Originally offering information for Syrian students, the platform will now expand to include information for students from other countries – Colombia, Afghanistan, Iraq, South Sudan, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, Nigeria, Ukraine, Yemen.
The expansion was launched in May 2018 and will see a new country featured each week for 10 weeks.
“Even within Syria, [students] are able to access it within three seconds”
This is part of the growth plans for the platform, which aims to become a global resource and offer more and more services to displaced students and the institutions that engage with them.
“When we got the opportunity to design and create PEER, we already knew that offering opportunities for Syrian students can only be the starting point,” head of IIE student emergency initiatives Nele Feldmann told The PIE News.
“So on May 27,we rolled out the extension, and it’s really bringing us much closer to the end goal of becoming a universal clearinghouse of educational opportunities for every student who find themselves in a situation of displacement.”
For each country featured, Feldmann explained, PEER will release a blog with information on the higher education situation in the country, and connect with students, universities and other organisations to make them aware of the resources that are available to them.
PEER was created by IIE, in collaboration with the Catalyst Foundation for Universal Education, in response to the global refugee crisis.
Working with partner universities in the US providing scholarships to Syrian students, IIE found that one of the biggest challenges for both institutions and displaced students was finding relevant information.
“[Universities] can go on PEER and find resources about the general topic of higher education in emergency contexts but also how to build scholarship programs,” Feldmann explained.
“We offer workshops and webinars, and we connect universities with one another so they can share knowledge and best practices.”
Now in its second year, PEER has collected over 152K page views, half of which came from mobile devices.
Feldmann explained that the website was intentionally designed to be accessed quickly by students in areas with poor internet connectivity, who access internet on their phones.
“The website loads really quickly. We wanted to make sure that every student from a low-bandwidth area would be able to access it. Even within Syria, they are able to access it within three seconds,” she said.
The ‘opportunity database’ within the website has been accessed from Syria and neighbouring countries, but also many hosting countries, such as the US, UK, Germany and Sweden.
Another noteworthy development, Feldmann noted, is that almost half of the users are within the 25-34 age range.
“This is a clear indication that these are students that really want to reconnect to education,” she said.
“We all need to work together, and be in this together, to solve the issue of how we…reconnect students to higher education”
“They have been displaced for a certain time period from education and they may be only now finding themselves in a situation where they can think about moving on.”
As for the future, the platform will keep expanding to other countries and will also diversify its services to include advising services for students and universities.
The Institute is now working with partners to develop information for students on how to navigate different education systems and to apply to university in different countries.
“We all need to work together, and be in this together, to solve the issue of how we actually reconnect students to higher education,” Feldmann added.
And while some fear that political developments may make the work of organisations working with refugees harder in some parts of the world, Feldmann is confident that PEER will continue its mission.
“With PEER we are in a unique situation because we are a global initiative,” she said.
“In terms of IIE’s overall programs, I think we’ll continue doing what we have been doing. We know that our US partner universities are accepting and identifying students from the countries that are affected by the executive order.”
“At the same time, we have really increased our collaboration with international partners to ensure that we can place students in European countries, or in other regions, but we also still continue helping students accessing universities in the US.”