countries that are doing well and the countries that are doing badly will be even greater than it is now”

These sentiments echoed what Fanta Aw, vice president of Campus Life & Inclusive Excellence at American University in Washington, DC, expressed at the event, when she said, “The place that keeps getting lost is Africa”. It’s not often present, despite indicators suggesting we should be paying attention to the continent, she noted.

“We are the agents of hope,” said Brown. “We have got a chance to build a better future. If I am saying the biggest problem we’ve got at the moment, is the refugee population and disaffected youth, we’ve got displaced young people, and we’ve got children and young people in conflict zones, then we must do something about it.”

Brown also called for an expansion of the Education Cannot Wait organisation, which seeks to help to get every displaced refugee child to a school and the creation of an international finance facility – the global fund for health, built on guarantees from governments – where resources for primary, secondary, and tertiary education are sufficient.

Ruland of DAAD Germany spoke about Germany’s achievement of getting an estimated 18-20,000 refugees from population of over 1 million into its HE system. “We learned a lot along the way,” she commented, explaining that refugees are not identified as such once they enter higher education, but that is a best estimate figure.

Access to education for students with refugee status was not the only key theme of the summit. Access to international experiences for a more diverse section of society is also of high importance, very much continuing themes from past events.

“We are increasingly living in bubbles”, noted George Khalaf, CEO of virtual classroom exchange platform Empatico. Access to people that are different is limited, which threatens to become a “fertile breeding ground” for mistrust, ignorance and violence, he said.

We should be “careful” using language like ‘global citizenship’ to help international education be more accessible to everyone, advised Khalaf.

He was one of a few proponents of “virtual exchange” functions: Stevens Initiative and Virtual Internships were also present.

One way to promote international experiences to more students is remind them of the ROI on every dollar, according to Mohamed Abdel-Kader, executive director of Stevens Initiative.

“In the same way that Steve Jobs told us why an i-phone was something we needed and articulated that value proposition, we have to think about our work in the same way,” he said.

“Not every student is able to come to the US, and the reality is maybe that international experience isn’t for every student. But global competence should be,” he said.

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